The downtown area of Baltimore, like those in so many other American cities, is in the midst of a major reinvention, becoming a lively hub of arts, design, cuisine, and cultural activity. This renaissance just took a big step forward with the opening—re-opening, in fact—of the Parkway theater.
Built in 1915, at the beginning of the Golden Age of cinema, the 1,100-seat theater, designed in elaborate Italianate style, was, for decades, a thriving hub of Baltimore’s cultural landscape. But as movie-viewing practices changed, and as Baltimore’s downtown area went through a downturn, Parkway became quiet, eventually shuttering its doors in 1978 in foreclosure. Then, under ownership by the city of Baltimore, the empty building deteriorated. As Maryland Film Festival (MdFF) Founding Director Jed Dietz remembers, “people knew about the building, but nobody had been inside for many years.”
That changed when MdFF acquired the theater and three adjacent buildings, hiring Baltimore architecture firm Ziger/Snead to restore the historic theater and to design a modern addition. Spatially reconstituted, the facility now includes the restored theater with 400 seats, along with two smaller 85-seat theaters, and a café and bar.
The project restored historical details while leaving traces of what had been many years of change. “If we had done a restoration, taking the entire building back to the way it had been in 1915, it would have lost the richness of the narrative of movie-going history,” explains Ziger/Snead partner Steve Ziger. Instead the new design includes what Ziger calls “evidence” of changes that had been made to the building over many decades.