Goucher project offers rebirth to Arcade Theater Renewal: Eleven Goucher College students propose new uses for Hamilton's 70-year-old movie theater, shuttered since 1984.


Unlike other college seniors who are sequestered in classrooms and labs taking final exams, a group of Goucher students took their big test on the road.

As part of an innovative community-service class, 11 students created ways to infuse new life into the defunct Arcade Theater -- built in 1928 -- by turning the Hamilton movie theater and attached shops into a restaurant-entertainment complex, a center for the arts or a health and fitness club.

Their proposals -- outlined last week for dozens of Hamilton residents and elected officials -- come as other old Baltimore theaters -- victims of age and changing trends in movie-going -- are being reborn.

"The Arcade is the perfect building for recycling," said state Sen. Perry Sfikas, a Baltimore Democrat who has promised to seek state funds to renovate it. "The Arcade for Hamilton is exactly what the Patterson and Grand are to Highlandtown."

The 70-year-old Patterson Theater in Highlandtown is to be converted into 12 live-in art studios, a 100-seat auditorium and exhibition galleries. The Grand theater, built in 1914 in East Baltimore, is expected to reopen as a three-screen cinema.

Vacant shops

One of the grand downtown theaters from the vaudeville era -- the Hippodrome Theater on Eutaw Street -- is being reincarnated as a performing arts center.

The movie house in Hamilton got its name, Arcade, from the hallway of stores leading to its entrance. Most of the shops are vacant. The theater, with seating for 1,000 people, closed in 1979, reopening briefly with second-run films in the early 1980s and for a few months as an art-repertory theater in 1984.

Since then, the theater -- which wowed the community with its first sound film, "Lilac Time" with Colleen Moore and Gary Cooper on Oct. 2, 1928 -- has been shuttered. The old marquee promotes a business instead of a movie.

'A major building'

"It's one of the key cornerstones of Hamilton," said Richard Marsiglia, president of the Hamilton Business Association who remembers watching "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" at the neighborhood theater when he was a teen-ager. "It's a major building that's not going anywhere."

The students' concepts for the Arcade coincide with an extensive streetscape designed, though not funded, for Harford Road in Hamilton, a one-time country village that became part of the city in 1918.

Using a colorful computer-generated presentation, the students, who have been working on the project since January, outlined their visions for the complex. They talked about converting the red-brick building at 5436 Harford Road into a gathering place with amenities, such as an indoor pool and a tutoring center, and shops "as quaint as any on Charles Street."

"I was quite surprised, in a good way," said Marsiglia. "I thought it was just a class project, but a couple of the ideas were very good."

Goucher zeroed in on the Arcade, owned by F. H. Durkee Enterprises, because of a partnership the Towson college formed with the HARBEL Community Organization, an umbrella group of more than 20 community associations in the area.

"They said they would come up with ideas of what the building could be," said HARBEL Executive Director Judith Fritsche. "It was wonderful."

Tough questions

The students faced tough questions about parking, liquor licenses and budget projections during the community meeting. They estimated it would cost at least $1.65 million to purchase and bring the building up to code. If the community is interested, another group of Goucher seniors might take the project a step further next year and develop costs for their proposals.

"What you hear tonight are three dreams," Carol Weinberg, coordinator of community service at Goucher, told the community gathering. "If there is interest, we will work with the community next year."

Lessons learned

For many students -- whose majors ranged from religion to sociology -- preparing a business plan was a new experience.

"I didn't know a balance sheet from a balance beam," acknowledged Robyn Ford, 21, of Baltimore, a political science and communications major. "Now I've dabbled a bit in other areas."

The course was underwritten by Suzanne Fineman-Cohen, Goucher Class of 1956, who, with her mother, Florence Eisen Fineman, Class of 1934, wanted to promote service learning.

Pub Date: 5/12/98

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