Senator apparently avoids sale

Donations help make $110,000 payment

February 21, 2007|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,sun reporter

Kiefaber — On the brink of losing his landmark Senator Theatre, Tom Kiefaber said last night he had raised the nearly $110,000 required to stave off today's scheduled foreclosure auction of the 68-year-old Baltimore movie palace.

Kiefaber - whose publicized financial travails with the Senator brought a deluge of contributions from people eager to save it from the fate of many single-screen theaters around the country, said he had presented a bank representative with certified checks last night for the amount owed.

The receipt from attorney C. Larry Hofmeister Jr. listed three checks totaling $109,828.64, and stated that this afternoon's auction "has been cancelled."

"It wouldn't have happened without this dramatic outpouring of support for the Senator Theatre," Kiefaber said after e-mailing to The Sun a copy of the slip of paper from Hofmeister, an attorney retained by 1st Mariner Bank, which holds the mortgage.

Yesterday afternoon, as nostalgic patrons arrived for what they feared might be one of the final screenings at the Senator - Music and Lyrics, a romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore - some dropped cash and envelopes with checks into a pair of metal film-reel canisters on the sidewalk by the box office. The canisters were emblazoned with the acronym S.O.S. in red letters, for Save Our Senator.

Other contributions have been raining into a PayPal account set up through the theater's Web site after The Sun reported Feb. 6 that Kiefaber - whose maternal grandfather opened the Senator in 1939 - was $90,000 in arrears on the $1.2 million mortgage he took out with 1st Mariner five years ago.

The figure had since risen because of lawyers' fees and other costs associated with the auction, fees for which Kiefaber is liable, according to Eugene A. Friedman, the bank's in-house counsel.

Yesterday evening, before Kiefaber announced he had met the goal, Friedman said the bank had no intention of exercising its right to call in the entire $1.2 million loan as long as the owner came up with the past-due sum and related fees.

He said he knew of "several interested parties" who were due in Baltimore today for the auction, including some from New York and representatives of Arlington Cinema and Draft House, a theater in Arlington, Va., that serves food and drink, and features live music, comedy acts and "family-friendly" events, according to its Web site.

By early evening, the 54-year-old Kiefaber said he was about $4,000 short of his goal but was hoping that a flood of last-minute contributions would save the day.

"I don't want this to be a dramatic, 11th-hour spectacle, saving the theater just before the auction," Kiefaber said at the theater, occasionally interrupted by patrons pressing money into his hands. "I have every intention of making the payment before the auction starts."

Some in a sparse audience attending the 5:30 p.m. screening of Music and Lyrics said they were there because it might have been be the last time chance to see a movie at the Senator - assuming that a buyer might not continue using the building on York Road to show films.

"We make a point of coming here because the Senator itself is a draw for us," said Jeff Walen, a real estate agent and a Baltimore County schools physical education teacher, who attended with his wife.

Walen said he had been watching movies at the Senator for 20 years.

In the afternoon, they checked the theater's Web site to see how the fundraising was going - then $6,000 short - and decided to lend support.

So did Joyce Ohl, an area resident who said she had been going to the Senator since 1980.

"I gave $100, and I've encouraged my friends to do that," said Ohl. "The theater just means so much to our community. I would hate for it to go away. We're movie buffs."

But, in a clear indication of the obstacles faced by the 900-seat theater, a count of patrons at the 5:30 screening showed just 40. Upstairs, in a meeting room rented out for special events, a party was being held.

In the lobby, Tom and Pat Jenkins said they'd had their first date at the Senator in about 1961. The movie was The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon.

"It is Americana," Pat Jenkins said, looking around the ornate circular lobby with frescoes of images from entertainment history. "It's a wonderful place to come."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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