Monday evening, Nov. 26, much of the greater Westminster community crowded into the Carroll Arts Center for the Westminster Municipal Band’s annual Community Concert. Even though the performance was billed as the band’s “sixth annual” concert, the community gathering at the Arts Center is a time-honored tradition that arguably dates back to 1937.
It was 6 years ago, that the band picked up the baton, under the leadership of Band Director Sandy Miller and President Greg Wantz, to continue the tradition.
The Westminster Municipal Band and the Carroll Arts Center are two of this writer’s favorite local history topics. Portions of this article have been published a number of times in the past in various local and national publications — ever since I first wrote about my initial research on the Carroll Theatre for a school paper for my Westminster Jr. High School English teacher, Mrs. Connors, in the late 1960s. Over the years the work of historian Jay Graybeal, and Carroll County Times writer Jordan Bartel, among others, has greatly added to the body of work about the history of the theater and the band.
It is only fitting that it was the band that chose to continue a treasured community tradition of getting together to kick off the holiday season. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, up until World War II, the Westminster Municipal Band, the Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Co. No. 1, and Westminster government offices were all located in the same building, at 66 E. Main St. For much of this time period, the same individuals held leadership positions in all three organizations and the lines of authority were greatly blurred. Indeed, it could easily be argued that the “combined entity” of the band and fire company was essentially the day-to-day governing body of Westminster.
Last Monday, at the beginning of the concert, the band’s drum major, Carroll County Commissioner Steve Wantz, called to the audience’s attention that over 100 years ago there were thousands of community bands across the county, but today, there are maybe only 100 left. Our own celebrated and award-winning Westminster Municipal Band is one of them probably because of Carroll County’s strong tradition of very successful private-public partnerships.
All year, the band has been celebrating its 125th anniversary and the awards and accolades have come from far and wide. Last summer during the opening ceremonies of the Maryland State Fireman’s Association in June, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan presented the band with a governor’s citation recognizing the band’s 125 years of service as a community band and recognizing the band’s participation in the first fireman’s convention parade held in Frederick in 1893.
This year’s fireman’s convention ceremonies also included presenting the band’s award-winning color guard with a flag commemorating the band’s 125th anniversary. Later in the convention, color guard member Charles Simpson was inducted into the MSFA Hall of Fame.
As for the Arts Center, the 14,000-square-foot, 264-seat Arts Center is also a textbook study of a successful public-private partnership and a wonderful collaborative effort of municipal, county, and state cooperation that is studied by other communities who wish to attract art and cultural events – and economic development, business, and industry to their community.
According to some old notes on file, the original 850-seat, air conditioned, art deco “Carroll Theatre,” ancestor of the Carroll Arts Center, opened Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1937. Admission to the Carroll Theatre in 1937 was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.
The Arts Center is a great example of the adaptive re-use of one of only two existing examples of art deco architecture in Carroll County. The last film had flickered off the reel in the Carroll Theatre in 1988. After the Carroll Theatre had closed for several years, groundbreaking to renovate the old Carroll Theatre was held on a cold Feb. 11, 2002. The Carroll Arts Center opened April 4, 2003.
To get away from it all, long before the Carroll Theatre opened in 1937, Westminster had a number of “moving picture” theaters. According to historian Nancy Warner, the “golden age of business and entertainment on Main Street in Westminster occurred largely between 1900 and 1930.” Westminster “simultaneously” supported three movie theatres. The Ki-Yi O Motion Picture Parlour and the Star Theater were both located on West Main Street and another theater was located in the Albion Hotel, at the corner of Main Street and the railroad tracks.
The cost of admission was five cents. The Odd Fellows Hall, 140 E. Main Street, opened an “opera house” on Feb. 1, 1912 and “quickly became the most popular movie theater in town…”