Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pieces of My Past Slipping Away

I figure by the time I'm taking my last breath, I will be the Incredible Invisible Woman. I'll be gone without a trace. You won't be able to locate me by any landmark whatsoever.

It's actually kind of creepy. My friends don't seem to have this problem. They can take you on tours of the sites where all of their growing up moments happened. That's one of the delightful first dates Michael and I had; he took me on a tour through Emmitsburg and Hanover showing me where he went to grade school...the home that his Dad built...then where he grew up as a teenager in Hanover...his high school...where he hung out to have his first drinks, legal or otherwise...

It was wonderful. Besides home movies and pictures, actually being with the person as they recall their past glories, infamies and embarrassments, you begin to feel a deeper connection to them.

Not so with me. SS. P. J. that I've talked to you about, my grade school SS. Philip & James, stopped being a school years ago. Sold. And, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia moved on. Seton High School, beloved by the Daughters of Charity, sold by the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The school lost its singular identity and was wedded with Keough High, clear on the other side of town. That was truly heartbreaking to all of us Seton grads.

I can take you to Towson University to show you around...thank goodness. It's shot through major growth since I was there, but I can still identify favorite spots.

Today, Mike Wicklein writes to tell me another landmark of my fond past is likely to disappear shortly. Unless it can be saved. The grand Senator Theatre located on York Road is very close to auction.

Every major city has lost jewels like this. The opulent theatres of days long past, when taking a beau to a movie or show was a major delight. The balcony. The large plush seats that rock slightly and hug you in comfort while watching the flickering images.

The majesty of the huge screen with velvet curtains flanking it; opening slowly at the start of the show. The gold guilt filigree work on the walls. The fabulous Art Deco sconces. The expansive marble lobby. The sheer beauty of it all. Imagine spending massive time and artistic energy to build a room so opulent; a place where you spend most of your time in dark and shadow while there!

Doesn't seem to make sense, why bother? Because art is beauty, that's why. And, movies are art, although thanks to DVDs and cable we forget that. The artisans who built these theatres understood that artistic beauty is important when it is obvious; but perhaps, more so, when it is subtle or hidden. It creates an experience.

The question becomes, why are we so quick to let gems like that evaporate? Why will we go to a mall and wander for hours through the florescent noise of it all, but don't care if we maintain historic, beautiful buildings that are the graceful style-notes of our cities?

Are these things no longer important? Or, has classic elegance become a commodity that is too expensive to hold dear?

I don't live in Baltimore anymore. But, The Senator Theatre is no less important to me. I remember seeing The God Father there. The refurbished Lawrence of Arabia. Saving Private Ryan. The Passion of The Christ. Fantasia. Beauty & The Beast, when I cried while hearing from the seat behind me, a little girl about five totally absorbed and enthralled, dressed in her best party dress and tiny hands clasped to her chest, sing along to the title song in a wispy, warbly voice. How beautiful! Could I ever forget such magic?

Watching the wide screen, in a comfy seat with luxurious leg-room, surrounded by the Art Deco decor, I was transported into these cinematic moments. In a movie house where audiences clap in appreciation at the conclusion of most movies! When was the last time you heard a movie audience applaud?

Like you, I've gone to other movie theatres. Some I remember, many I don't. But, I can tell you all the movies I saw at The Senator. Why? Because being in The Senator was part of the experience. Part of the magic. As with many wonderful life moments, the venue adds to the memory.

Can you say the same about the last place you went to watch a movie? I'm betting, not so much. So, why do we allow these important sites in our lives to die?

Where's John Waters? And, Barry Levinson? Ed Norton? These producers/directors/actors are Baltimore Boys made good in Hollywood! Their movies often debuted with great fanfare at The Senator. Surely they could assist with the financial salvation efforts!

Where are the politicians who are supposed to represent Maryland and its treasures? Surely in the massive spending spree we're currently enduring, some money for historic preservation can be found. Which takes me to Maryland's Historical Society. Where are they in this fight? Or, do they only worry about representing and treasuring something after it has disappeared into the past?

Where's Towson University in the call to action? It has one of the largest Mass Communications Departments in the United States. And, has churned out thousands of film making hopefuls; video wannabees; marketing and public relations possibles. How can they not mourn the passing of such a grand example of local cinema history? I know they've suggested that they may be interested in the real estate, but how about keeping it a community resource just as it is now?

If you're in a position to help The Senator, I hope you will. The Senator Community Trust is a group of concerned Marylanders who are working to pay off the mortgage and maintain it as an art house. There's got to be a place for this sort of thing in Baltimore's life today. It seems a better solution than allowing another piece of valuable real estate to sit dormant and decay. Can we keep our cities viable, livable, if we allow all beauty and history to be auctioned?

Even a small donation will help; money or your time. Or, if you have ideas of who might be in a position to help, please forward this to them. Ask if they will help. Talk about this with your friends and neighbors.

When the lights go down in The Senator, I hope it's because of that great moment of anticipation of a show about to start. Not because we didn't care enough to save such a glorious Baltimore treasure and keep the power on.

Namaste' Till Next Time,


Eileen said...

This is oh so sad, but true. I hold out a ray of hope that someone (or many) will come to the rescue.

As I began reading your post, I thought of personal moments ... a picture of Charlie standing in a barren lot where once stood The Eye and Ear Institute, a hospital in New Orleans where he had been CEO in 1974-76 - a grand old building with much rich history. Shortly after Charlie's death I drove solo down to NC and took a little detour off 95 south at Belmont to drive through the old campus of Sacred Heart College where I had spent two years. There was no one to play photographer, but I could have had the same photo shoot - me standing in a barren lot where once my dorm stood. Not such a grand building and the "history" was made up of thousands of young women who had life-changing experiences within those walls. It is creepy to feel as though what might be left are only your memories - that the people and places that make you, You, will be gone before you. That was one of the saddest moments of my life.

I swear if everyone who has ever had a "memory moment" in that old grand theater would just give $1, the debt could probably be erased. It takes as little as one angel to save it or one small gesture on the part of many. Hope springs eternal.

Marsha said...

The Senator can't disappear! We have to hope someone will take it over!

Marsha Wight Wise
Seton, Class of 1984

P.S. The Daughters of Charity didn't sell Seton, the Archdioceses of Baltimore did. The order didn't own the building.

Holly said...

Thanks for the correction, Marsha. It's been changed.

Sr. Ann Marie said...

Holly, I like your blog--touched in on some memories of my own. I taught in the Baltimore area (St. Clements, Rosedale, and Towson Catholic). And then you mentioned Hanover and Emmitsburg. My cousin lives in Hanover and works in Emmitsburg--with two of our sisters! Small world! My grade school in Wilmington also closed this year.

However, I don't think your reference to our sisters selling SS. Philip and James School is accurate. Our sisters did teach there but we didn't own the property. I'm not sure it the property was owned by the parish or by the archdiocese.

Happy blogging!

Sr. Ann Marie

Holly said...

I so adore my readers! Sr. Ann Marie, thanks so much for correcting today's info. The Sister of St. Francis taught me a lot and thanks to you, continue to teach me. I hope you'll visit again!

Your Humble Student,

Mike Casey said...

When I was growing up in Connecticut, we had four movie theatres in our town. It was an integral part of our culture. By the time I graduated High School, we had zero. Some bigger theatres were built in the towns around us and those sucked out all the business.

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