Behind the Scenes Tour of the Town Theater

The only theater in Baltimore (perhaps the entire country) to go from a theater to a parking garage and then back to a theater, the historic Town Theater has a long and colorful history with burlesque, vaudeville, and cinema. Work has just begun for its newest life as the future home of the Everyman Theatre, which is moving from its location on Charles Street. Please join us and Everyman director Vincent Lancisi for a tour of the historic Town Theater midway through its transformation.

Image courtesy Baltimore Sun/Amy Davis, 2009

Tour Information

Date: Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Time: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Place: 315 West Fayette Street
(Between Howard and Eutaw, one block from the Hippodrome)
Parking is available in nearby lots, or better yet, take the Light Rail!
Cost: $10
Registration: Click Here to Register

Constructed across from the venerable Ford’s Theater in 1911, the Empire Theater (as the Town was first called) was designed in the Beaux Arts style by Baltimore architects William McElfatrick and Otto Simonson. Although its advertising slogan was appealing, “Better Burlesque,” and it boasted its own soda fountain and billiard parlor, the theater never caught on with burlesque or a few years later, with vaudeville. By 1915 it had switched to a single screen movie theater with seats for over 1500. Movies did not fare well either, and after a brief stint back as a burlesque theater, the building was shuttered in 1927. In 1937 it reopened, but as a parking garage. For some reason, this use also did not stick, and in 1947 the building was rebuilt back into a theater. With architects Lucius White and John Zinc in the lead, the new theater was fully modern, with Art Moderne styling, amoeba-shaped wall decorations, and even a concession stand selling new fangled orange-coated ice cream treats called Dreamsicles. The Town Theater, as it was then renamed, opened with a premier showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” complete with Jimmy Stewart in the audience. From the 1960s into the 1970s, the Town was Baltimore’s only “Cinerama,” a film technique where multiple film strips are shown on a single projector. This run didn’t last either, and the theater closed again in 1990, about a week before the Hippodrome a block away also went dark. In the late 1990s, the Town’s future was in doubt as the city’s development plan called for large-scale demolition in the West Side, a plan that Baltimore Heritage, Preservation Maryland and other groups worked hard to convert into the preservation-based plan that exists today.

Everyman Theatre has taken over the Town and is conducting a thorough transformation of the interior and restoration of the exterior. Construction will include a 250 to 300 seat theater, a rehearsal hall, classrooms, and more. Construction has begun for an expected opening in 2011, but Everyman has invited us to come and take a look at the work in progress. Please join us for a tour of this wonderful theater that has played host to the likes of Mae West and Joe E. Brown as it embarks upon a new life with the Everyman Theatre.

Space is limited on this tour. Confirmations will be sent by email, and payment will be due upon confirmation. For additional information and questions, call Baltimore Heritage at 410-332-9992. Thank you to Agora and PNC Bank, our tour series sponsors. This tour series is made possible in part by a generous contribution from the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and the Maryland State Arts Council.

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