"Flickering Treasures," by Amy Davis
It was the financial struggles of her own neighborhood cinema, the Senator Theatre, that sparked Amy Davis' interest in Baltimore's dozens of bygone, vacant, repurposed and beautifully restored movie houses. After seven decades in operation, the Senator closed abruptly in March 2009. The city stepped in to save it, and it reopened under new management the following year.
"Wait a minute, this has happened to everybody else's neighborhood theater," Davis, a longtime Baltimore Sun staff photographer, thought to herself after the 2009 closure. "What happened to those buildings?"
A decade out, that question has inspired Davis' impressive 302-page photo book, "Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore's Forgotten Movie Theaters," profiling 72 theaters in the city. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press, it debuted in fall 2017, and last November got its very own same-named exhibition at the National Building Museum (it's proven popular enough for an extension through Dec. 1, Davis says).
Beyond digging up archival images to pair with her own modern-day shots, Davis researched stories from each theater's past and interviewed operators, staff, moviegoers and others.
"I didn't fully appreciate the business of movie exhibition. I became much more knowledgeable about the subject on so many levels."
In her work, Davis says she developed a certain attachment to some buildings, including the Fulton Theater in West Baltimore, razed after 102 years in 2017, and the Ambassador in Northwest, now being eyed for a better fate.
In her nine years spent writing and taking photos for "Flickering Treasures," Davis says it was evident how neighborhood dynamics played out in each theater's fate.
"Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, which means that people are very much isolated to their own stomping grounds, and I've realized that that was one of the obstacles to repairing and restoring certain neighborhoods and certain theaters," she says. "You have a loyalty to your 'hood, but it often doesn't extend much beyond that interest or awareness. Baltimore's defined neighborhoods are both its strength and its weakness."
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