The last time Buzz Cusack gave the Baltimore Messenger a tour of the Senator Theatre was in December 2012, six months after it closed for renovations. The single-screen theater's auditorium was stripped bare.
"There wasn't really anything to show you. It was a mess," Cusack recalled Monday, July 15, as he gave the Messenger another tour — this time with an estimated two months to go before the historic, 1939 cinema reopens after $3.5 million worth of work, including replacement of the roof.
But it's a mess that shows clear progress and the Senator's future as a four-screen multiplex, although certainly not the kind of modern multiplex one would see at a mall.
"Call it whatever you want," Cusack said.
The theater's previous longtime owner, Tom Kiefaber, lost it to foreclosure in 2009 when it was sold to Baltimore City at auction for $800,000. The city leased the building for $1 to Cusack, owner of the Charles Theater.
The Senator now includes a new concession stand, a bar and a space for a light-fare cafe with windows that fold open.
Joining the 750-seat main auditorium will be three smaller screening rooms with a combined 250 seats or so. Plush seats for all four rooms are on order.
In many ways, the roughly 20,000-square-foot building at 5904 York Road is being returned to its original look, with some historical details based on old photographs. A mural in the rotunda lobby has been restored and the ceiling repainted in its original colors. A local metal worker made a chandelier that Kathleen Cusack said "looks exactly like the one that was hanging there in the '30s."
Funding came from the city, state, historic tax credits and $1.2 million out of pocket, Buzz Cusack said.
"I certainly had no idea what I was signing up for," he said, but he has no regrets.
"It's going to be great."