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Flickering Treasures: The culture of Baltimore through its theaters

Posted: 10:37 AM, Apr 25, 2021
Updated: 2021-04-25 12:22:48-04
flickering treasures

BALTIMORE — The curtain is coming up on the story of Baltimore and its theaters.

"Flickering Treasures" celebrates 72 Baltimore City theaters, revealing the history and culture of these locations as well as illustrating a reminder of what life was like when these businesses were thriving.

The book took award-winning Baltimore Sun staff photographer Amy Davis more than nine years to complete.

For Davis, act one began when she fell in love with the Senator Theater.

senator theater
Senator, c. 1953

"Growing up in the suburbs, not in Baltimore, I never had a neighborhood theater, and I just fell in love with the Senator, and it faced foreclosure back in 2007," she explained.

She was upset with the fate of the theater, and soon realized the same ending met everyone else's neighborhood theater.

The Senator, at that time, was the last single screen theater left in Baltimore.

From neighborhood theaters to downtown theaters to Black theaters and theaters still running, the book is a story of Charm City as seen through its theaters.

Davis says it was extremely important for both the exhibition, which can be seen at the Maryland Center for History and Culture, and the book to detail each of these types of theaters — especially Black theaters.

"You can't talk about Baltimore without talking about race, and that was obvious to me when I began this the last few years with Black Lives Matter, with what happened in Baltimore after Freddie Gray died, and so I look at these theaters and they're our reflection," she detailed. "These closed up theaters are really a metaphor for what happened to a lot of Baltimore. The theaters were all on the main streets, the thriving commercial districts, and some of those streets are dormant and or worse."

At one time, these theaters were the anchors of their neighborhood. Davis says the book is partly a way to address that.

Royal B-1949 MCHC.JPG
Douglass/Royal, 1949
Regent, 1601 Pennsylvania Avenue, 2014

"I think theaters represent a lot of things [in the state], they're about the art of cinema. So for many people, an experience they had seeing a particular film changed their lives," she said. "Several people told me that it influenced them so greatly. People went to the movies a lot back in the day, and I think that as a communal experience, theaters really were important, it's a very different experience."

With Netflix, Hulu and every other streaming service under the sun, we've sort of forgotten what the theater experience was like.

"I think that sends a message that we need to remember, particularly as theaters are now struggling with the pandemic, will they all reopen?" Davis pondered.

For instance, the Patterson Theater on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown was a neighborhood theater and part of the Durkee chain.

After it closed and sat dormant, Creative Alliance took over.

"They're a vibrant nonprofit arts organization, and they have really helped enliven Highlandtown as a whole, so they become a cultural anchor again...they're a really great example for other neighborhoods theaters," said Davis. "If those buildings can be revived, they can still be anchors, even if they're not literally showing simply films...they can still serve their community and serve the desire for cultural experiences."

With the addition of an exhibition alongside the book, Davis hopes her message reaches a different audience and possibly sparks an interest in the subject.

The exhibit itself not only details a number of the theaters featured in the book, but also showcases artifacts through an interactive portion that essentially allows you to travel back in time.

There's also a video portion, put together by Joe Tropea, that shows snippets of early films, giving the individual a taste of what life was like during these times.

Flickering Treasures Exhibition
Flickering Treasures Exhibition
Flickering Treasures

For more information on Flickering Treasures you can click here or if you'd like to share your experience with these theaters, click here.