For nearly three years, the busiest block in Arbutus held a gap of gigantic proportion -- a sawtooth where the Hollywood Theatre stood until a raging electrical fire destroyed it in 1995.
But today, the landmark reopens with a gala fund-raiser for a local school, bringing a sense of pride to the small southwest Baltimore County community -- along with buttered popcorn, bargain matinees and first-run thrillers such as "Titanic" and "Deep Impact."
"This means a lot here," said Bernard Ziolkowski, a 45-year Arbutus resident and crossing guard. "I remember when it burned down. We saw the smoke, and I said to my wife, 'Something's burning in town.' When we realized it was the Hollywood, I saw old people cry."
The Hollywood, which opened in 1935 with the classic musical "Showboat" and 15-cent tickets, had become a social mainstay in the tiny neighborhood tucked inside Interstate 95 near the Howard County border.
The reopening adds to a commercial revitalization in Arbutus that includes a streetscape on East Drive and Sulphur Spring Road, a new grocery store on Maiden Choice Lane and a new ice cream parlor.
"We went mostly because it was convenient -- to go to another theater, you had to get on a streetcar and go into town," recalled Julian Brewer Jr., a 74-year-old retired attorney who attended the Hollywood's first opening and will cut the ribbon at the rededication. "Today, it looks beautiful. Everyone is looking forward to it."
The $1 million restoration has converted the Hollywood from a two-screen theater to a four-screen, 750-seat complex. County officials helped by extending a low-interest $350,000 loan to the owner, R/C Theatres, which has added digital sound and aqua and pink neon decorations to the 13,000-square-foot structure.
"It seems like this was the heart of the community," said David G. Phillips, an R/C executive vice president. "When it burned, people were here pulling bricks out of the ashes -- a lot of little communities have lost their theaters because they did not support them, but here, they wanted it back."
Two auditoriums will show first-run films for $6 tickets, while the other two will show bargain movies for as little as $1 per show, Phillips said. Opening features include "L. A. Confidential" and "Man in the Iron Mask."
Last week, workers were adding final touches to the new theaters: seating, a state-of-the-art concession stand, a modern marquee and personalized bricks for the front sidewalk.
Opening night will allow the community to mark the reopening of its theater and will serve as a fund-raiser for a playground at Arbutus Elementary School, where 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade play on 40-year-old equipment.
"We've lived for two years without a theater," said Tammy Cooper, a waitress at Paul's Restaurant next to the Hollywood.
On the wall, Cooper points out a large photograph of the Hollywood engulfed in flames.
"We see that every day. It was just a big hole, and now it's good that it's coming back," she said.
Pub Date: 5/22/98