When Baltimore’s celebrated Senator Theatre closed its doors, the city went into collective mourning. The Art Deco theater had been a beloved fixture of the city since it opened in 1939, representing the golden era of the American film industry, and memories for generations of Baltimoreans.
After weathering years of neglect and the financial troubles of former owner Tom Kiefaber, the theater was purchased by the city at auction in July 2009 after it went into foreclosure.
Its fate was largely unknown until James “Buzz” Cusack and his daughter, Kathleen—the duo behind the revamped and flourishing Charles Theatre—won the city’s RFP [request for proposal], proposing a renovated theatre that paid homage to its roots and mirrored the renovation of The Charles.
“We’re both Baltimore City born and bred,” says Kathleen. “It’s just one of those things that’s so vital and brings so much happiness to people. It would be a shame to see it not used as a movie theater.”
The Cusacks have already begun transforming the theater back to its glory days. The entire structure will be refurbished, staying as true as possible to its original splendor, and a small-plates restaurant, creperie, and second small auditorium will all be added. The renovation is strikingly akin to that of The Charles, which is adjacent to Tapas Teatro and Sofi’s Crepes. If all goes as planned, the same restaurateurs will operate the Senator’s additions.
The theater reopened with great fanfare in October. Amazingly, the large auditorium will remain in operation for the majority of the renovation, expected to take nine months to a year. The theater will also get more comfortable seats, a change met with rousing applause at a community meeting.
At the meeting, it was obvious that residents in and around the Govans neighborhood are thrilled with the Cusacks’s plans.
Roland Park resident Greg Otto started going to the Senator in the 1950s, and recalls the upstairs, soundproof “party rooms” where you could attend a noisy film party that patrons below couldn’t hear.
“This theatre is one of a kind,” he says. “They don’t make them like this anymore.”