Baltimore Insider

Baltimore’s crumbling Ambassador Theater, once an Art Deco gem, bought by nonprofit arts space developer

There may be life in the old Ambassador Theater building yet.

Vacant for more than a decade and damaged by a fire in 2012, the vintage Art Deco building in Northwest Baltimore, which showed movies from its opening in 1935 until 1968, has been purchased by a nonprofit whose website boasts, “We create affordable spaces for artists, arts & cultural organizations, and creative businesses.”


Officials of Minneapolis-based Artspace could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development confirmed that the developer purchased the building on Liberty Heights Avenue at auction this summer for $100,001. She said Artspace officials have met with community members to discuss the building’s fate.

“They have engaged the community about ideas,” spokeswoman Tammy Hawley said, "making the community aware of who they are, how they operate, what their visions and plans are."


A presentation put together by Artspace for meetings held in August says the nonprofit has projects “in operation or development” in 37 cities and 27 states, including Memphis, New Orleans and New York. According to the presentation, Artspace is considering uses including commercial/retail, performance art, gallery space, event space, nonprofit organizations, studios and “live/work artist housing.”

The Ambassador building was put into receivership by the city in October 2016. Since then, the city has spent $483,000 to stabilize the building and recently earmarked $370,000 to help prepare the building for development.

“Our hopes for future development were in the arena of promoting the arts and arts education,” Hawley said in an email. “That vision is materializing with the Artspace acquisition.”

The Ambassador seated 1,000 people in its heyday. It was designed by John Zink and operated by the Durkee organization, which also operated The Senator (it opened four years later) and numerous other area movie houses. Among the theater’s customers was a young Barry Levinson, who grew up in nearby Park Heights.

After its days as a movie theater ended in 1968, the building was used as a cosmetology school, a dance hall and a Baptist church.

The building retains its exterior marquee and some signage but has largely been gutted inside. It had been vacant for several years when its owners tried to sell it at auction in 2009. The auction was called off when no one bid higher than $120,000.