UPDATE: The Grand’s Last Stand

posted by Patrick Crowley on January 24, 2004 at 8:57 am

BALTIMORE, MD — Our friends at the Senator and the Main Street Movie House Foundation have alerted us to their plans to meet at the site of the Grand Theatre from noon until sundown today (Saturday).

The group plans to document the destruction of the Grand, record memories of the theater from individual patrons, and generally mourn the theater’s loss. The Senator Theatre is also providing fresh popcorn for all in attendance.

“This afternoon, Friday January 23rd, the demolition crew razing Baltimore’s historic Grand Theatre in Highlandtown predict that the renowned theatre’s majestic fa├žade that graced the 500 block of South Conkling Street for over 90 years will fall. The theatre’s ongoing demolition can be viewed on the East Baltimore Guide’s internet webcam at www.ebguide.com/webcam.html.

The starting date for the demolition of the Grand Theatre was recently moved up to this past Monday the 19th, Martin Luther King Day, in response to a rising chorus of protests from the Highlandtown Community Association and local, regional and national historic preservation organizations, including, The League of Historic American Theatres, Baltimore Heritage, Preservation Maryland, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

With the demolition of the theatre building, any opportunity for The Grand to be refurbished and to anchor the center of Highlandtown’s recently designated Arts and Entertainment District has been irretrievably lost.

The Grand Theatre, built by Baltimore movie house pioneer Frank H. Durkee and his partners, and designed by Baltimore architect Henry Bickle, had its inaugural opening on November 10, 1913 offering vaudeville and silent movies to the citizens of Highlandtown.

All of Highlandtown turned out for the celebratory opening day parade in 1913 that was led by William Schluderberg and Henry Schenning. Seating up to 1500, The Grand Theatre offered a huge balcony making it one of the largest and attractive of the “neighborhood” theaters in the city. The Grand was extensively remodeled by The Durkee organization in 1926 and its first “talkie” sound feature, “Lilac Time” starring Gary Cooper opened on October 2, 1928. The Grand was also one of the few Baltimore theaters with stage facilities and the ability to “fly” scenery for live vaudeville production that were offered along with motion pictures.

Today and tomorrow, Saturday January 24 – starting at noon until sundown – volunteers from The Main Street Movie House Foundation and the staff of Baltimore’s historic Senator Theatre will be honoring the rich history of this beloved main street movie house at the site.

All who wish to participate are encouraged to bundle up, grab their cameras and video recorders and come to the site. The Main Street Movie House Foundation volunteers will be videotaping individual memories all afternoon Friday and Saturday starting at noon. All those who contribute a Grand Theatre memory will be given a brick from The Grand’s magnificent former proscenium. The Senator Theatre is providing fresh popped corn for all in attendance. A sign in book will be provided for all those who wish to be included in “The Spirit of The Grand” project being launched today to document the theatre’s rich history.

In the midst of the storm of publicity about the imminent opening of the Hippodrome Theatre the historic Grand Theatre has been nearly forgotten. The Main Street Movie House Foundation’s “The Spirit of The Grand” project will help insure that the extraordinary history of Highlandtown’s Grand Theatre will be documented and live on. Today the Grand Theatre joins Baltimore’s renowned Royal Theatre as poignant examples of irreplaceable main street theaters that should have been preserved and allowed to live on as part of Baltimore City’s arts and entertainment initiatives."

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Comments (4)

Patrick Crowley
Patrick Crowley on January 24, 2004 at 9:24 am

If anyone plans to attend today’s event (and has a digital camera), please let us know. We’d love to post a photo gallery of the festivities.

sdoerr on January 24, 2004 at 2:25 pm

Also if anyone could get a very nice piece of the theater that is recognizable, or important part, that is small you could send to me in the mail, please contact me, I can send you the money for shipping via PayPal.

frank on January 26, 2004 at 7:05 am

A credit to the very nice photographic montage to the person covering the Grand Theatre demotlition.

Gary on February 2, 2004 at 12:20 am

Wished I’d known about the demolition gathering. I worked at the Grand from 1971 to 1973 and have a wealth of memories. I stopped at the site yesterday to retrieve a few bricks and have been depressed ever since. What a waste. It could and should have been saved. Ironically, Frank Durkee Jr. died a few days ago, about the same time demolition began. I’d like very much to be involved in the Spirit of the Grand project.

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