The Met's final days at its bustling corner

JACQUES KELLY

March 26, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Mention the crossroads of North and Pennsylvania avenues and Baltimoreans will respond with names such as William Tickner's funeral home, the Pratt Library, the Arch Social Club, Wilson's Restaurant or the Met Theatre.

For so many decades, this was one of Baltimore's booming intersections, where people transferred from streetcar to streetcar, placed an illegal bet on a horse or number or bought a bottle of aspirin.

A recent column about the corner, where an apartment for senior citizens is now being completed, brought a response from Original Northwood resident James Genthner. During the mid-1970s, he worked the golden corner as a state property acquisitions officer, buying real estate for what became the Penn North subway stop. Mr. Genthner recalls the days when the final curtain was drawn at the Met:

"The Met was owned by the late Milton Schwaber, who operated out of a converted gas station on Reisterstown Road near the old Pikes Theater. The Met was irregularly shaped. It was built around a building that contained apartments, the old Read's drugstore, the Met Liquors and a record and tape shop.

"At the end of its career as a neighborhood movie house, the Met property had additional portions which were rented out for nontheater purposes. On the top floor was an auditorium-like area which served as a political club for the late state senator, Verda F. Welcome.

NB "On the ground floor was a strange store, the House of Bur-Rue

[1526 W. North Ave.], a hat shop owned by a quiet, pleasant, 60-ish lady named Bertha West. I could never figure out how Ms. West stayed in business. Her shop was open only part time. In the ancient display cases were a number of ladies hats which seemed to have come from another era.

"The paint was flaking off the walls and ceiling. We never saw any customers or browsers in the tiny store, but we were assured by Mr. Schwaber that she had been a tenant for many years and always paid her rent on time," Mr. Genthner says.

He says the redoubtable Ms. West relocated her business to a tiny rowhouse on Pennsylvania Avenue between Cumberland Street and North Avenue. She renamed the store the Gippa Jappa Hat Shop. Some years later, while walking along Eutaw Street near the old firehouse at Druid Hill Avenue, he spotted the Gippa Jappa sign in another store window. Then it disappeared altogether.

"The Pennsylvania Avenue side of the shop had the Met Barber Shop, a favorite gathering place for the neighborhood. The barber's name, Fred Murray," Mr. Genthner says.

"The state's negotiations for the properties dragged on for years. A portion of the building had six or so dilapidated apartments on the second and third floors. There was a sign in glass over the entrance that read 'Hinder's Apts.' The flats were poorly designed and there was one gentleman who had a living room on one side of the main public hall and his bathroom was on the other.

"The Met ceased operations in 1977. I never went inside the theater while it was operating. There was little in it to lead me to suspect that it had been one of the premier movie houses in the city.

"I was eventually let into the theater by a long-time employee of Mr. Schwaber's whose last name was Marshall. Since this gentleman bore a striking resemblance to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, we inquired if he were related to the justice. He replied he was a cousin.

"One afternoon after the state purchased the building, we got a call from someone in the neighborhood that intruders had gained entry and turned on the Met's old neon marquee, giving it one last blaze of glory.

"I went over and entered the basement and turned [the marquee] off for the final time. The building was full of rats by that time and no doubt they resented their harsh eviction," he says.

There was a public auction of what few treasures survived in the Met. Then, in the early months of 1978, the wrecker went to work.

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