I SUSPECT that I'm not alone in lamenting the state of today's movie theaters. It's not just that movie houses today are filthy (popcorn, crushed paper cups, candy boxes and paper bags litter the floor). And it's not that so many of the movies are raunchy, lacking almost any artistic value. What really bothers me is that there are so few theaters right in one's neighborhood anymore.
Of course, the key reason for the death of the neighborhood movie house was our affluence. For years, many Baltimoreans went to neighborhood theaters to keep cool and find entertainment within walking distance of home.
In a growing economy in the 1950s and '60s, families found they could afford to purchase television sets, air-conditioners and automobiles -- all items that helped to steal audiences away from neighborhood theaters.
Many of the most storied movie houses began experiencing sharp declines in attendance in the 1950s. By the 1970s, most of the neighborhood theaters were gone or were no longer first-run houses.
In earlier years, before the regional shopping malls and the beltways, there was the familiar and friendly neighborhood movie theater.
Saturdays mornings and afternoons there were for the kids -- sort of a home away from home. The day might begin at 10:30 in the morning. Kids would bring lunch, sit through two complete shows and not get home until 7:30 that night -- without their mothers having to worry about them, either.
A typical show would include two newsreels, a travel short, two or three cartoons, a "Pete Smith" special (odd happenings in the nTC world) and one, maybe two, shoot-'em-up cowboy serials.
Here's a list of some of Balti more's best known neighborhood movie houses, the year they closed and the last feature presentations. Read it and remember the reel good old days.
Ideal, in Hampden, in 1955. Last show: "P.T. 109"
Avalon, 4800 Park Heights Ave., in 1963. Last show: "The Outcry."
State, 200 E. Monument St. in 1963. Last show: "Phantom Planet." (It was well-known, too, for having vaudeville.)
Edgewood, 3500 Edmondson Ave., in 1961. Last show: "Foxhole in Cairo."
Forest, 3500 Garrison Blvd., in 1961. Last show: "On the Waterfront."
Pimlico, Belvedere and Park Heights avenues, in 1952. Last show: "The Redhead and the Cowboy."
Linwood, 902 S. Linwood Ave., in 1952. Last show: "Tembo."
Irvington, 4113 Frederick Road, in 1970. Last show: "Mail Order Confidential."
John Robert Headley's definitive history of Baltimore's movie houses, "Exit," which was published in 1974, remains the last word on the subject. He writes that the beginning of the end for the movie houses came in the 1950s as a result of a confluence of many troubles challenging the business, including technological advances that increased the cost of movie showings, changing and unpredictable tastes among movie goers, the decline of the cities and the growth of the suburbs.
Whatever, one by one, Baltimore's old neighborhood movies went dark, taking from our lives forever a cherished neighborhood gathering place and, importantly, a safe place for children. The closings brought a memorable era at long last to . . . "The End"