The Next Picture Show?

December 13, 1993

Long-time Annapolis residents remember fondly the Capitol Theater on West Street, Circle Theatre on State Circle and the Playhouse Theatre on Main Street. For decades before and after World War II, these movie houses brought the magic of Hollywood to the sleepy Maryland capital. Then came the triple blow of television, home air-conditioning and suburbanization. One by one, these palaces of make-believe went dark.

Life, however, is an ever-moving giant merry-go-round. Concepts that once appeared to have lost their vitality are rethought and reintroduced. So it is that the talk in Annapolis this holiday season concerns efforts to bring movies back to the historic downtown.

If everything works out, a group of film aficionados headed by Roberto Sackett hopes to have not one but three big screens operating a year from now. The preferred location is a site behind the Hopkins Furniture store off Gorman Street, next to the Hillman Garage and its ample parking.

"It's the most suitable location but I couldn't say it's the only one," says Mr. Sackett, who recently resigned from his job with Historic Annapolis Foundation to work full-time on the movie project.

His plans call for a movie complex called "Paradiso." It would have two 125-seat theaters and one screen seating 50 patrons. One of the large theaters would feature first-run movies, the other one would provide an ever-changing menu of recent films. The small theater would be devoted to foreign and art films.

Additionally, the complex would have a cafe serving light fare, espresso and the like. Backers hope the cafe would turn into a downtown meeting place.

"Paradiso" principals say they are convinced downtown Annapolis is a viable movie market. They point to some 3,000 midshipmen, who cannot have cars. Additionally, lots of retirees live within walking distance as do married couples with children. "I'm really looking for something for everyone," Mr. Sackett said. "My personal feeling is that we need to do variety."

We wish the "Paradiso" project success. With a price tag of more than $500,000, it needs investors with deep pockets. If the idea flies, though, the movie complex could become a centerpiece of efforts to build a night life in downtown Annapolis around something other than alcohol.

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