France-Merrick Performing Arts Center
1992 Photo from the John Lewis collection
12 N Eutaw St|
Baltimore MD 21201
|Record #12942 |
Opened: November 23, 1914|
Capacity: 2500 seats|
Architect(s): Thomas W Lamb
Current Organ: none
| Also Known As: Hippodrome|
| Previously operated by: Trans-Lux Theatres|
Information for this tour was contributed by Daniel Gibbs.
The Hippodrome opened on November 23, 1914, had its good luck and bad luck years but finally closed for good Aug. 20, 1990. This is the grandest surviving theatre in Baltimore, and the last real downtown movie palace in town.
Although its seating has been rearranged and generally monkeyed with over the years, in the golden age it could seat 3,000 in plush red-brown seats. It has a 43-foot wide stage, giant balcony and originally had 12 boxes. Its huge Typhoon blowers could change the air in the entire theatre every five minutes. Its ushers wore light grey uniforms for most of its career, and it maintained a house orchestra well into the 1950s.
The opening night feature was "The Iron Masters". Vaudeville was a house specialty and sometimes, depending on the quality of the feature picture, took top billing. Since the theatre always had an orchestra, its original owners, the Pearce and Scheck partnership, didn't bother to spend a lot of money on a new organ -- it had a revamped, used Moller! With its huge seating capacity and large stage, the Hippodrome was forever being pressed into service for premieres, fund raisers, live shows, etc. It was on the Hipp's stage that Frank Sinatra first appeared with the Dorsey orchestra.
The last vaudeville show was in 1959, and in 1963 the theatre hosted the Baltimore premiere of "Cleopatra", for which it was completely -- and badly -- redecorated. The boxes were ripped out and much of the interior covered in rose-colored silk. A newspaper columnist at the time said the place looked like "the inside of the world's biggest casket".
By the mid 1970s the center city was starting to sag badly and the Hipp drew fewer and smaller audiences. A first run house until its last day, it finally gave up the ghost after a show of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles".
Although plans seem to be on hold, the City and the State of Maryland are trying to get the theatre restored and returned to prominence as a showcase house for various types of performance. The "casket lining" has all been taken down and the remarkably intact interior is once again visible, though the house remains closed.
Photos remain the property of the Member and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the Member.
June 1992 photos from the John Lewis collection.
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Last featured 2/7/2004. Last edited 4/13/2013.
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