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Remembering Jack Garrott, who saved Maryland Theatre

February 19, 2008

His classmates at Hagerstown's St. Mary School thought he would become a military pilot, but after a stint in the Navy Air Corps, Jack Garrott returned to Hagerstown and went into the family business selling livestock.

Garrott succeeded, according to a 1954 interview, by doing as much as possible to see that farmers got the best price for their animals and for being an enthusiastic supporter of 4-H and Future Farmers of America programs.

But the greatest contribution to the Hagerstown area by Garrott, who died on Feb. 12, was not as the head of a profit-making business. He was best known and admired for his service as an unpaid volunteer, working hard to save and enhance the treasures found in the downtown area.

In 1974, the lobby of the historic Maryland Theatre burned and Garrott, like many others, assumed that the historic structure had been gutted.

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But he took a tour with then-owner Gerald Minnich and decided, according to a 1978 interview, that "its restoration was a practical possibility."

Garrott jumped into action, launching what he called a "phone blitz" to get others interested in the rescue effort.

He and about 20 others incorporated and formed the Committee to Save the Maryland Theatre.

The group raised $140,000 in pledges, was given $100,000 in services and materials and obtained a $74,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places and Garrott was honored with the county's first Historic Preservation Award in April 1979.

As was typical, Garrott gave much of the credit to others noting that many people were "cooperative and generous all the way through."

That was just one of Garrott's contributions to the area. He served on the county's Economic Development Commission, the city's Board of Public Works and the Downtown Beautification Committee (DBC).

In 1985, the DBC was assigned to re-do the update of Public Square completed 10 years earlier. There was widespread dissatisfaction with the design, which featured a series of concrete posts known as bollards.

Instead, DBC proposed semi-circular flower gardens and Garrott worked to help redesign the street lamps, so that more light would be focused on the sidewalks.

In 2000, Garrott worked with the Greater Hagerstown Committee to enhance the area in and around the J. Louis Boublitz District Court building. Alleys in the area were widened, a local tavern was purchased that now serves as the Maryland Theatre's lobby and a paint shop was demolished to create a 27-space parking lot.

That wasn't the only parking lot Garrott helped to build. After working on the project for six years, in 2000 Garrott was present at the rededication of the Central Parking lot.

The lot, between the first blocks of East Washington and East Franklin streets, went from 144 to 301 spaces.

Five years later, when Demcore Development proposed purchasing the Maryland Theatre and the theater board seemed willing, Garrott took action again, rallying the public against the sale.

In a September 2005 letter to the editor, Garrott said that he feared that if a private company owned the theater, it might be torn down if and when it became unprofitable.

Jack Garrott spent many years in unpaid service to Hagerstown and Washington County. His efforts not only helped to preserve a downtown treasure, but they enhanced the area for visitors and those who work there.

He was also a gentleman of the sort that is, unfortunately, becoming all too rare. When he disagreed with someone, he began by saying that while he considered their ideas wrong, he felt they had good intentions.

When he was honored, he was quick to share the credit. When there was an issue to explain, Garrott was patient and generous with his time.

His final gift to the community came just before Christmas, when he donated a model of a Fairchild PT-19 aircraft that he had built himself to Discovery Station.

He gave of himself when it would have been easier to let someone else carry the load. For that, the area is much richer. We are certain that now his spirit is soaring somewhere above, like the airplanes of his boyhood dreams.

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