Theater site is eyed for parking McHenry on Light St. attracts business group


The three-story building on Light Street that once housed the old McHenry Theatre is for sale. And a local business group has its eye on the property with the idea of turning it into a parking lot.

"It's an option we are considering," says Jules "Sonny" Morstein, president of the South Baltimore/Federal Hill Marketplace Business Association. "That would be a natural spot, and we definitely need additional parking."

Built in 1917, the McHenry was for decades a center of night and weekend life in South Baltimore. It stood out because it was a large structure in a neighborhood of small rowhouses. The theater had a domed ceiling, double columns running down the walls and seats for 1,100 people. It closed to moviegoers in 1971.

Twenty-five years later, it is the unusual size of the McHenry building that makes its site attractive for a parking lot. It is near the Cross Street Market and could be combined with Herb's Bargain Center next door to make a large lot, said Herb Rosenberg, who wants to sell his store for about $250,000 and retire.

"I think the businesses could use a parking lot more than they could use a historic storefront," says Rosenberg, 69, adding that he is in poor health. "I'd like to see it happen."

The theater property has been for sale for about 30 days. The listed owner, Richard LeClair of Boston, is asking more than $600,000 for it, said Barry Glazer, a lawyer handling the sale.

"I've heard the same thing you've heard about interest in the property for parking," says Glazer. "It's a good price for a building this large."

Ever since it closed, the theater has drawn the attention of local business owners interested in reviving the neighborhood. The most serious effort came 15 years ago, when a group of local entrepreneurs, including Morstein's sister Nancy, tried to reopen the property as a movie theater.

But that effort and others flagged. Now, many of these same entrepreneurs see the building's location -- a short walk north of the Cross Street Market, in the 1000 block of Light St. -- as a prime site for badly needed parking. Space for cars has been a chief concern of old businesses that struggle to compete with suburban stores and new businesses, many of them bars and restaurants, that attract large crowds.

Even if discussions on the McHenry Theatre site don't work out, Morstein said, the business association will continue to look for more parking.

But the theater site "would be an ideal spot," he said. "It's at the center of the business district. It's visible from the street."

Since the theater closed, the building's tenants have included a Goodwill shop, a 7-Eleven, a Gino's and a shoe store.

The first floor is used by a Thai restaurant. Baltimore's Pastime, an entertainment center with video games and batting cages, occupies much of the back of the building.

The only sign of the old theater is the brown brick exterior of the second and third floors, facing Light Street. Near the top of the building, carved in stone, is "McHenry Theatre."

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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