Photos and text by Amy Davis
The maw of an excavator swoops down, gobbling up the dusty rubble of the Mayfair Theatre. Bricks that tumbled down from the substantial demolition of the three rear walls of the North Howard Street landmark are piled in high mounds. The excavator operator maneuvers around what was once the auditorium, scooping up eight decades of memories. All that remains of the 1904 theater after three months of deconstruction is the ornate Beaux-Arts façade, 35 feet of the front house, and part of the north wall.
Some remember the Mayfair after it became a first-run movie house in 1941. Many recall its last decade as a decrepit haven for action flicks. Recollections have dwindled about its earliest days as a 2,000-seat vaudeville and legitimate theater known as the Auditorium. Former patrons would be shocked to see the Mayfair’s fate after it closed in 1986 and was taken over by the city. The forlorn theater’s deterioration accelerated after the roof collapsed in 1998. Preservations call this demolition by neglect. A 2014 fire in the adjacent building led city engineers to claim that the neglected auditorium was not structurally sound. Fortunately, the portion behind the granite and terra cotta façade, anchored by two solid staircases flanking the lobby, was deemed safe.
Susan Yum, spokesperson for the Baltimore Development Corporation, the agency overseeing redevelopment plans for the Mayfair, says they have received some inquiries. She expresses hope that proposals will be “reflective of the emerging and growing arts community in the Bromo Arts and Entertainment District and incorporate the remaining portion of the Mayfair.” New apartments and trendy eateries on the east side of North Howard Street offer fresh hope that what remains of the battered Mayfair may finally be redeemed.