Taking a shot at a family business Second time around: The Recher brothers, whose family owned the Towson Theatre for decades, have turned the defunct theater into Rec Room Billiards.

March 12, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Now appearing at the old Towson Theatre: Three men and a rebirth.

The Recher brothers, whose grandparents and parents owned the popular movie house for several decades, have turned the defunct 1929 theater into an upscale billiards parlor and restaurant they plan to open this week.

The project has been a labor of love for the siblings who worked at the theater when they were teen-agers, collecting tickets, selling candy and acting as ushers. For the past six months, they have been back at work there -- heavier work.

"We did everything from digging trenches for the plumbing, hauling trash, painting and acting as the general contractor," said Brian Recher, 36, (pronounced wrecker) who has been tackling the renovation with brothers Steve, 39, and Scott, 31.

When the cinema closed in 1992, the men, who grew up in Timonium, didn't expect to return to the building that has been owned by their mother, Barbara Recher, since their father, John, died in 1988. But this year the time was right.

Both Brian and Steve wanted to buy a restaurant, and Scott had returned to the area from Hagerstown looking for a business venture. They brainstormed and came up with Rec Room Billiards.

"We wanted to be part of the community," said Brian, adding they are targeting families and older people as patrons. "Coming back here will bring back memories."

Their mother was more than willing to help financially. "It's great," Mrs. Recher said. "I'm looking forward to it."

She also is contributing -- and occasionally will prepare -- her favorite recipes for coleslaw and potato and macaroni salads to be served in the sleek white, gray and maroon dining area. The menu features such diner fare as subs, burgers, pizza and late-night breakfast offerings.

Mrs. Recher has a long connection with the theater, from the time her parents, Stanley and Elizabeth Baker, bought it in 1959. At one time, the family owned more than a dozen theaters in the Baltimore area, including the Hampden Theatre.

"You could see nontalkies for a nickel," Mrs. Recher said.

Ironically, she never watched a movie at Towson Theatre.

"We never went to the movies. We were always at the movies working," laughed Mrs. Recher, whose oldest son, attorney Mike Recher, 41, helped the family with legal aspects of the new business.

When her parents died in 1974, Mrs. Recher and her husband took over the cinema, eventually leasing the building to major theater chains until it folded a month after the Towson Commons multiplex opened 3 1/2 years ago. The building has been vacant since then.

But the Rechers remember its heyday.

"There used to be lines around the block," Brian recalled.

"We had the best popcorn with real butter," Steve said.

They both remember when it became a first-run theater. "It was 'The Odd Couple,' " Steve said, of referring to the 1968 movie featuring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon that played there.

John McGrain, who moved to Towson in 1943, often went to what was then the town's only movie house. "They had great movies up there," said Mr. McGrain, 64, recalling 14-cent tickets and a lobby lined with photos of Hollywood stars of the 1930s. , such as Greer Garson and Greta Garbo. "It was a family-oriented theater."

And now, even though 15 pool tables have replaced the 500 theater seats, and arcade games take up the screen area, there still is a movie theme remains.

A painted, black-and-white mural of film personalities , including the Marx brothers, Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe, adorns a front wall, while memorabilia -- including the old popcorn and concession signs and early photos of the theater -- will hang throughout the interior.

The marquee also is still in place, although now it carries the business name instead of the featured attraction.

To re-create the original facade of the building, the brothers have stuccoed over the exterior black tile and kept the original parapet and dentiled cornice.

Kathe Norman, who was general manager of the Towson Theater Theatre for 27 years, had hoped the building would become another theater so she could work for the Rechers again. "They were a splendid family," said Mrs. Norman, 74, who left the theater about four years ago. "I loved to work for them."

She remembers keeping the young Recher brothers in line. at the behest of their grandfather.

And the brothers remember Mrs. Norman. They actually looked slightly horrified at the suggestion they may have snitched a candy bar or two while manning the concession stand.

"Mrs. Norman would never let us do that," they said, as they stood in the refurbished area where the counter once stood. was located.

They are cautiously optimistic they can make the business succeed in the building where they spent so much time as children.

"It's going to be hard work," Brian acknowledged. "We just figured we'd do it. It's been in the family for a long time. It's such a neat thing."

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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