Great Conservatories of the 19th Century Lecture this Wednesday

Great Conservatories Of The 19th Century & The Architecture Behind Them February 20, 6 -8 p.m. By Alan Stein, owner of Tanglewood Conservatories Space is limited. $20/ticket. This lecture will explore the rich history of great conservatories and the architectural significance of their use of glass, innovative in the 19th Century. Revisit spaces that are gone but not forgotten, lost to the ravages of time and budget cuts, some in Baltimore City Parks. Learn about enduring gems worldwide, which have influenced the design of conservatories from the 19th Century through today. For further information, or to register, please call 410-396-0008, … Continue reading Great Conservatories of the 19th Century Lecture this Wednesday

Union Square Christmas Cookie Tour & Mencken House Holiday Open House this Sunday

Union Square Christmas Cookie Tour Sunday, December 9, 2012  11:30am to 5:00 pm Tickets : $20, or $15 advance ordering 1401 Hollins Street Union Square residents usher in the holiday season by inviting you to tour twenty-five of Baltimore’s splendidly restored Victorian-era homes. Holiday decorations provide a festive backdrop as you munch on freshly-baked cookies, sip a hot cider or two and get to meet the friendliest folks in Baltimore. The charm of Union Square lies not in only our homes and residents but also in the spaces we share. Tickets available on the day of the tour at 1401 … Continue reading Union Square Christmas Cookie Tour & Mencken House Holiday Open House this Sunday

Perkins Square endures as an oasis of green in a changing neighborhood

Do you have more information about Perkins Square Park? Or do you have photos or stories on other West Baltimore landmarks? Please get in touch with Eli Pousson at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org or 301-204-337. As early as the 1840s, a small oasis of green known as Perkins’ Spring became a popular destination at the edge of the rapidly growing city. The park’s unique value to local residents came from the fresh-water spring that poured out at a rate of 60 gallons a minute. One resident later recalled how their neighbors carried water away “by the barrel in the ’80’s, especially when heavy … Continue reading Perkins Square endures as an oasis of green in a changing neighborhood

Upton gave a neighborhood its name and a unique architectural landmark

Thanks to Baltimore Heritage intern Elise Hoffman for her research on the history of Upton. Do you want to share your photos or stories of West Baltimore landmarks? Please get in touch with Eli Pousson at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org or 301-204-337. High on a hill at 811 West Lanvale Street, behind a chain link fence and past the overgrown yard, is grand Upton — an architectural treasure by one of Baltimore’s earliest architects that has witnessed nearly 200 years of change in the Upton neighborhood that shares the building’s name. In the 1830s, Baltimore lawyer David Stewart hired architect Robert Carey Long, … Continue reading Upton gave a neighborhood its name and a unique architectural landmark

Civil rights stories from Parren Mitchell’s home at Lafayette Square

Thanks to Baltimore Heritage intern Elise Hoffman for her research on the history of the Parren Mitchell House. Do you want to share your photos or stories of West Baltimore landmarks? Please get in touch with Eli Pousson at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org or 301-204-337. The grand brick rowhouse at 828 North Carrollton Avenue may look like many others in West Baltimore but it has a unique history all its own as the former home of Congressman Parren Mitchell, the first African American congressman from a Southern state since Reconstruction, who lived on Lafayette Square from his retirement in 1988 until shortly before … Continue reading Civil rights stories from Parren Mitchell’s home at Lafayette Square

Remembering the Celestial Ceiling of the Harlem Theatre

Thanks to Baltimore Heritage intern Elise Hoffman for researching and writing this post on the history of the Harlem Theatre. Do you want to share your photos or stories of West Baltimore landmarks? Please get in touch with Eli Pousson at pousson@baltimoreheritage.org or 301-204-337.

The Harlem Theatre, now known as the Harlem Park Community Baptist Church, is a local landmark on the western edge of Harlem Park– one of the city’s most extravagant African American movie theaters with a unique “celestial ceiling” featuring “twinkling electrical stars and projected clouds.” Built in 1902 as the home for the Harlem Park Methodist Episcopal Church, after they out grew their previous building, the structure still retains its ornamental Romanesque style with arched doors and windows made of rough blocks of Port Deposit granite.

B1617 Harlem Theatre. Photograph by A. A. Bodine, Image courtesy the Maryland Historical Society
Image courtesy the Maryland Historical Society, B1617

Harlem Park Methodist Episcopal Church did not remain in the area long however. After the building opened in 1903, two destructive fires — in December of 1908 followed by an even more severe fire in 1924 — led the congregation to sell the building and move out to a new church at Harlem and Warwick Avenues at the western edge of the developing city. At the same time the neighborhood began to transition from a largely segregated white to a predominantly black community, a change that almost certainly influenced the white congregation. In 1928, the congregation sold the church to Emanuel M. Davidove and Harry H. Goldberg, owners of the new Fidelity Amusement Corporation, established to build “a 1,500 seat motion picture theatre for Negroes…to be known as Harlem Theatre.”

The company hired architect Theodore Wells Pietsch, a notable Baltimore architect who also designed Eastern High School and the Broadway Pier. Pietsch took the property’s history into consideration when designing the new building: the theatre was made fireproof through the use of steel and concrete, and a fire extinguishing system was also included in the building’s design. Pietsh’s new design had an elaborate Spanish Mission theme described at the time as one of most elaborate designs on the East Coast and promoted as “the best illuminated building in Baltimore.” The bright façade included a 65-foot marquee with 900 50-watt light bulbs illuminating sidewalk underneath, “tremendous electric signs” around the marquee, and a forty-foot tall sign that could be seen from two miles away.

In October 1932, the owners organized a celebration to open the theater “in a blaze of glory” drawing jubilant crowds of 5,000 to 8,000 people. The jubilant scene was described by a journalist:

“The blazing marquee studded with a thousand lights made the entire square take a semblance of Broadway glamour. The marquees illuminated the entire Harlem Square which was crowded with those who lined the sidewalk unable to gain admittance.”

Over the next forty years, countless numbers of Baltimore residents enjoyed the theatre’s “cavernous three-story high ceiling, a balcony, carpeted floors and thick cushioned seats” and “celestial ceiling with twinkling electrical stars and projected clouds that floated over movie-goers’ heads.” The Harlem Theatre also hosted events supporting the broader community, such as a free “Movie Jamboree” in 1968 for the children of Baltimore workers donated by the theatre’s then-manager Edward Grot, and midnight shows to raise money for the local YMCA. Unfortunately for the Harlem, as movie theatres that previously discriminated against black customers began to desegregate in the mid 20th century, their business declined. By the mid-1970s, the Harlem Theatre had closed.

The building took on a new life in 1975 when Reverend Raymond Kelley, Jr. purchased the old theater and turned it into the Harlem Park Community Baptist Church dedicated on July 6, 1975. The building has been refurbished– the congregation traded in the old theater seats for pews and removed the large marquee–but much of the original historic character remains intact. Of course, the story of the Harlem Park Theatre also remains in the memories of thousands of Baltimore residents and we hope you can share your stories with us in the comments.

Continue reading “Remembering the Celestial Ceiling of the Harlem Theatre”

Civil War Heritage, Free Mulch, and a special workshop with the West Baltimore Strategic Alliance

Thanks to everyone who came out for our planning meeting this past Tuesday! We had representatives from Franklin Square, Harlem Park, and the new Power in Dirt initiative sharing upcoming events and brainstorming for fall intiaitives. If you are interested in participating in West Baltimore Squares planning efforts please join our online discussion group or just share your ideas on our Facebook page. Civil War Archeology in Lafayette Square Talk at Mt. Clare Saturday, September 24, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Mount Clare Stable, Mount Clare Museum House, Carroll Park This past July, Baltimore Heritage and volunteers with the Archaeological … Continue reading Civil War Heritage, Free Mulch, and a special workshop with the West Baltimore Strategic Alliance

Pennsylvania Avenue Homecoming Festival, the Gardens of Hope and more this weekend

Check out this weekend’s fun events on Pennsylvania Avenue, down in Union Square and over by Hollins Market! Pennsylvania Avenue Homecoming Festival & the Gardens of Hope Pennsylvania Avenue Homecoming Festival Saturday and Sunday, September 10-11 The three-day celebration has already started and will continue all weekend with a celebration of the history and legacy of Baltimore’s historic Pennsylvania Avenue. Come on down to the Avenue tomorrow afternoon for the Cadillac Parade from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm, a concert from 4:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the main stage (Lafayette & Pennsylvania), a Fashion Show from 8:00 pm – … Continue reading Pennsylvania Avenue Homecoming Festival, the Gardens of Hope and more this weekend

Sharing Lafayette Square’s Civil War history at Macedonia Baptist Church

One of our favorite visitors during the Lafayette Square Civil War archeology investigation last month was a group of young people from the Macedonia Baptist Church Summer Learning Center who visited the park and talked with archeologists. Baltimore Heritage intern Yana Demeriva caught up with the young people again last week to share a few of the great artifacts that we found and hear their thoughts on archeology in their neighborhood. What would an elementary school student do if she was an archaeologist? “I would be the one digging the holes to look in,” shared one student with the Macedonia … Continue reading Sharing Lafayette Square’s Civil War history at Macedonia Baptist Church