Keeping fingers crossed that Parkway will rebound


JUDGING FROM the crowd at the old Parkway Theatre last weekend, it seemed as though every old moviehouse buff in Baltimore had called one another and started screaming, "The Parkway's opening."

The 1915 theater, which closed in the late 1970s, was open last Saturday only as part of the "Gotta Have Art" event in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

By the time I rolled in around 6 p.m., backlighted silhouettes of the visitors were clearly visible along the window overlooking North Avenue.

Inside, I spotted the owner, Charles Dodson, as well as James "Buzz" Cusack, who co-owns the nearby Charles Theatre, conversing with a gent named Johns Hopkins, the executive director of Baltimore Heritage, the city's historic preservation society.

People who had never seen a silent picture in the 1920s were caressing the plaster grilles in the walls that would have screened the organ pipes. There was a mass migration up the steep stairs to the projection booth, where aficionados of antique electrical items were critiquing the devices that looked as if they might have been used on the set of a Frankenstein movie.

It was a very heady experience. Only four nights before, the 1914 Hippodrome reopened. Now, the wraps were off the Parkway, which may be prettier and is certainly a jewel-box design. Its reclamation would send a fabulous vote of confidence to the neighborhood north of Penn Station, which seems to be on the edge of a wonderful revival.

I was also startled. Though the Parkway had been closed and shuttered for a quarter century, it has survived nobly, much as I last remembered it. The draperies and curtains remained. The plaster work, ever tasteful and refined, seemed to be mostly there, maybe only about 10 percent damaged by neglect.

It is also not a huge place. But it has the right pedigree. The auditorium is oval-shaped. There are plaster-embellished panels where murals of Greek ladies would have delighted audiences. Many of the Greek ladies are missing, but as someone said, students at the Maryland Institute College of Art could paint all that back in a week.

The Parkway was only open for a one-night look-see. We'll see whether all the pieces can come together, whether the theater will get modern wiring and maybe a new furnace. But best of all would be to have the doors open again and a steady stream of people entering at North Avenue and Charles Street.

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