Sun photographer Amy Davis writes about her most recent visit to the historic Parkway Theatre.
I don’t usually request photo assignments, but I made an exception when Jacques Kelly told me that he would be writing about the Parkway Theatre, dormant for over 30 years. I first photographed the 1915 Parkway for a Sun feature story on Baltimore’s old movie theaters three years ago. While working on that self-assigned photo essay, I became intrigued with the plight of these architectural gems, scattered throughout the city. Once so glamorous, these movie houses had survived the wrecking crane but were now disguised as churches, stores, or offices. Many, like the Parkway at 5 West North Avenue, had become poster children for urban decay. That 2008 photo essay generated so much mail from readers that it encouraged me to embark independently on a photo book called “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters,” which I hope to publish in the fall of 2013.
The Parkway, which seated about 1,000, had a curved balcony that survives, box seats, chandeliers and an organ, all long gone. Its first audience saw silent films. I would love to hear from readers who remember it as an elegant Loews theater, or in its last incarnation as the 5 West, an art house.
The future of the Parkway, in the burgeoning Station North arts district, is more hopeful than many of the 50-plus theaters I have been documenting. To me the Parkway is Baltimore’s Snow Princess, lying frozen in time within its dignified Italian Renaissance brick shell. All it needs is to be kissed back to life by a wealthy prince, who will take the form of a developer chosen by the Baltimore Development Corporation. In fact, this fairy tale image is so strong in my imagination that I wanted to photograph the Parkway in the snow, but alas, our balmy winter did not produce any photogenic snowflakes.
Will this developer-prince respect the Rococo flourishes that make the Parkway interior a miniature French jewel box? You can see many of the surviving details in my photographs, including an oval medallion painting reminiscent of Fragonard. It will take great sensitivity to restore the Parkway’s interior, while adapting the space to a profitable use as an entertainment venue for film, theater and concerts.
A golden orb of the sun, framed by rays, is still perched at the top of the proscenium. Perhaps it’s a reference to Louis XIV, the Sun King. From there your eye travels upward to the gilded trim on the vaulted arches of the Parkway’s Baroque dome, which has miraculously survived. Over the years, these arches have remained hidden, while the golden arches of a McDonald’s have sprouted next door, then were torn down and rebuilt. Now it’s time for the Parkway princess to wake up.
Amy Davis is currently documenting Baltimore’s surviving movie houses in an on-going photo book project called “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters.”