The Parkway Theatre is reopening after being vacant for more than 30 years. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun)
Baltimore’s newest movie theater, in a century-old building that hadn’t been home to anything film-related in nearly four decades, had itself a coming-out party Thursday night.
Some 200 donors, filmmakers, civic leaders and other supporters gathered at the 102-year-old Parkway Theatre building in Station North for a sneak peek at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway. Scheduled to open for real on May 3, when it hosts opening night of the 19th Maryland Film Festival, the theater will show arthouse movies year-round while serving as a permanent home for the festival.
"This is just awesome,” said Mayor Catherine Pugh, one of a host of dignitaries who attended the invitation-only preview. “What an economic engine this is going to be for this part of the city.”
Others in attendance included U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, filmmakers Matt Porterfield and David Simon, and Maryland Public Television host Rhea Feikin. Director/author/raconteur John Waters, a fixture at every Maryland Film Festival since the annual cinematic showcase began in 1999, served as host for the evening.
“I used to come to this theater when I was really young,” Waters told the audience, harking back to the days when the Parkway, then known as the 5 West, was one of the city’s premier arthouses. “I remember this balcony,” he said, looking up at the people in the seats above. “A lot was going on there,” he said with what could only be called a knowing smile.
Waters and others heaped praise on Jed Dietz, the festival’s director since its inception and the prime mover in getting the Parkway project moving.
“Jed is not a one-man band, he’s got a lot of support,” said Simon, “but he’s the centerpiece.”
Renovated at a cost of $18.2 million and named for the Athens and New York-based Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which donated $5 million to the project, the theater proudly shows off its scars. Workers consciously left much of the building’s interior as they found it, including chipped plaster and various layers of paint, so that visitors will be able to see reminders of the building’s many iterations over the span of decades.
Other speakers Thursday night included Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels, who was instrumental in getting the Niarchos Foundation on board (Hopkins is a partner in the project, and both it and the Maryland Institute College of Art will be using the theater as part of their film programs), and Niarchos Foundation co-President and Director Andreas C. Dracopoulos.
Calling the Parkway “a historic landmark and an architectural gem,” Dracopoulos predicted the theater would once again serve as “a beacon of hope for the city of Baltimore and beyond.”
At the end of the presentation, festival officials unveiled a slightly tweaked version of its motto. Where once it read, “Film for Everyone,” it now reads, “Film for Everyone. Every Day.”