The alley north of the Hippodrome, for example, would become part of the barrier-free main entrance. An alley just west of the theater would be used to build the expanded stage house (measuring about 140 feet by 65 feet) needed for today's large-scale productions. The stage itself would be 45 feet deep by 90 feet wide. Now it's 30 feet deep and 80 feet wide.
Though constructed at different time periods and different scales, the buildings hold together quite well as an urban ensemble. The view of the two massive banks and the theater along Eutaw Street has always been impressive. Under the present plan, the block's appearance wouldn't change significantly, except that new banners, marquees and signs would be erected to indicate the new use and identify entrances.
The heart of the project is restoration of the Hippodrome itself. Over the years, it has been converted to a movie theater, with black and red replacement seats and garish rose curtains. Under the latest plan, it would regain its 1914 appearance, down to the arched mural of the Three Graces above the proscenium and the brass railings in the upper balcony.
Old theaters are "part of the memory of a city," said architect Gary Martinez. "That's why so many cities are saving them."
The Hippodrome would be the fifth theater restoration that Martinez & Johnson have worked on. Others include the Warner Theatre in Washington, the State Theater in Falls Church, Va., and the Boston Opera House in New England.
All work at the Hippodrome will be done in strict compliance with federal standards for historic preservation, said Martinez.
While new mechanical equipment and other contemporary touches will be introduced as needed -- including elevators in "nonhistoric" areas -- the design team's goal is to "re-create the theater as closely as we can," said Martinez. "We want to take it back to 1914."
The architects propose to re-create the box seats that were removed in the 1960s and replicate the cornice on the front facade. They plan to use old photographs and other documents to select colors and fabrics that match the theater's original appointments. Fortunately, much of the Hippodrome's ornamentation is still in place to give the designers and crafts-people clues to its early appearance.
You can bank on it
To the north of the theater, two bank buildings that were converted in the 1980s to a catering facility called the Grand would be recycled for theatrical uses. The former Western National Bank just north of the theater, built in 1890 and given a new facade in 1912, would become the main entrance lobby for the entire complex. The former Eutaw Savings Bank, built in 1887 at the southwest corner of Fayette and Eutaw streets and expanded in 1911, would become a second performing hall, possibly a cabaret containing 300 to 500 seats.
The two banks and the theater would be connected to the state-owned garage at the corner of Paca and Fayette streets. In addition, a 5,000-square-foot space in the base of the garage would be available for local conferences, seminars and other meetings, served by a commercial kitchen already on the premises.
A similar strategy was outlined by Ziger/Snead Architects, a local firm commissioned several years ago to explore plans to turn the Hippodrome and its neighbors into a National Museum of Live Entertainment celebrating the vaudeville era.
The latest plan expands on the Ziger/Snead approach by also incorporating three buildings south of the theater -- a two story structure at 410 W. Baltimore Street and two historic, cast-iron-fronted buildings at 412 and 414 W. Baltimore St.
The corner building would be used to house dressing rooms, lounges and rehearsal areas that can't fit inside the theater itself. street level would be a box office, one of two on Eutaw Street. On the roof of this building, the designers have proposed adding a spacious lobby for patrons seated in the Hippodrome's balcony.
The cast-iron buildings would be converted to a three-bay loading dock leading to the mid-block stage house. Dating from 1876 and 1857, the buildings are among the more historically significant buildings on the block and deserve to be saved.
The understudy has what it takes to become a star, but many issues remain to be resolved.
While the Hippodrome is already state-owned -- a gift from Continental Realty -- city and state officials need to acquire the buildings to the north and south. They also must determine exactly who will own and operate the combined center, a state entity or a private concern.
Theatre Management Group has offered to invest $10 million. But in order to receive tax credits for historic preservation, it needs a long-term lease if not outright ownership.
More important, no matter how cleverly the Hippodrome complex is knitted together, or how beautiful the interior spaces turn out to be, it will never work as a stand-alone project.