History of the parkway theatre


History of the parkway theatre

Designed by Baltimore architect, Oliver B. Wight, the Parkway Theatre opened on North Avenue in 1915. It was one of the first theaters in Baltimore built specifically as a cinema house.


The Parkway Theatre stands at the corner of Charles Street and North Avenue. Patterned after the West End Theatre in London and the Strand in New York, the Parkway ushered in a glamorous age of movie-going in Baltimore and remained a prominent film destination in the city until its closing in the 1970s.


The early years of the Parkway Theatre

The Parkway Theatre was designed by Oliver Birkhead Wight, a native of Baltimore County who designed other theaters in the city, including The New Theater, The McHenry Theater, and the Howard Theater. Its design was “closely modeled on London's West End Theater, later known as the Rialto, with shared features like the interior's rich ornamental plaster work in a Louis XIV style.” The Parkway contains Italian Renaissance and Beaux-Arts architectural elements. The exterior is terra cotta and beige brick; the auditorium was originally ovoid, as in the London model, with “royal boxes” and additional loges on either side, and had a marble lobby, a tea-room decorated in grey with old rose hangings, and chandeliers modeled on those at Versailles and Fontainebleau.

The theater cost about $120,000 to build, and was “originally envisioned by owner Henry Webb's Northern Amusement Company as a 1100-seat…house.” Opening night on October 23, 1915, featured a screening of Zaza starring Pauline Frederick.

In 1926, the Parkway was purchased by Loew’s Theaters Incorporated, who had it remodeled by architect John Eberson and replaced the 1915 Moller organ with a Wurlitzer. In addition to films and vaudeville, the theater was used for live radio; in the late 1940s and early 1950 Roland Nuttrell and Charles Purcell produced a nightly live radio program at the Parkway entitled Nocturne, featuring poetry readings interspersed with musical selections on the Wurlitzer organ.

Five West Art Theatre

Local theater operator Morris Mechanic purchased the Parkway and closed the doors in 1952. However, under a succession of later owners, it was briefly used for live theater and then under the new name of Five West Art Theatre for classic and foreign films and performances until the mid-1970s.

—Elise Hoffman, "Parkway Theatre", Explore Baltimore Heritage, accessed December 13, 2014