Inside the Parkway Theatre (courtesy photo)
Inside the Parkway Theatre (courtesy photo)

When the Parkway Theatre opened at the corner of Charles St. and North Ave. in 1915, showing movies was by no means a sure bet. The pictures on the big screen moved, but they didn’t talk yet. And given the new artform, there weren’t very many theaters around.

But once movies took off, the theatre was able to sustain business until 1977.

“It’s a pretty amazing gamble that this guy took,” and it worked,” Maryland Film Festival Director Jed Dietz said this week inside the lobby of the theatre. Above him, the once-ornate plaster had cracked, and it was easy to picture giant lights that once likely hung from the ceiling. The grandeur of the place is still visible.

So, with the theatre still resembling its old self, the Maryland Film Festival is throwing a 100th birthday party for the theatre on Friday (Oct. 23) at the nearby Ynot Lot.

The celebration will likely mark the last time that the theatre is in old form. Next month, construction begins on an $18 million project to turn the buildings at the corner into the Stavros Nirachos Foundation Film Center. In all, the project contains four buildings at the intersection that will house three movie screens. But the Parkway Theatre’s balcony seating and ornate architectural detail will clearly be the centerpiece

The new center will be the home of the Maryland Film Festival, but the team behind the event will now be screening movies all year round. The Johns Hopkins-MICA joint film program will also have access to the movie house for screening and other activities.

Parkway Theatre's future (rendering via Stavros Nirachos Foundation)
Parkway Theatre’s future (rendering via Stavros Nirachos Foundation)
Parkway Theatre’s future (rendering via Stavros Nirachos Foundation)

When the theatre closed in the late 70s, it was a place to see art house films that weren’t showing anywhere else in town. With the year-round programming, the Film Fest team wants to pick up right where the Parkway left off. These days, however, we call them indie films.

“There is a lot more out there than the studios release,” Dietz said, adding that Baltimore is “under-screened” for a city its size.

The annual film festival will still be spread throughout several different venues, with North Ave. now serving as a central focal point.

Before that can happen, however, a little more money needs to be raised. The effort has about $15 million, having picked up a massive boost in the form of a $5 million donation from the Stavros Nirachos Foundation about a year ago. At the party on Friday night, the film fest is also set to announce the public portion of the fundraising campaign. Learn more at the fundraising campaign’s website.

Stephen Babcock is the editor of Baltimore and an editor-at-large of Baltimore Fishbowl.