Pikes theater to play new role as a performing arts center CURTAIN CALL

August 14, 1994|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Special to The Sun

For a vacant movie theater, the Pikes has had a lot of coming attractions advertised on its marquee this summer.

Getting the marquee treatment have been concerts staged at other venues in Pikesville as part of a long-range plan to renovate the Pikes as a performing arts center. The Pikes itself is in no condition to stage any sort of event these days, but that could all change in the next few years.

"Our mission is to present performing artists, with an emphasis on emerging and mid-career artists," says Aimee Adashek, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Arts Foundation, the nonprofit group hoping to move forward with a $2 million plan to renovate the existing Pikes theater as a facility for theater, film, music, dance and the visual arts.

"There is nothing like this center in Baltimore. It'll be a showcase for the best our region has to offer," she continues. "We're creating a space that will have a 400-seat theater, as well as a lobby that can accommodate 400 people."

Mark Beck, the project's architect, says the facility will serve multiple functions. "For instance, the lobby will be set up to double as an art gallery," he says, adding that the size and flexibility of the theater will make it ideal for events too large for most college theaters but too small for a venue like the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Ms. Adashek cites two additional features of the theater that should make it an appealing venue: a stage floor suitable for dance companies, and the facility's ability to provide ample rehearsal space to local performing groups that may currently be in cramped quarters.

As for whether the new theater will, in effect, "steal" performing groups from other local venues, she responds, "No, because there is an awful lot of programming to go around."

Although she says a lot of fund-raising remains to be done before the construction go-ahead can be given, Ms. Adashek is confident the Pikes' marquee will one day announce events at the theater itself.

The letters used for all these marquee blurbs, incidentally, are themselves part of the fund-raising effort. For a $5 contribution you can adopt a plastic letter. Many of these letters have been newly purchased, but many others are original to the theater. Found dusty, broken and littering the theater's lobby floor, the abandoned letters have been lovingly glued back together by some of the foundation's 100 volunteers.

Besides the Adopt-a-Letter campaign, the enterprising Ms. Adashek says potential donors may, for a price, have their names put on everything from individual theater seats to the theater itself.

How much would it cost to have the theater named for you?

A cool million, give or take.

If that seems like a lot of money for the name exposure on the marquee of a renamed theater, Ms. Adashek quickly points out that 48,000 vehicles pass by on Reisterstown Road every day. One has to lean forward to hear her say this, because some of those 48,000 vehicles are roaring past at the moment.

A few minutes later, with a big yellow flashlight in hand, Ms. Adashek heads into a theater that is black from both grime and lack of electricity. Although she says the building is still structurally sound, it's filthy. That's not surprising, considering the last picture show at the Pikes hit the screen more than a decade ago.

Ms. Adashek's flashlight tour is a bit like a tour of a haunted house. Poking about in the dark auditorium, with its seeming acres of empty seats, one imagines the generations of moviegoers who had their first dates here (or, for that matter, their last dates).

Behind the screen, near a rear exit, one can see a plaster wall that stands out from the brick walls around it. Like an archaeological discovery, this patched wall marks the spot where an oil boiler blew up during a March 1968 screening of "The Graduate." Police evacuated 300 patrons during that traumatic incident.

Upstairs, two old projectors sit idle. Next to them is the record player used to waft music into the auditorium before the features. Blowing dust off the sole surviving record album, one finds that its "101 Strings Gold Award Hits" include selections from "Hair." Somehow it seems a touchingly pathetic reminder of suburban hipness circa the late '60s.

The long effort to get the building spruced up has gained momentum in recent years, but Ms. Adashek acknowledges the process has taken longer than some would like. Formed in 1991 to develop a multiuse arts center, the foundation she heads leases the Pikes for a token fee from Baltimore County, which bought the building for $800,000 in 1992.

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