Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters
302 pages, 90 color photos, 83 black
& white photos, and color map
Victoria / Embassy
415 East Baltimore Street
Flickering Treasures celebrates Baltimore’s theaters with vintage and contemporary photos, memories, and brief historic profiles. Here’s a fascinating oldie that we didn’t have room to include in the book.
The refined terra cotta facade of the Victoria/Embassy Theater is easy to miss above the splashy sign for Chez Joey, the strip club that now occupies the 1908 building. The Victoria/Embassy was on my working list of theaters to include in the book, but it was knocked out by two even older theaters on the same street. Lubin’s/Plaza and the Gayety, more significant survivors on The Block, are featured in Flickering Treasures. Baltimoreans today would remember the theater as the Embassy, its new name from 1925 until it closed in 1951. Perhaps Outtakes will spark some fresh anecdotes.
The Victoria, a 1500-seat vaudeville house, was operated by Pearce and Scheck until they opened the Hippodrome in 1914. Charlie Chaplin performed in person here in 1913, and movies were part of the vaudeville bill from the beginning. The current facade, above the modern marquee, dates back to 1922 when the Victoria was rebuilt after a fire had ruined the interior. Ownership changed several times, and the theater, which transitioned from vaudeville to burlesque, was less successful after its first decade.
Victor Lancelotta, who grew up in Little Italy, recalled the Embassy as a decent movie house — not first-run, like the Rivoli, but bigger than the Globe, Clover, or the Grand, other Baltimore Street theaters. It had a balcony, and was primarily a movie house in the 1930s, when Lancelotta saw Paul Muni in Scarface, and the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera. It became disreputable by the late 1930s. After it closed, a parking garage was built on the site of the original auditorium, in the rear. During its early Chez Joey years, one of the gimmicks was a sprinkler that came down from the ceiling, so that girls could “shower” on stage.
Finding this exquisite c. 1922 photo, made from a glass negative by the Hughes Company, was a thrill. The detail is so crisp that one can read the name of the silent film, To Have and To Hold, featuring Bert Lytrell and Betty Compson, and a sign on the ticket booth announcing “ALL SEATS 17¢.” At this time, the entertainment was booked by the Fred G. Nixon-Nirdlinger agency; hence the name in stained glass: Nixon’s Victoria.
The theater’s present condition made for a colorful study of the splashy sign and ever-present nightlife, so incongruent with the elegant bas-relief of the lyre and crown shield above the marquee. Using the selective focus of a Lensbaby specialty lens, I zeroed in on this architectural detail, and let the denizens of the seedy street remain an anonymous blur.
The black and white photograph by the Hughes Company is courtesy of the Photography Collections, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I made the color photo at dusk in 2014.