In mid-20th century America, there were 105 movie theaters in Baltimore. You could look it up. They gave identity and distinction to scores of neighborhoods. But they went dark, one after another, and we’re never going to see such numbers again, in this century or any other.
So it’s nice to see this month’s rebirth of the Pikes Theatre.
Many of the old places closed their doors with the rise of television. We lost a bunch of them in northwest Baltimore alone.
The Ambassador, where they once showed the first Elvis Presley movie, “Love Me Tender,” became a school of cosmetology. The Crest, with its winding staircase, is now a branch of the Motor Vehicle Administration. The classy Uptown became a church. The Forest, once home to Saturday afternoon horror features, also became a house of worship.
Against TV, they didn’t have a prayer. Who needed to pay money when you could sit in your living room and watch Milton Berle and “Dragnet” for free?
So it’s nice to see the re-opening of an old gathering place, The Pikes, at 921 Reisterstown Road in the heart of Pikesville. We wish them luck for their own sake – and for Pikesville’s.
The theater first opened its doors in 1938 and lasted until 1984. In 2013, under new management, the place came alive for a couple of years but closed again.
The new Pikes, once again under new ownership, has two intimate theaters with plush seating. It has ushers to bring snacks to your seat just before the feature starts. It has trays reminiscent of old elementary school desks to hold your food and drink. Also, it has tickets going for $16.50.
We’ll see how Pikesville reacts to that.
But we wish the new owners well, and not only for their own sake. It’s important to Pikesville, a community which is forever second-guessing itself, wondering about its future, comparing its yesterdays with today.
Movie theaters are great signs of life. They’re not like the opening of a hardware store or a dry cleaner. Theaters are places where people gather in large numbers and share a couple of hours of dreaming together, and then talk about it, and feed off each other’s energy, and then spread the word.
They’re signals of a community’s vibrancy. The sky darkens each evening, but look at this – the lights are still on at the local theater, and a whole lot of people are coming together. And they’re having a swell time.
So here’s to some swell times at the Pikes.