What began as a successful effort to rid the Greenmount West neighborhood of a corner liquor store has taken on a life of its own. A program is allowing a community effort to buy up prominent historic or blighted buildings and return them to reinvigorated use.
The $1.2 million sale of the 1921 Boulevard movie theater nearly four years to the Central Baltimore Future Fund was not publicized at the time. This Waverly landmark, at the northwest corner of Greenmount Avenue and 33rd Street, showed its last films in 1989. The building was subsequently subdivided, with assorted tenants occupying much of the old auditorium space. Now the Future Fund says it is open for new uses and a ideas in what promises to be an extensive overhaul of a once-beloved community institution.
Many persons spent happy weekends at the venerable neighborhood film house — the Boulevard often showed the same movies as its sister theater, the Senator, but on different days of the week. Both were owned for years by the Durkee chain of neighborhood movie exhibitors.
Some 97 persons have expressed an interest in considering the Boulevard property, said Sarah Keogh, director of the Central Baltimore Future Fund.
A request for proposals was issued in May. Persons who would like to see an innovative use for the theater have not been able to physically tour the interior of the large rectangular structure because of complications related to COVID-19. Virtual tours are promised but are not ready. Proposals, due Sept. 15, include neighboring garages.
The Future Fund began small, helping the Greenmount West neighborhood to close Sherman’s Liquors at Guilford and Lafayette avenues. It got shuttered and its building renovated, and a nice grouping of new rowhouses went up across the street.
The Fund also bought the old Waverly Hall, known for many years as the Northside, a bar, at the northwest corner of Greenmount Avenue and 31st Street. Plans for its conversion to a community use are due for announcement.
The Voxel Theater, on 25th Street at Charles (once the Playhouse Theater) opened earlier this year with a rock opera. Its owner was also assisted by financial help for the fund.
“The buildings we look at are community gems, often icons in their neighborhoods, but are in need of serious redevelopment,” said Keogh. The fund works closely with the Central Baltimore Partnership. The $5 million acquisition fund is underwritten by the State of Maryland.
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The Boulevard takes its name from the tree-lined thoroughfare system, 33rd Street and University Parkway, which was completed about the time the film house opened in the fall of 1921. The theater had a rocky start financially and changed hands several times. Its interior was simple. The Sun’s account of its opening described the restrained decor and the number of musicians hired to accompany the all-silent pictures shown here.
The roof line of the theater remains decorated with a bas relief frieze (it shows some damage) of what appear to be Greek classical figures. The fund had a $311,000 new roof put on the building to help arrest any deterioration in 2018.
The Boulevard flourished from the middle 1920s through its closing. Located on a busy intersection, it seemed to have a commanding presence because of a projecting semicircular marquee and a set of letters that seemed as large as those on the old Memorial Stadium a few blocks to the east.
“We want this project to be catalytic to Waverly Main Street and be something that further enhances the wonderful surrounding communities,” said Keogh. “We recognize the strengths in the neighborhoods and the potential of Greenmount Avenue. We want the Boulevard to be a neighborhood gem.”