Maryland Theatre celebrates 95th anniversary

September 05, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • This molding inside The Maryland Theatre remains, thanks to the efforts of a group of citizens led by the late Jack Garrott.
Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Trust,

Marci Howes led the way, down the stairs and beneath The Maryland Theatre stage, to the dressing rooms where nearly a century's worth of the world's top performers prepped themselves before facing audiences in Hagerstown.

These mirrored rooms played host to Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, who boureed across the stage in the theater's early years as part of her American tour. For $3.30, you could get a box-seat view of the ballerina credited with bringing Russian ballet to America.

Skip ahead several years and it could have been The Temptations or George Carlin or Ray Charles preparing for the opening curtain.

"There's just something about this theater that just sucks you in, you fall in love with it," said Howes, who handles marketing for the theater.

The Maryland Theatre will celebrate its 95th anniversary with dinner and music Saturday, Sept. 11. The Temptations and The Four Tops - both prior Maryland Theatre acts - are the featured performers Saturday night, which will be preceded by a $150-per-ticket dinner and ceremony, said the theater's executive director, Jay C. Constantz.


Concert tickets are available separately for $57.50, Howes said. Tickets to the concert went on sale June 1. As of late afternoon Tuesday, Aug. 31, orchestra-level seating was virtually sold out. Balcony seats were still available.

Sam Young, the theater's board president, said the celebration will serve as a springboard for the theater's 100th anniversary. Next week's celebration will kick off a fundraising campaign to build an addition onto the theater, where the present-day courtyard stands.

The addition might offer more studio space or alternative performance venues, but the board doesn't have any concrete plans. "Right now it's in the dream phase," Young said.

Howes led The Herald-Mail through a tour of the historic theater, recounting stories of ghosts, an effort to save the theater after years of abandonment and some of the smaller details, like the sand-bag pulley system for the lights and curtains, or the beast-like faces in the molding that smile down on patrons' box seats.

Howes has been compiling historic photos and old newspaper clippings about The Maryland Theatre for a commemorative booklet celebrating the theater's 95th birthday.

According to documents filed with Maryland Historical Trust, The Maryland Theatre is one of few neoclassical, 20th-century theaters left in the state.

The theater opened in May 10, 1915, with live performances and a five-part motion picture, "The Commuter."

The Maryland Theatre was built inside the 20 block of Potomac Street, with its main lobby being the entrance through an apartment block, according to state records.

The theater was designed by architects Thomas W. Lamb, a famous theater and cinema architect, and Harry E. Yessler, the architect behind what was once the Colonial Theatre - across from The Maryland Theatre - the present-day location of Bridge of Life Church, according to state records.

In 1974, a fire destroyed the front of the structure of the building where today is the courtyard space that now serves as the venue for Wind Down Friday.

The theater portion remained intact, but parts of it were still in disrepair.

The theater endured a hurricane, which battered the roof and caused water damage to much of the theater's ornamental features. The painting titled "The Awakening" above the proscenium arch had to be recreated because the original had deteriorated completely due to mold and water damage, Howes said.

Still, Howes said the theater bears semblance to what it did when it first opened in 1915, due to the efforts of a group of citizens led by the late Jack Garrott, who died Feb. 12, 2008, at the age of 82.

"He had some great imagination, I tell you," said Ann Garrott, his widow. She said her husband felt compelled to save the theater after hearing that its owner at the time had plans to sell it for the bricks.

"The bricks? Can you imagine that?" Garrott said.

The theater reopened Nov. 4, 1978.

Today, there's a memorial garden in the front of The Maryland Theatre planted by the Woodland Garden Club to honor Garrott's legacy.

Ann Garrott said she was not aware of plans to build an addition to the theater in that space. She said she hoped the theater would find a way to memorialize her husband and include a plaque. "So people remember the work Jack put in," she said.

She said she and several family members planned to attend Saturday's celebration.

Constantz said a new memorial to Garrott would be incorporated in the proposed addition to the theater.

"I always had this idea of a roof-top terrace," Constantz said.

As for the future of the theater, Young said the expansion would maintain its relevancy to community, as both a place where local talent can shine and as a place to see national performers.

"That's always a challenge," Young said, "finding out what shows, what programs people want to see. There's no magic formula to understanding what people will spend their hard-earned money on."

If you go ...

WHAT: 95th Anniversary celebration with The Temptations and The Four Tops

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 11. Concert starts at 8 p.m. Dinner program starts at 5 p.m. and includes tickets to the concert.

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown.

COST: Tickets to the concert cost $57.50 if purchased at the box office. There are additional online fees or delivery charges for mailed tickets. Tickets to the dinner cost $150 and include entry to the concert.

CONTACT: Call 301-790-2000 or go to

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