Movie fans and movie theatre fans who haven’t already seen it will not want to miss the beautifully structured exhibit, Flickering Treasures, on view at the National Building Museum through October of this year. The exhibit, created by photo-journalist Amy Davis, traces the social and architectural history of Baltimore’s lost and restored old movie theatres, from early 20th century small storefront nickelodeons, to large Picture Palaces of the 1920s, with their elaborate ceilings and crystal chandeliers, and more modest Depression era Art Moderne and Art Deco style theatres, like our own Old Greenbelt Theatre built in 1938. Archival black and white photographs documenting early theatres that no longer exist are juxtaposed with contemporary color photos of the buildings or sites that remain in their place. Movie artifacts are also on display, including art deco wall lights (which reminded me of OGT’s lovely triangular wall sconces), stained glass exit signs, leather seats, projectors, even old popcorn boxes!
Importantly the exhibit also traces the life and loss of neighborhood theaters in African American communities of the city. By 1990 Baltimore’s last movie palaces and most of its neighborhood movie houses had given way to suburban multiplexes. However, the survival of the well-known Charles theatre, still active today, inspired a movement to preserve the past through restoration of a number of other important theatres in the city. The exhibit and corresponding book, published in 2017, were the fruit of ten years’ research including photography, and interviews with moviegoers, theatre owners and staff, and city residents.
Living near the OGT has made me aware of other cities’ treasures, like the 1920s Dedham Community Theatre in the Boston suburbs I recently visited, or Art Deco theatres like the beautiful 1928 Ambler movie palace outside of Philadelphia. Taking in the National Building Museum exhibit about art and community, past and present, has increased my appreciation for the successful restoration and maintenance of our own Old Greenbelt jewel, and the work of the non-profit Friends of Greenbelt Theatre, which does so much to add creativity and enjoyment to the life of Greenbelt and its surrounding communities.
Movies and movie going have always been one of Elizabeth’s favorite pastimes. Her early memories include going to NYC Radio City Music Hall to see Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in “Silk Stockings” after an exciting Rockettes performance, and TV Million Dollar Movie showings of old films like “Mighty Joe Young” or the very spooky “Spiral Staircase”. In high school Elizabeth organized a foreign film festival at school and on weekends went with friends to the Bleecker Street Cinema in NYC to see double features of mysterious French New Wave films. For many years now Elizabeth’s favorite date night with her husband has been dinner at the New Deal Café followed by a movie and best popcorn ever at the OGT.