The Senator Theatre is being renovated by Buzz Cusack (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
Old friends Virginia Stein and Gretchen Hathaway welcomed back another old friend Friday afternoon.
The two women were among the 50 or so movie fans who showed up for the quiet reopening of Baltimore's 71-year-old Senator Theatre, which had been dark for nearly three months. With just a few minutes to go before the movie started, they agreed the day offered a genuine cause for celebration.
"I've been coming to this theater all my life, and that means back to the 1940s," said Stein, who lives in Gardenville. "It's a different type of people who are attracted to the Senator. They don't talk on the phone. They don't put their feet up on the seats. They support the good movies."
Hathaway moved from Hamilton to Bel Air about 20 years ago but still considers the Senator her movie theater of choice. "I'm just totally happy that it's reopening again," she said. "I've been following what's been going on, and I kept hoping that things would work out."
The Senator, which had been owned and operated by the Durkee family since it opened in 1939, was bought at auction by Baltimore City in July 2009, after owner Tom Kiefaber had been unable to meet his mortgage payment for several months. He continued operating the theater on a month-to-month lease until last July 21, when city officials ordered him out so the new operators, James "Buzz" Cusack and his daughter, Kathleen, could begin their planned repairs and renovations to the building.
The Cusacks opted against a big-scale opening today, saving that instead for when work on the building is completed, probably sometime late next year or in early 2012. But Kathleen Cusack said they were happy to have the theater, long an anchor and attraction for area businesses, showing movies again.
"Everyone seems genuinely excited to be able to see a movie again in this building," she said.
That includes area business owners, who have missed the people traffic the movie theater has always brought to Belvedere Square and surrounding businesses.
"We've already had more traffic in here today," Michal McCullough, an employee at Daedalus Books & Music across the street from the Senator, said Friday afternoon. "When the Senator was running, you could tell when the movie was over."
"It makes this place lively," said Morgan Aguta, owner of the nearby Afro Tropical Food Market.
The theater, which opened with Henry King's "Stanley and Livingstone" as the featured attraction, reopened with Robert Schwentke's "Red," an adventure film starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich.
The Cusacks, who also run the five-screen Charles Theatre, will continue working on renovation and expansion of the Senator. Plans include adding a restaurant and creperie, as well as a second screen on property adjacent to the building. They also plan to add stalls to the women's bathroom, to bring it up to current building codes and replace the seats in the auditorium.