“This is my Bible,” said a smiling Ira Miller, referring to a large book called “Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore” by Robert K. Headley.
“The Pikes opened in 1938 and closed in 1984. It was built by John Eyring and originally had 650 seats. It was art deco and located on the Eastern edge of Pikesville. It was owned by the Garmin and Beck Organization,” he read aloud.
“I booked the Pikes for 25 years,” he added.
Since 1967, Miller, who said his career in the film industry was a “sheer accident” has worked buying, booking and managing movie theaters across the Baltimore region and beyond. His career took him to Washington and New York, where he was vice president of marketing for MGM. In 2005, after a 20-year absence, he and his wife of 35 years, Karen, returned to Baltimore to open the Rotunda Cinemas and Beltway Movies.
“I’ve done this my whole [adult] life. I eat, drink and sleep movies,” said Miller.
And at a stage of life when many of his contemporaries are beginning to look toward retirement, Miller, 66, is gearing up for a brand new challenge.
“My belief is that neighborhood movie theaters are making a comeback,” he said. “Because of the cost of gas and for convenience sake, people want to stay in their neighborhoods. Also, they want a more intimate experience when they go to the movies.”
Today, Miller reopens The Pikes Theater.
The newly renovated Pikes, which includes two small theaters of approximately 80 seats each, is located right next to the Pikes Diner, which will continue to operate. Miller will run a mix of art, independent and commercial films and hopes to tap into local filmmaking talent. He stressed that while he will show some films of particular interest to the local Jewish community, he will not be competing against the JCC’s Jewish Film Festival. Rather, Miller said, he is highly motivated to collaborate with the JCC, as well as other Jewish organizations and synagogues.
“The feedback from Pikesville has been phenomenal, and [Baltimore County councilwoman] Vicki Almond [District 2] has been my ‘angel in the wings,’” he said.
For her part, Almond believes the movie theater project is great for Pikesville.
“Ira had such excitement and vision that I became a cheerleader,” she said. “He really wants this to be a boon for this part of town, and we’re trying to incorporate the whole community into it. We’re thinking of holding matinees for seniors and to do coupon deals with local restaurants. We want to make this part of Pikesville sustainable and a destination.”
Almond noted that, in addition to the new theater, there are also plans to rehabilitate the burned-out Suburban House building, as well as that entire corner at Reisterstown and Hawthorne roads.
Miller said he has arranged for abundant parking for film-goers to make the Pikes Theatre experience convenient.
“Hopefully, I’m in the right place at the right time,” said Miller
The Pikes’ first screenings are “Hava Nagila,” a documentary about the history and cultural significance of the iconic song, and the smash hit “Gravity.” On Nov. 8, “When Comedy Goes to School,” a documentary about Jewish comedians in the Catskills, will replace “Hava Nagila.”
The Pikes is located at 1001 Reisters-town Road in Pikesville. For more information, visit horizoncinemas.com.