They're Going To Town

Everyman Nears Goal Of Raising Money To Renovate West Side Theater

November 13, 2009|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,ed.gunts@baltsun.com

A long-awaited renovation of Baltimore's historic Town Theatre will finally move to the construction stage if a local theater company can raise the last $3.5 million it needs to pay for construction.

Everyman Theatre, which operates out of leased space on Charles Street, has reached 80 percent of its goal of $17.75 million to renovate the 99-year-old building on Baltimore's West Side, and aims to begin construction in the spring of 2010.

The Town Theatre renovation is one of more than a dozen cultural and recreational projects in Baltimore that are moving ahead this fall with the help of loans approved by city voters last year.

In all, voters approved $124.65 million worth of loans to help finance capital projects in Baltimore during the two-year period that began July 1. Many of the loans were targeted for specific projects, such as the Town renovation. Others were intended for initiatives in certain fields, such as education or parks.

Directors of Everyman Theatre are holding an event at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 23 to launch the final, "public" phase of their fundraising campaign and give prospective donors and others a chance to tour the building at 315 W. Fayette St. before construction begins.

More than 100 individuals or organizations have contributed more than $14 million during the "quiet phase" of Everyman's fund drive, which began in 2007.

The event will be "a chance to celebrate that we are moving ahead and let the west side community know that we are moving forward," said managing director Ian Tresselt.

Dormant since 1990, the Town Theatre is the last large vacant property on a city block bounded by Fayette, Eutaw, Baltimore and Howard streets, just east of the Hippodrome Theatre at 12 N. Eutaw St.

It was sold to Everyman for $1 by the Bank of America Community Development Corp. and the Harold A. Dawson Trust, in exchange for Everyman's agreement to restore the building as a performing arts venue.

Dating from 1910, the Town Theatre was originally known as the Empire and has been the setting for vaudeville, Yiddish theater, boxing and bingo parties. After its use as a burlesque theater in 1937, the Town was converted to a parking garage in response to objections over the "indecency" of the performances. In 1947, noted Baltimore architects John Zink and Lucius R. White Jr. converted the building to a 1,550-seat movie house, which it remained until it closed in 1990.

Plans by Cho Benn Holbeck + Associates call for the renovated Fayette Street building to have a 250-seat main theater, replacing Everyman's 170-seat space on Charles Street, as well as rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms, shops for artisans, offices, classrooms and space for a possible second theater in the future.

Tresselt said Everyman helped revitalize the Station North area when it moved to Charles Street 15 years ago and he expects that its move to Fayette Street will help Baltimore's west side.

"Artists are pioneers," he said. "When artists move into a community, things change for the better."

He noted that the Fayette Street building still has an "E" on the exterior from when it was called the Empire, and that letter will be preserved to stand for Everyman. "It's a bit of kismet."

Bond issues progress

Besides the $500,000 bond issue to renovate the Town Theatre, other loans authorized by city voters include:

$3 million : to improve branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Canton, Waverly and Hampden. All three projects are in the design or early planning phases.

$16 million : to build a recreation center in Cherry Hill, renovate the Druid Hill Park pool bathhouse and expand the Virginia S. Baker/Patterson Park Recreation Center to accommodate National Audubon Society programs. The Cherry Hill and Druid Hill projects are in the early planning stages. The city is waiting for the Audubon Society to contribute $500,000 before moving ahead with the $3 million, 4,000-square-foot Patterson Park Audubon center, according to Dwayne B. Thomas, acting director of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks.

$1 million : to upgrade and enlarge the backstage facilities of the Lyric Opera House. Work is slated to begin in the spring.

$750,000 : for renovations at the Baltimore Museum of Art, including reinstallation of the contemporary collection, the American collection and the African collection. Work is expected to begin in 2011.

$600,000 : for renovations at the Port Discovery children's museum, including roof repairs and replacing inefficient heating and air conditioning equipment.

$500,000 : to upgrade electrical and life support systems and increase energy efficiency at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

$400,000 : to add a "green roof" and educational space at the Maryland Science Center. Work began this year.

$350,000 : for renovations at the Walters Art Museum.

$300,000 : to build two exhibits at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. One, featuring prairie dogs, is substantially complete and opened this year. The second, featuring hellbenders, a type of salamander, is expected to open next year.

$300,000 : to replace the roof of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The work was completed over the summer.

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