Charm City Theaters

Amy Davis (photo by Justin Katz)
Amy Davis (photo by Justin Katz)

About 140 people filled the Jewish Museum of Maryland on July  12 to hear Amy Davis, full-time staff photographer at the Baltimore Sun, discuss her new book “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters.”

Many of Davis’ photos are on display at the “Cinema Judaica” exhibit, which illustrates how films countered America’s isolationist mind frame during World War II and changed the post-war perception of the Jewish people. The exhibit, which is divided into two sections: the war years and the epic cycle, was originally curated by Hebrew-Union College to explore the effect of movies across the country, but JMM is focusing on Baltimore movies and theaters specifically.

Davis began working on her book when she noticed one of her favorite theaters had an uncertain future.

“I lived near the Senator Theatre when it faced foreclose in 2007, and I was attached to it as my neighborhood theater,” said Davis. “As I thought about it I realized that its state might be the same as all the
others in Baltimore because it was the last single-screen theater Baltimore.”

Davis began researching other theaters and published a piece about it in the Baltimore Sun. She received feedback from many people who wanted to discuss their favorite movie theaters that weren’t featured in the piece.

Enthused by the response, she pursued the subject further. For her upcoming book, she interviewed more than 300 people such as political activist Shoshana Cardin who worked at a theater her father owned.

“The imagery will be nostalgic,” said Marvin Pinkert, executivedirector of JMM, describing the “Cinema Judaica” exhibit.

Nostalgia was the atmosphere during Davis’ presentation. When she asked the audience who had been to the Crest Theatre, the majority of people in the room immediately raised their hands.

One person Davis interviewed who had fond memories of the Crest Theatre was Baltimore filmmaker Barry Levinson. According to Davis, Levinson took his first date to the Crest Theatre and across the street was a parking lot near the Hilltop Diner. Whenever Levinson would see his buddies’ cars in the parking lot, he would know to end the date quickly and go to the diner.

“I think it’s a lot of fun for people to be reminded of going to the movies and seeing your favorite movie at the local theater,” said Joanna Church, collections manager at JMM. “It’s a reminder that history is fun and can be relevant to your own life.”

For many others like Levinson, the theaters also represent memories.

“I went through [the exhibit] with people who’ve lived in Baltimore their whole life and they say they
remember those theaters from their childhood,” said Pinkert.

The memories are bittersweet for some because so many of the theaters that Davis has photographed are either demolished or in rough condition. She hopes her book will make people step back and remember the life
theaters brought to Baltimore’s streets.

“I hope my book, in a gentle way, will spark a dialogue about what’s happened when you look at how
vibrant these streets were with their movie theaters,” said Davis. “And how troubled some of them are now and it’s my effort at tikun olam, repairing the world.”

Davis added, “I was really gratified to see the large turnout. It confirmed the sense that I’ve gotten all along working on this book that there is tremendous interest in this subject.”

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