Vacant Dundalk theater to become sports center

October 15, 1992|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

The Strand Theatre, which has stood empty for six years in the heart of the Dundalk Historic District, is getting a new life.

After six decades of providing cinema entertainment, the theater will now become an indoor sports center, much to the relief of a community that had fretted over the building's future.

The 9,105-square-foot theater will have six batting cages, basketball hoops, an arcade, a concession stand and a nine-hole miniature golf course on its second-floor balcony. It will be developed by America's Pastime, which opened a similar center in April in South Baltimore's historic McHenry Theatre.

Edward M. Canino, the project's architect, said he hopes to restore the theater's original 1920's marquee and as much of the original facade as possible. The renovation should be completed by January, he said.

The Strand conversion is part of a trend of converting long-shuttered neighborhood theaters. The Carlton, farther north on Dundalk Avenue, is being turned into a funeral home. The Grand Theatre in Highlandtown will become a banquet hall.

America's Pastime now has asked Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt for zoning changes allowing them to have a sports-recreation center in an area of small businesses. Mr. Schmidt, who has yet to rule on the requests, said he thought the proposal was a "worthwhile project."

"It certainly is to your benefit that the entire community supports the project," he told Darryl G. Fletcher, attorney for America's Pastime, during last week's hearing.

William Mayer, vice president of the Dunlogan Community Council, said there has been no negative response to the proposal.

"The kids down here can't wait for it to open," he said. "The theater has always been a focal point for entertainment in the community and we've missed that in the five or six years it has been closed. We're relieved it's going to be opened again."

Dick Leitch, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, said the America's Pastime sports center in the McHenry Theatre has been an "excellent commercial neighbor. We have no complaints."

The Strand opened in 1927 and was designed by John F. Eyring, who also designed the Carlton, the Vilma on Belair Road, the Pikes in Pikesville and Uptown in Park Heights. One of its first films was the silent classic "The Magician," said Mr. Mayer, who is also a local real estate agent. In its heyday, the theater drew soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Holabird -- now an industrial park -- during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Like many neighborhood theaters, the Strand, located near the Dundalk Village Shopping Center, fell victim to the multiscreen theaters that now show first-run movies. Bookings changed to feature B-movies, or popular films that had long since played in the multiscreen theaters.

Patricia A. Winter, executive director of the Dundalk and Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber received proposals from about 20 different developers, but the one from America's Pastime "is the only one that wouldn't have a negative impact on parking in the surrounding area."

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