Originally built in 1915, the Parkway Theatre was intended for vaudeville entertainment before eventually being purchased in 1926 by Loew’s Theatres. After a succession of later owners, it was used briefly for live theatre until being renamed as Five West Art Theatre in 1956 for classic and foreign films. The doors closed in 1978 and the space was used in subsequent years for numerous other purposes until 1998, sitting vacant until its recent revitalization.
“As architects, we began speculating potential uses for this critical building more than a decade ago,” explained Steve Ziger of the architectural firm Ziger/Snead. “We believed strongly in the importance of this project’s role in the Station North Arts District, given [the theatre’s] prominent location. All projects are a ‘labor of love’ and this project’s challenges included adhering to historic requirements, building consensus amongst multiple project stakeholders and funding sources, and adapting the design to previously hidden conditions as they were uncovered in construction.”
Jed Dietz, founding director of the Maryland Film Festival added, “Interestingly enough, for me, the love part starts with the 1915 movie theatre. That is a very rare thing to even exist, let alone to have a chance to bring back to life. It’s been so exciting to work with the architects and the contractors. Watching people who are not big movie buffs observe the theatre and see how this building has an impact on them has been incredible. I can imagine the thrill of the average viewer who’ll come to this space and find they get to be part of this movie history.”
Ziger continued, “This project anchors a prime corner of the Station North Arts District, at a critical juncture of North Charles Street and North Avenue. The design will both respect and enhance the rich heritage of the historic buildings while at the same time boldly communicate the transformation of the district into a vibrant, creative, and progressive arts center. The striking pure white cube on the corner hovers above a transparent base to declare a vibrant new energy and dynamic future for the ever-evolving Parkway Theatre.”
“This is literally the geographic center of the city,” Dietz added. “Our job is to open the eyes of the moviegoing public to the whole array of what’s being done today in film. It will have a huge impact because of the energy already in the neighborhood, and I think [SNF Parkway] will boost the neighborhood even more. Now there will be a film energy here, as well.”
Just as filmmaking tells a story, the architecture and the revitalization of the SNF Parkway Theatre will do the same thing. “The new SNF Parkway stands as a physical record of the technical and cultural evolution of film from its earliest days to today,” said Ziger, noting the mix of architectural styles on display. “The design approach celebrates the accumulated layers of each movie era with intentional contrast to modern interventions. In some instances, layers were removed to reveal hidden layers of history, while other instances incorporated new elements that are unabashedly of their time. In many areas, several periods of the building’s history coexist side by side.”
With the 19th Annual Maryland Film Festival set to run from May 3rd to 7th, the SNF Parkway will soon be open to the public for enjoyment. “I think the movie art form is a part of American culture in a very unusual way because of its size and its growth,” Dietz says. “For a long time, movie art was the conduit for news before there was any radio or television. To see that history and be in a building which embraces and shows all that history. There will be no other moviegoing experience quite like this anywhere and now we’ll have it here in Baltimore.”
For more information on the SNF Parkway and the Maryland Film Festival, visit MDFilmFest.com.