Senator Theatre

5904 York Road,
Baltimore, MD 21212

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Stosh on March 31, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Here’s the Sun article:

“Towson University and its radio station, WTMD-FM, has withdrawn its proposal to turn Baltimore’s historic Senator Theatre into a studio and performing arts center.

The request to withdraw the proposal came from Towson officials shortly after noon today, said Kimberly Clark, executive director of the Baltimore Development Corp., which will decide who operates the 71-year-old moviehouse. The city took over operation in July after then-owner Tom Kiefaber could not keep up with mortgage payments.

Towson officials offered no reason for withdrawing the proposal, Clark said. University officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Towson’s withdrawal leaves only one proposal left under consideration by the BDC. Charles Theatre owner James “Buzz” Cusack has proposed continuing to operate the theater as a first-run moviehouse while adding restaurants on both sides.

Clark said the BDC could make a recommendation on the theater’s future to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as early as its next board meeting, set for April 22."

Stosh on March 31, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Sad news: Towson University withdraws its plans for the Senator:


Patsy on March 31, 2010 at 7:09 am

As one CT member posted this past October..“this cinema is far too important to be lost!

Patsy on March 31, 2010 at 7:06 am

lauraserena: Great to read that Karen Noonan is onboard along with Mr. Hopkins and myself with letters to the Baltimore Mayor. When reading that Baltimore used to have around 150 theatres it really made me take note of this cinema story and realize that everyone on CT should contact Mayor Rawlings-Blake! I think the Mayor would sit up and take notice…then!

lauraserena on March 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Current status:

The notoriously anti-preservation Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) is now putting The Senator Theatre through an RFP process that will determine the theatre’s future. They have repeatedly refused to involve objective, experienced historic theatre redevelopment professionals and film exhibition experts in guiding the process. They did briefly consult John Bell from the Tampa Theatre with a short list of questions by email (Bell was not allowed to see the 2 proposals under consideration), and after they received Bell’s advice, they appeared poised to do the opposite of what his advice would indicate.

I was on the BDC’s advisory panel, and attended secret meetings about the RFP process, so I have access to information that has not been made public. I resigned in protest from the panel, due to the BDC’s repeated refusals to bring historic theatre redevelopment and film exhibition experts into the process.

Friends of The Senator has started a letter campaign, asking Mayor Rawlings-Blake to intervene and insist that experts in historic theatre redevelopment and film exhibition must guide the process. We’ve made it easy for you to send your own letter to the Mayor at

We’re not alone in this. Karen Colizzi Noonan, President of the Theatre Historical Society of America, and Johns Hopkins, Executive Director of Baltimore Heritage, have both chimed in with their own letters to the Mayor, expressing concerns that experts are not being consulted. They have also been joined by other local and national organizations and individuals.

In one of his books on Baltimore theatres, R.K. Headley noted that Baltimore has made war on its theatres for a hundred years. There used to be around 150 theatres in Baltimore. Now the BDC is working on probably doing lasting damage to the last remaining one of any significance that has been in continuous operation. Apparently, that war on Baltimore’s theatres continues.

JackCoursey on March 9, 2010 at 6:00 am

An undisputed gem:1, 2, 3

TLSLOEWS on February 19, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Very nice looking theatre lets hope someone can do something with it.Look the LOEWS KINGS sat empty almost 35 years and it is now going to be redone and reopen by 2014 maybe.So the SENATOR has a good chance good luck to them.

DavidZornig on December 2, 2009 at 7:42 am

If it was fully renovated & updated as recently as 1999, it should be able to be kind of a turn key operation to start running films again. The official website at the top of this page still shows it owned by the same owners as the Rotunda Theatres.
Who are adverstising all first run at their other theaters on the same site.

If they still don’t own it, Why not rent it back to them for a low fee and show some of those first run films there also? It would keep it open and in the public eye. And also make it appear more viable to any investors who might be willing to take a chance on it.

Sitting empty (or filmless) just adds to the stigma. The only upside is it appears they still are doing open mic events with bands etc. If that information is as current as the other half of the page on their website.

Stosh on October 5, 2009 at 4:58 am

Happy Birthday indeed! For an old girl, you look remarkably well!

irishcine on October 5, 2009 at 3:49 am

Happy birthday Senator – Times are hard for you just now but this cinema is far too important to be lost and my best wishes to all working to keep it alive.

RichardBaltoCo on October 5, 2009 at 3:32 am

Today is the 70th birthday of Baltimore’s Senator Theatre!

Baltimore City and the Baltimore Development Corporation are holding a ‘Pre-Proposal Conference’ today at the theatre for potential developers and operators (see my recent post, above).

Shows and events are scheduled thru October. Details on the Senator’s commercial site:

I’m working with a small online forum called the Senator Theatre Group (STG). There are other support groups for the Senator Theatre, on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

Anyone can join our conversation:

RichardBaltoCo on October 5, 2009 at 3:32 am

Today is the 70th birthday of Baltimore’s Senator Theatre!

Baltimore City and the Baltimore Development Corporation are holding a ‘Pre-Proposal Conference’ today at the theatre for potential developers and operators (see my recent post, above).

Shows and events are scheduled thru October. Details on the Senator’s commercial site:

I’m working with a small online forum called the Senator Theatre Group (STG). There are other support groups for the Senator Theatre, on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

Anyone can join our conversation:

RichardBaltoCo on September 28, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Developers' ‘Pre-Proposal Conference’ in Baltimore Oct 5

It’s the 70th birthday of the Senator Theatre and
the Baltimore Development Corporation is hosting
a ‘Pre-Proposal Conference’ issuing its RFP for
preservation and operation of Baltimore’s art deco
landmark. Movies are still being shown regularly.

If you would like to attend next Monday’s conference
at the theatre, please contact the BDC before Friday,
Oct 2. All interested can download the complete RFP
(Request For Proposals) from the BDC website (or
reply to me for a copy of the PDF version).

According to the RFP, a Pre-Proposal conference
is scheduled for Monday, October 5, 2009 at 10 am.

From the RFP…


Issue Date: September 21, 2009
Date for obtaining RFP: September 21, 2009
RSVP due for Pre-Proposal Conference: October 2, 2009
Pre-Proposal Conference: October 5, 2009, 10:00 a.m. (at the Senator
Due date for all written questions: October 6, 2009, 5:00 p.m.
BDC response to Pre-Proposal Conference and written questions: October
13, 2009
Proposals Due: November 20, 2009
Developer Oral Presentations to Advisory Panel: December 2009
Anticipated Announcement of Selection: February 2010

Please note above dates and times are subject to change.

To attend the Oct 5 conference, please contact before Oct 2:

Kristen Mitchell
BDC Senior Economic Development Officer

• The Senator Theatre

• Friends of the Senator Theatre (blog)

• BDC’s Request For Proposals

• The Senator Theatre Group (open discussion)

Thank you,
Richard Ellsberry
The Senator Theatre Group

HowardBHaas on September 25, 2009 at 7:30 am

Baltimore seeks new buyer.
View link
Let’s hope the current owner can find a way.

RichardBaltoCo on September 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Try all lowercase?

The link to the Maryland Historical Society works for me.

RichardBaltoCo on September 5, 2009 at 11:30 am

Question about ‘duplexing’ historic theatres?
Anyone, please –

Are there good examples (or not) of historic theatres that were split, with the intention of restoring the historic interior years later? Have walls been built with sensitivity to the architecture, to be removed in accordance with long-term plans? What are some of these cinemas, and how did they make out?

For example, we’re hearing that the AFI Silver Theatre was dark for 15 years before its stunning restoration. Suppose there had been some interim arrangement, to keep the theatre alive during its dark ages?

RichardBaltoCo on August 31, 2009 at 6:53 am

Maryland Historical Society: the Durkee Theatre Collection (1922-1965)

This link refers to dozens of Baltimore movie houses…

… Durkee Enterprises was one of the oldest and largest movie
circuits in Baltimore. Frank H. Durkee began his movie empire as a
young man around 1908/1909 when he went from hall to hall carrying his
movie equipment strapped to his back. Durkee was born in Baltimore on 20 August 1888, and died on 24 October 1955. He graduated from
Baltimore City College in 1906, and attended the University of
Maryland Law School. In his youth, he sang between movies and in
church choirs. He was president of the Baltimore City Park Board from 1938 to 1945. Durkee’s first movie house was the PARADISE in a two-story house on the corner of Washington and Federal Streets…

RichardBaltoCo on August 5, 2009 at 7:26 am

New SenatorTheatre open discussion group…

Google Groups kindly offers 4 levels of email delivery, including none at all (read-web-only :) … All are invited. Please spread the word!

RichardBaltoCo on July 29, 2009 at 6:15 am

Recap of Senator Theatre auction

Nice article by Larry Perl / Baltimore Messenger posted today:
View link

It gives a good sense of various parties in Baltimore considering a workable future for the theatre. Names several names, with a slideshow of recent photos.

movieguy on July 25, 2009 at 5:44 am

It is OUTRAGEOUS that the city of Baltimore would pay $810,000 for the Senator, OUTBIDDING someone who most likely would have made much better use of the theatre(letting Tom K Run it and program the films)

What will the city do in its cash strapped state? LET THE THEATRE ROT OR give it to a developer who will tear it down for a BANK OR CONDOS!!

RichardBaltoCo on July 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Baltimore Sun editorial following Senator Theatre auction

No Hollywood ending
Our view: The city must set limits on its commitment to the Senator Theatre

View link

July 24, 2009

In the Hollywood version of Wednesday’s auction of the Senator Theatre, the auctioneer would have intoned, “Going once, going twice,” and right there, in the pregnant pause before he lowered the gavel to the podium and consigned the historic Art Deco movie house to the wrecking ball, a sudden outpouring of community support would have materialized, It’s a Wonderful Life-style, to bail out the plucky owner and hero of our story, Tom Kiefaber. Or maybe in a slightly more realistic version, the theater would have been bought by a mysterious bidder who turned out to be a rich, eccentric movie buff and promised to keep the place going. (And let Mr. Kiefaber run the projector and make his little speeches before the show starts.)

What we got instead was a confusing mess. One bid came in at $800,000, about $150,000 less than the city had paid for the Senator’s mortgage earlier this year. City officials huddled and, according to First Deputy Mayor Andrew B. Frank, decided to bid $810,000 to retain control of the theater rather than allow it to go to the anonymous bidder, who might not have shared the city’s goals for the Senator. Now, Mr. Frank says, the city intends to issue a request for proposals with the goal of selling the theater to a nonprofit or businessperson who would run it in a way that fits with Baltimore’s hopes for Belvedere Square.

Why exactly the city thinks there might be more interest in the theater in an RFP process than in the auction is unclear. Two local businessmen with great success in the entertainment field, developer David Cordish and Charles Theatre owner James “Buzz” Cusack have both expressed interest in the Senator but did not bid. Mr. Cusack says the theater would have had to be “unreasonably cheaper” for it to be financially viable. Both he and Mr. Cordish have talked about adding a restaurant or other amenities to make the single-screen model workable, and that doesn’t count the other renovations that would be necessary to get the theater up to snuff. The roof leaks, and the seats are long overdue for a replacement. (Mr. Cusack says seats run $150 to $200 apiece, a big chunk of change for a 900-seat theater.)

What that means is the city’s hope to recoup its investment is wildly unrealistic, at least in the short term. Mayor Sheila Dixon’s administration portrayed the auction results as a positive development, but they really just proved that the city bought the theater for a lot more than it’s worth at a time when Baltimore is facing severe budget trouble.

The mayor needs to move quickly to create the “wide-open, transparent process” for finding a new operator that her administration promised. Baltimore needs to find someone with Mr. Kiefaber’s passion, but with better luck, deeper pockets and, perhaps, more business acumen. What it does not need is someone who assumes Baltimore will bail him out if times get tough.

There is no doubt that Belvedere Square is a stronger, more vibrant community with the Senator than without, and some level of public investment could pay off in the long run in terms of increased business activity and taxes. But the mayor needs to engage the community in an honest dialogue so it can decide how big of an investment it’s willing to make.

View link
Copyright © 2009, The Baltimore Sun

Stosh on July 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Tom went above and beyond in trying to keep the Senator afloat. I doubt that the City ownership will lead to much.

As an aside, my son’s band, JD and The Blades, were one of the three bands that closed the theater a few weeks ago.

movieguy on July 23, 2009 at 10:01 am

The City of Baltimore will DO NOTHING PRODUCTIVE WITH THE SENATOR! They will sit and spin for MONTHS AND MONTHS! In that time the theater will slowly begin to become run down and shabby.

Even things were attempted they HAVE NO IDEA how to RUN A THEATRE!

Without Tom K at the helm the Senator is doomed!

irishcine on July 23, 2009 at 3:10 am

Baltimore Sun story is at

View link

irishcine on July 23, 2009 at 3:07 am

Poor Senator. The City of Baltimore now owns it.

According to reports in the Baltimore Sun today, there was one anonymous bid of $800,000 and the City then offered an extra $10,000.

The full story is well worth a read, a lot of drama.