A theater where the show can't go on ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY

September 28, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

A story on Annapolis' Circle Theater in yesterday's Anne Arundel edition should have said that Sike Sharigan bought the building for $350,000 in 1985.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Upstairs, in the attic of the old theater, Sike Sharigan shakes the dust off a ladder and climbs nimbly to the room with the most spectacular view.

It used to be storage space, this area near the rafters, full of stage sets collecting cobwebs. Now it's a bright and airy loft with a sweeping view of the Chesapeake Bay and a balcony overlooking the red roofs of Annapolis.


Mr. Sharigan slides back the glass doors and steps outside for a moment. But then he wants to go back downstairs to the first floor of the former Circle Theater, which he's converting into an office building with shops. He's a modest man, visibly uncomfortable at the thought of being portrayed as a swinger with a penthouse apartment.

Still, it's somehow fitting that Mr. Sharigan should move across the street from the State House.

The people who work there, after all, have been coming for years to his restaurant and bar. Fran O'Brien's Steak and Seafood House is one of the city's most popular political watering holes, crowded with legislators almost every night during the General Assembly session.

"You can't make this story about a flamboyant bachelor because that's not the real me," Mr. Sharigan warns. "I just did this because I wanted to preserve the building and make it a quality building. The penthouse -- that was just what fit best with the space."

The real Mr. Sharigan is a 49-year-old restaurateur who spends his summers running a second Fran O'Brien's in Rehoboth Beach, Del., likes people, makes politicians feel at home, and bought the theater without looking inside it.

When it was built in 1920, the stylish building across from the State House was a popular vaudeville theater. It was converted into a movie theater when interest in vaudeville waned.

In the movie house's glory days, Hollywood magic beamed from the projectors upstairs, and crowds lined up under the marquee to see the "continuous" daily shows. But the old-fashioned theater lost in competition to the modern, suburban multiscreen cinemas.

The last picture showed in 1983, just before the Annapolis Mall theaters opened.

Mr. Sharigan walked by the boarded-up theater two years later and found it so fascinating that he decided to buy it on the spot.

He became the owner by paying $350 million to Durkee Enterprises and promising never to show a movie again.

Durkee owned movie theaters in Eastport and Parole at the time of the sale and wanted to avoid more competition, he said.

His dream was to turn it into a live theater.

"I felt Annapolis needed a legitimate theater," he said. "We didn't have anything like that then."

But his plans took so many years to work out that he gave up and leased the place to a magician. The show flopped, and Mr. Sharigan abandoned his plans for live entertainment to convert the building into offices.

After a few more delays, he persuaded the city's Historic District Commission, a panel that oversees downtown development, to allow him to completely gut and renovate the theater.

He promised the commission that he would preserve the brick front of the theater and recast a 1920s-era frieze that once adorned the building. In return, he received permission to add skylights to turn the attic into a penthouse apartment.

The project cost $3 million and took several years to complete.

Schwarz and Purcell, an Annapolis architecture firm, worked with the historic commission to preserve the facade, refurbish the building cornices, create a four-story glass atrium and install a small marquee. Berliner Construction Co., also an Annapolis company, began work last fall and expects to finish in November.

A stone's throw from the State House, the building is an ideal location for lobbyists and companies that do a lot of business with the state, Mr. Sharigan said.

He has already leased one-fifth of the 15,000 square feet to Montgomery County lobbyists and IBM, which plans to open a corporate center.

Even though he's charging a higher rent than most downtown office buildings, Mr. Sharigan expects the location, and an added bonus of 8 basement parking spaces, will draw plenty of takers.

Who knows? He might even throw in a free drink at Fran O'Brien's.


If you want to get news in the Annapolis/South County report, call JoAnna Daemmrich at 269-0157 during the day or leave a message on the tip line after hours.

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