BALTIMORE (WJZ)—A Baltimore cultural icon is one step closer to the wrecking ball.
As Mike Schuh reports, the Morris Mechanic Theatre is now no longer protected by a city preservation board.
Squat, functional. OK, just say it . . .
“It looks like an eyesore now,” said Arvey Jones, of Baltimore.
The theater’s mid-60s style construction is called “brutalism.” Even its designer said beauty was not what he was hoping for.
He succeeded. In fact, one of Britain’s leading newspapers calls it one of the world’s ugliest buildings.
But in 1967, it achieved, momentarily, civic beauty.
“That was the thing. I went there a couple of times and thought it was excellent,” Jones said.
It was a time when developers, stores and citizens fled the city.
The Mechanic opened as a modern anchor trying to hold together a rapidly declining downtown.
It turned out to be too small. Touring shows bypassed its cramped backstage.
The reopening of the Hippodrome Theatre sealed its fate.
Now closed for nine years, current developers say the corner of Charles and Baltimore streets is just too valuable to allow this concrete rock to clog the revenue stream.
“Reusing the building would be preferable, and we’ve spent more than a decade trying to do that but what makes the architecture unique also makes it very difficult to put a new tenant in there,” said Mike Evitts, Downtown Partnership.
Consider that 97 percent of nearby apartments are rented.
So here’s the plan: 476 apartments sit atop a base of retail and five stories of parking is hidden inside.
But to build this, the now gutted theatre that once hosted Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn and George C. Scott has to be demolished.
The city’s preservation board tried to block demolition, but now its authority has expired.
“So our feeling is at this point, let’s tear it down and start over because Charles and Baltimore streets is Baltimore’s premier corner,” Evitts said.
It’s turning out to be a pretty tough year for the architect who designed the building. His only other major theatre is in Oklahoma City. It too is the brutalism architectural style. It too is scheduled to be demolished this year.
The city has to approve construction plans before signing off on the demolition. It could happen by late fall.