Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters
302 pages, 90 color photos, 83 black
& white photos, and color map
Flickering Treasures is a revelatory chronicle of Baltimore’s movie theaters over the past century, eloquently told through extraordinary photographs and poignant reminiscences.
In 2008, I embarked on a hunt for Baltimore’s forgotten movie theaters. Many were forlorn ghosts, unrecognizable but still standing on faded streets in every corner of the city. My search led me to 72 theaters, each entreating me to reveal its history. Flickering Treasures unspools these stories, decade by decade, through the voices of filmgoers, movie exhibitors and theater employees. Their recollections about the magic of film, the business of movie presentation, and neighborhood loyalties bring each theater back to life. A broader narrative of one American city, Baltimore, is revealed through the social, cultural and architectural prism of its movie theaters.
The discovery of rare black and white photographs of opulent downtown theaters and modest neighborhood houses inspired my evocative color photography. My images document the streets of Baltimore today, while suggesting the layers of history that permeate each building and block. A handsome map pinpoints all 72 theaters, and a timeline charts the dramatic rise and decline of theaters in the city from 1896 to the present.
Baltimore filmmakers John Waters and Barry Levinson, and actors such as John Astin, Michael Tucker and Conrad Brooks join Baltimoreans from all walks of life to share memories that will resonate with every reader. Grand theater palaces, such as the Hippodrome, Royal, Stanley and Century, and the equally beloved neighborhood movie houses that drew children to raucous Saturday matinees, are celebrated in these pages.
Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters
Johns Hopkins University Press
302 pages, 90 color photos, 83 b&w photos, and color map
Amy Davis, an award-winning Baltimore Sun staff photographer since 1987, brings her artistic eye and photojournalistic perspective to this homage to Baltimore. Amy received her BFA from The Cooper Union in New York City. At her first newspaper job at a weekly in Brooklyn, NY, Davis climbed to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge twice. This balancing act prepared her for the hazards of shooting inside decaying theaters and leaning precariously over rooftops for the perfect shot. After seven years at The Record in northern New Jersey, Amy headed south to Baltimore, and a rewarding career at The Sun covering politics, education, breaking news, social issues and features.
Amy’s first exposure to a movie theater was on Long Island, when her older sister took her to see A Hard Day’s Night at the Westbury Theater. Unlike the contributors to Flickering Treasures who recall incredible details about their early movie experiences, Amy only remembers the antique red velvet curtain and lots of screaming. She and her husband, Bob Cronan, live near the magnificent Senator Theater, which inspired this book.
The images made by Amy Davis capture telling details, whether the subject is a splendid theater restoration like the Hippodrome, or a heartbreaking demolition, like the New and Mayfair theater palaces. Almost half of the contemporary color photographs created by Amy use an unconventional documentary approach to suggest the transitory, fragile nature of both the buildings and our memories of them. Lensbaby, a specialty lens, enabled Amy to highlight compelling elements in the scene, surrounded by varying degrees of soft focus or blur. These photos, gentle to their battered subjects, invite the viewer to travel back and forth in time between the past and the present. The remarkable vintage photographs she discovered in archives and private collections influenced her photographic approach. A number of these historic photos have never been published until now.
Filmmaker Barry Levinson’s Foreword recounts the favorite theaters of his youth in northwest Baltimore, and how they shaped his career. In Avalon, one of the films in Levinson’s Baltimore trilogy (which includes Tin Men and Diner), a line spoken by patriarch Sam Krichinsky became the epigraph for Flickering Treasures: “If I knew things would no longer be, I would have tried to remember better.”
A sweeping, almost encyclopedic chronicle of the movie theaters of Baltimore, Flickering Treasures should be well-received by general readers for its rich combination of background profiles and engaging interviews. Equally impressive, a virtually complete set of matching historic and modern photos chronicles both the decay and adaptive re-use. Captivating.
W. Edward Orser University of Maryland, Baltimore County, author of Blockbusting in Baltimore: The Edmondson Village Story.
Perhaps Davis’s most profound success is weaving the decline of Baltimore’s theaters into the larger conversation on the state of urban black America. She often photographs a theater, whether dilapidated or spiffily renovated, in juxtaposition with an anonymous and solitary black resident of the city, [which] reinforces the human dimension of urban decay. As a picture book… it is both informative and provocative, and may well take its place among our important examples of social and cultural history through the medium of documentary photography.
David Haberstich Curator of Photography, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Linda DeLibero Director of Film and Media Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Introductory speech delivered at the Flickering Treasures book launch, held at Baltimore’s Parkway Theater on September 19, 2017
I’m honored and delighted to introduce Amy Davis tonight and, by extension, to introduce you to her gorgeous, timely and engrossing labor of love, Flickering Treasures. First, the boilerplate on Amy: She is an award-winning photojournalist who has worked at the Baltimore Sun since 1987, where she has covered everything from politics to education to breaking news to social issues. She received her BFA from The Cooper Union in New York City, after which she worked on newspapers in Brooklyn, New York and northern New Jersey, before landing — lucky for us — in Baltimore.
I haven’t known Amy very long, but I’ve known her long enough to see her deep passion for and commitment to this city, to witness the particular way that passion communicates itself through her dazzling photographs, and to know that she and her book have taught me more about the history of this town through its love affair with movies than anything else I’ve read or seen in my 30 years here as a Baltimore film fan. This extraordinary book tells, through words and pictures, the bittersweet story of Baltimore’s numerous movie palaces, a tale of love and loss.
During the height of cinema’s golden age in the 1950s, movie lovers here could choose among an astounding 119 theaters — many of them true dream palaces. Amy’s book touchingly records the history of all those theaters through old photos and the reminiscences of a wide swath of local cinephiles; through her own remarkable color photographs, it also reveals the present condition of most of those theaters — abandoned, dilapidated, in ruins.
This is not simply the story of Baltimore’s movie-going past, but a history of segregation, of the decline of the industrial city in 20th century America, of the ways movies have fed our hopes and dreams against all odds, and of the receding place this communal ritual holds in our lives. And yet this is a book about hope as well. It is especially appropriate that I quote from Amy’s essay about the Parkway Theater, where we’re sitting this evening.
“Rescued, or rather restored to her original polish, the Parkway wears her chic patina of decay like the royal vestments of a cinema princess. The remarkable new beginning of this venerable theater is our fairy tale’s happy ending.”
And, I would add, Amy’s book, nearly 10 years in the making, is a most beautiful testament to why these flickering treasures must maintain an enduring place — not only in our memories, but in our community today. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Amy Davis.