Hippodrome Theatre

12 N. Eutaw Street,
Baltimore, MD 21201

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rmchowning
rmchowning on October 10, 2005 at 5:41 pm

To one and all:

My name is Marks Chowning and I am the Executive Director of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, the centerpiece of which is the beautiful Hippodrome Theatre. I have made a career of almost 20 years being a part of a process of reconstruction, restoration and/or revitalization of historic movie palaces. These magnificent facilities hold some a place in the heart of the communities in which they still exist, including the Hippodrome. While I must agree with RedDawg with regards to the comments regarding some of the less attractive production related elements that were added to the theatre in order to make it commercially viable in today’s greatly changed and tremendously different entertainment environment (including the violation of the mural), I also suppport those of you who acknowledge the reality of what sometimes must be done to save these important structures. You should also consider the project in its larger context, that being the preservation and restoration of now only 3 other historic buildings that are part or our complex, but the fact that an entire city block across the street (including the Towne Theatre) are almost completely renovated into a mixed use development that saved over a dozen historic structures. Overall, the theatre project that includes the Hippodrome has been the catalyst for approximately $500,000,000 (yes, a half a billion) dollars of historic restoration to save structures that by and large date the the end of the 19th century (NOTE: Much of downtown Baltimore was destroyed in a massive fire in 1905 with the area around the Hippodrome complex being one of the few areas downtown that has 19th century structures still intact.) While the asthetics of the facility have been compromised in some respect, it has played a huge part in the revitilization of the westside of downtown Baltimore, as similar projects have done in numerous other communities. As a side note, we should all be saddened and concerned regarding the status and future of one the grand dames of all movie palaces/vaudeville houses, namely the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans. Having operated that facility for 6 years during the 1990’s, and personally directed over $4,000,000 worth of restoration work on the building, I am greatly saddened that the theatre is likely is extremely bad condition post Katrina. The interior of the theatre is all hand worked plaster, and once wet, does nothing but start to slough off until cut our and replaced, as many of you most likely know. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the Saenger is once again restored to its rightful place as the showplace of the South

rlvjr
rlvjr on October 2, 2005 at 6:41 pm

Today I found convincing evidence that HANK WILLIAMS AND HIS DRIFTING COWBOYS played 4 shows a day for a week at the HIPPODROME in 1949. (First run movies normally were shown 5 times a day with 4 stage shows in between.) HANK WILLIAMS was the greatest country singer (read that GREATEST SINGER, period) who ever lived. This is a piece of history that ought be shared with LeAnn Rimes, Trisha Yearwood and any other latter-day country stars who play the HIPPODROME.

Michael21046
Michael21046 on August 3, 2005 at 10:02 pm

Glenn M. is correct – “My Fair Lady” played at the Hippodrome in its premiere roadshow 70mm version (2 a day performances, reserved seat availablity, etc.). I know this because I was a part of the audience in an evening performance in the Hippodrome. A rerelease showing of “My Fair Lady” played at the Mayfair in 1971. However, by that time no one came downtown at night. When I went to the theatre there were only 3 people in the seats including myself! This for a 70mm re-showing.
For a while during the mid and late 60s the majority of the roadshow movies played in the downtown theatres. However, JF theatres owned all the downtown houses in Baltimore City by this time. The owners probably felt they made a better profit by showing action films & blaxploitation movies as the last reserved seat show was “Hello Dolly” at the New. After that, 70mm road show presentations during the early ‘70s played at suburban movie houses.

rlvjr
rlvjr on July 21, 2005 at 3:42 am

The HIPPODROME was the #1 movie palace in Baltimore after the STANLEY was torn down, there was no contest. Like many places, the stage & screen concept was closed-out in the early 1950’s — thanks to union demands pricing stage shows into history. I saw just one movie here during that era, MGM’S TOM THUMB. Thanks partly to the sheer shabbiness of the neighborhood, the HIPPODROME wasn’t torn down. Now the restored HIPPODROME is a part of the upgrade of the entire area. Offering a full schedule of BROADWAY shows, as well as a few classic movie screenings, this theater couldn’t be more alive. Amply supported by strong box office receipts, it’s here to stay.

balto18
balto18 on July 13, 2005 at 3:54 am

RE: Tom’s June 7 posting, I believe that “My Fair Lady” played at the New. I’d have to do some extra research (darn, I just HATE doing that stuff! hehe) to give you the exact dates.

balto18
balto18 on June 9, 2005 at 5:54 am

I do hate to be cranky about such things, since this site really is all about our great picture palaces, but I would rather like to get some credit for my work: Mr. VanBibber’s post of 12/21/03 is taken from my (admittedly outdated) website. View link
That said, I’d like to applaud Mr. Van Bibber for his contributions to this site regarding Baltimore movie theatres.

gmorrison
gmorrison on June 8, 2005 at 1:07 pm

Tom,

I can’t help with dates, but I’m sure “My Fair Lady” had a reserved- seat engagement at the Hippodrome.

Glenn M.
Wash., DC

TomMcDade
TomMcDade on June 7, 2005 at 2:59 pm

Would anyone know the beginning and ending dates for the My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins runs in Downtown Baltimore (1964/1965)and what theatres hosted them? (I think the latter might have been the Mayfair)

teecee
teecee on May 19, 2005 at 7:44 pm

Restoration information & sketches:
View link

KarenRhoades
KarenRhoades on March 30, 2005 at 3:06 am

I’m a volunteer usher at the Hippodrome. I love working at this great theatre. Someone earlier had posted regarding the film festival in January. It was a big hit, and there’s another classic film festival set for May:

Wednesday, May 11 – Giant
Thursday, May 12 – The Color Purple
Friday, May 13 – Friday the 13th
Sunday, May 15 – Forest Gump

KenRoe
KenRoe on March 14, 2005 at 6:37 pm

The book “Exit” A History of Movies in Baltimore by Robert Kirk Headley Jr. (1974) states that the Hippodrome was owned by Isidor Rappaport from July 1931 and he operated it until he leased all his theatres to Trans-Lux in 1962. The Baltimore premier of “My Fair Lady” was one of the successes under their tenure.

Glennm
Glennm on March 14, 2005 at 5:37 pm

Wasn’t the Hippodrome once the “Trans-Lux Hippodrome,” or is that another faulty memory of mine? I don’t see any mention of Trans-Lux ownership in the above comments.

Glenn
Washington, DC

mto9269488
mto9269488 on January 30, 2005 at 9:04 pm

Just thought I would let everybody know that that the Hippodrome showed movies again this weekend.They had a four film festival to celebrate the first anniversary of the re-opening of the thearter for preforming arts.I did not get to see the first two movies(Cleopatra,Dr. Strangelove)but did see the last two.The Wizard Of Oz and Raiders Of The Lost Ark looked incredible on the big screen.They will be doing this again in May just before the arrival of The Lion King.Hopefully they will be able to get Star Wars or Gone With The Wind for that festival.

JimRankin
JimRankin on August 7, 2004 at 8:46 pm

Apparently, some people have been confusing the HIPPODROME’s phone number with that given for the Theatre Historical Soc. in an earlier comment; Please do not call the Society for any current information for an operating theatre. The HIPP can be reached via this number:
France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 Eutaw St., Baltimore, MD 21201, phone (410) 837-7400. See their web site link in blue, in the main description at top.

Do not try to reach a theatre through the Theatre Historical Society’s web site or their own phone number in Elmhurst, Illinois, which is at the web site: www.HistoricTheatres.org They have a great deal of historic information regarding theatres, but usually not current operating schedules, and the like. This message is placed at the request of the Society.

JimRankin
JimRankin on April 5, 2004 at 3:29 pm

There was a good article on the MAYFAIR in Marquee magazine of 4th Qtr., 1977 (Vol. 9 #4), pages 18-21, titled “Natatorium-Auditorium-Mayfair” by Robert K. Headley, Jr. It features seven vintage and modern photos, and may be available as described here:
PHOTOS AVAILABLE:
To obtain any available Back Issue of either “Marquee” or of its ANNUALS, simply go to the web site of the THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA at:
www.HistoricTheatres.org
and notice on their first page the link “PUBLICATIONS: Back Issues List” and click on that and you will be taken to their listing where they also give ordering details. The “Marquee” magazine is 8-1/2x11 inches tall (‘portrait’) format, and the ANNUALS are also soft cover in the same size, but in the long (‘landscape’) format, and are anywhere from 26 to 40 pages. Should they indicate that a publication is Out Of Print, then it may still be possible to view it via Inter-Library Loan where you go to the librarian at any public or school library and ask them to locate which library has the item by using the Union List of Serials, and your library can then ask the other library to loan it to them for you to read or photocopy. [Photocopies of most THSA publications are available from University Microforms International (UMI), but their prices are exorbitant.]

Note: Most any photo in any of their publications may be had in large size by purchase; see their ARCHIVE link. You should realize that there was no color still photography in the 1920s, so few theatres were seen in color at that time except by means of hand tinted renderings or post cards, thus all the antique photos from the Society will be in black and white, but it is quite possible that the Society has later color images available; it is best to inquire of them.

Should you not be able to contact them via their web site, you may also contact their Executive Director via E-mail at:
Or you may reach them via phone or snail mail at:
Theatre Historical Soc. of America
152 N. York, 2nd Floor York Theatre Bldg.
Elmhurst, ILL. 60126-2806 (they are about 15 miles west of Chicago)

Phone: 630-782-1800 or via FAX at: 630-782-1802 (Monday through Friday, 9AM—4PM, CT)

RedDawg
RedDawg on April 5, 2004 at 5:06 am

martinS,

This was/is most likely the c.1870 Auditorium Theatre, known since 1940 as the Mayfair Theatre. Still standing but in retched condition. Following info courtesy of Dan Gibbs: (See also /theaters/1879/

This bizarre building was one of the minor downtown palaces. The original structure opened in the 1870’s as a giant indoor swimming pool (!), was remodeled as a live theatre in the 1890’s. The current structure dates to 1903. This theatre (then called the Auditorium Theatre) was operated by Capt. James Kernan, CSA, in conjunction with the Maryland Theatre around the corner. (The Maryland was torn down in 1953; its great chandelier currently graces one of the lobbies — I think the Senate lobby — in the U.S. Capitol building.) The Auditorium was primarily a live theatre with some forays into movies, but became a film house for good in 1940, when its name was changed to Mayfair. It got a thorough remodeling at the time. It closed in 1980 and, thanks to a very bad landlord — the City of Baltimore — it is basically destroyed. It was all but ignored for the last twenty years and in early 2000 its roof collapsed. It’s still standing, but no telling how much longer.

pokrzywa73
pokrzywa73 on April 3, 2004 at 2:28 am

Please, Can anyone tell me the name of the Downtown Baltimore theatre that had or has a swimming pool under the seating floor. I visited this theatre in the late sixties with a friend that worked there as an usher. He took me downstairs to the full size pool, and back stage to see several floors of dressing rooms behind the movie screen. Any information would be appreciated.

anbrugo
anbrugo on March 9, 2004 at 8:07 pm

Please, everyone should remember that a restoration project of this size, scope, and cost(!) can only happen with compromises. I sat in the theater and marvelled at its beauty. I was thrilled at the the rehap work to recreate the original! The “holes” for lights and cables allow for the production of shows that will bring people and therefore help pay for this theater. Therein lies the give and take – if we want the theater, it has to be modernized as well as restored. A movie theater of this size and cost could not have been done. Without airconditioning, klieg lights, and cables, there would be no theater. Bottom line: Enjoy the beauty, overlook the holes, and come support the foundation and those who have donated to get this theater back on-line.

RedDawg
RedDawg on February 27, 2004 at 5:08 pm

Being an engineer, I would have suggested an entirely different approach to the problem of supporting the lighting trestle. But then, they didn’t ask me.

JimRankin
JimRankin on February 27, 2004 at 4:29 pm

RedDawg is perfectly correct as to the sad depredations done to theatres in the guise of “restoration.” True restoration does not include such odious intrusions as he describes that are now common in today’s ‘modern’ theatres. Sad to say, modern stagecraft is all about technology and virtually worships it. Ever since President Kennedy called for the heavy promotion of science and mathematics in our schools to the virtual exclusion of arts and history, we have had an ever more crass population without the moral and artistic grounding that our forebears had. People born since then often have no real historic or social reference, and science is touted then as the ‘god’ to emulate. From this stock we get not only technicians/engineers, but also the architects and ‘artists’ that are competent to duplicate by consulting vintage photographs the artistry of earlier days, but are quite without the cultural frame of reference to understand the ‘whys’ of the graciousness of earlier days. The godless generations from that time have replaced artistry with efficiency, and restraint with a greed for quick money in all they do. Could we expect this not to influence the theatres they are called upon to ‘restore’? To them, the calls of the modern thralls of science in the form of countless technical consultants are the calls of the gods of their day and age. The old designs may be quaint to them, but they are never taken seriously, so if an ‘authority’ on theatres and stages calls for a monstrous truss to hang in bold view with cables dangling through holes punched in murals, it is only to increase ‘usability’ they say. With only a profit motive ever in view, it is easy to justify the desecration of any space, no matter how revered. You ask for more “subtle” solutions? Do not hold your breath. In a day and age of crass and brazenness, we cannot expect them to take the time to devise artistic and subtle (or “transparent” as current lingo goes) means to hide the devices really necessary to achieve a good show. Trouble is, a good show is as the movies these days: no real story or artistry, but a vapid display of special effects at deafening sound levels. To a populace raised on such, what is a few more holes in the plaster? When a style is promoted called ‘High Tech’, are we to expect it to be to us appreciators of beauty, other than ‘High Ugly’? Resign yourself to this audacity, RedDwag, since to criticize the blatancy of High Tech is to disavow the worship of their real gods: money and power. They have the power now, and the Hipp and many other theatres will become their victims, all in the name of keeping their doors open at any cos

RedDawg
RedDawg on February 27, 2004 at 4:08 pm

Not to belabor this point, but I just discovered comments by principle restoration architect Hugh Hardy at http://www.france-merrickpac.com/news/news8.htm which say in part, “New elements have been subtlety introduced to meet contemporary needs. Architectural lighting levels have been increased. Sophisticated, twenty-first-century technology invisibly supports production lighting and sound systems.”

Invisible, I suppose, if one is blind. Someone please tell me if these visual defects are to remain as currently manifest?

RedDawg
RedDawg on February 27, 2004 at 7:09 am

I also applaud Hayles & Howe’s fine workmanship in this endeavor. Let me make clear that I do not ascribe any of the above noted shortcomings to H&H; I’m quite sure the decisions that lead to the conditions about which I wrote above, were taken at other levels and that H&H did what they were told or contracted to do with respect to those decisions.

mordo
mordo on February 26, 2004 at 8:46 pm

Shameless plug: Our firm, Hayles and Howe Ornamental Plasterers (www.haylesandhowe.com), is proud to have been a part of the restoration of the Hipp. It is a resounding success for all concerned and Baltimore will no doubt benefit (almost as much as Clear Channel) from it’s restoration.

RedDawg
RedDawg on February 26, 2004 at 3:30 pm

Oops. Forgot to mention that there doesn’t appear to be any movie projection equipment in the booth, nor any mention to what extent (if any) films/cinema are anticipated to be featured at the Hippodrome.

RedDawg
RedDawg on February 26, 2004 at 3:27 pm

Although I have been unable to see a production yet at the reopened Hippodrome, I did take the “Community Day” tour on Feb. 21. While the restoration certainly dazzles one’s eyes. I have to say that it also assaults them due to the imposition of various technical staging and production apparatus which are a disappointing distraction. Chief among these irritants is the apalling rape of the proscenium mural caused by its perforation by numerous large diameter holes apparently made necessary by the demands of modern day production lighting and sound systems that require huge trestles to support the heavy and ambience-ruining equipment. (Note the white “spots” on the top photo at View link Those are actually holes, not spots, and that doesn’t even show all of them. Also note the photos at View link and View link In these views the holes appear as hideous dark spots.) I can only hope that this particular “feature” is, as of now unfinshed, and that a more sensitive treatment to reduce the visual impact of this badly executed necessity will be forthcoming. To trumpet the heroic efforts that were necessary to restore this mural and then to subject it to this humiliating treatment is unforgivable.

Almost as bothersome are the numerous other speakers and light battens that degrade the visual experience in virtually every direction one looks. While I’m sure it is a superior state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, one that will enhance the productions and make them all the more enjoyable when the lights go down, I just have to think that there must have been more creative and subtle engineering ways to accomplish these goals than what is now evident.

One more thing that bothered me about Community Day was the heavy commercialism of the entire event. The Hippodrome itself is being forced to take second billing to the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, the M&T Bank Pavilion and the Toyota in the lobby. While I recognize that the rebirth of the Hippodrome could not have taken place without the generous contributions of these organizations, I resent the “product placement” merchandizing that forces itself upon my consciousness.