Hundreds of Baltimoreans grabbed seats Monday night at the historic Senator Theatre, but not to catch a movie. They were there to discuss the landmark’s future. As of last weekend, the city’s only single-screen movie house was forced to close its doors.
Owner Tom Kiefaber grew up in the hallways of the old Senator Theatre, which his family founded in 1939, and remembers when Baltimore was home to 165 movie theaters. The Senator was a favorite among locals and homegrown celebrities such as Barry Levinson and John Waters, both of whom premiered films there.
But as is the case in many cities these days, Baltimore’s community arts resources are in jeopardy because of the bad economy. News reports about the Senator and other small theaters, the bankrupt opera house and struggling museums on the brink of extinction fill Charm City’s newspapers. Kiefaber’s other theater, the Rotunda Cinematheque in North Baltimore, is also struggling to stay open.
Kiefaber, who has long struggled with finances, has said his theater will be sold at auction in a few weeks. The theater owes 1st Mariner Bank approximately $900,000 and is behind on loan payments. Hurt badly by the mortgage crisis, the bank has been under pressure to rid itself of non-performing loans. The city of Baltimore has offered $320,000 to bail out the theater and has encouraged non-profits to invest in its future. If Kiefaber cannot raise enough funds to pay off the loan, the bank may foreclose the theater and sell it at auction.
Community members unwilling to see the Senator go down without a fight voiced their concerns Monday at a three-hour long meeting with civic leaders and theater-lovers alike: