WTMD is listener-supported radio from the campus of Towson University.

Monday, November 23, 2009

WTMD and the Senator Theatre

Dear Friends,

I have some news to share with you. Over the last several months you may have read about the financial troubles surrounding the Senator Theatre and the subsequent auction that placed this beloved landmark’s future in the hands of Baltimore City.

Recently, the Baltimore Development Corporation issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) on behalf of the City. This RFP is seeking ideas that will renovate and rejuvenate the Senator into an active and vibrant center for the community.

WTMD and Towson University have submitted a proposal that would transform the Senator into a multi-use film and concert theater that would also house the WTMD studios and offices.

We envision a space where film retrospectives, gala premiers and themed movie festivals are showcased in the same space as the musical artists you hear on WTMD every day. We want to fill the halls of this beloved palace with children’s programming, fundraisers for community groups and even showcase the multi-media work done by Towson University students. Our goal is to make sure the Senator is alive all day, every day.

The Senator has created countless memories for anyone who has gone on a date or brought their families to see a film in this historic setting. We believe we can continue that tradition by bringing events to the Senator that encourage communication and civility centered around film, music and community.

It will be a long process between now and when the doors to a new Senator might open, no matter who is chosen to renovate this landmark. But I wanted you to learn about our submission from me. We’ll be sure to keep you informed as the process moves ahead.

We have a reverence for the building and our belief is that as times change, buildings like the Senator must continue bind generations together.

We’d like to hear about your thoughts and memories of the Senator. Please take a moment to comment below and share your thoughts and stories.

Please feel free to tell us about a date you might have had there, a movie that touched you, or just how you feel about the building itself. Because, after all, all good things happen . . . At The Senator.


Stephen Yasko
General Manager


heather said...

i think this is a great idea. in addition to many, many movies, i saw squeeze at the senator in the early 90s.

Happy Fun Miles said...

I've been to a show at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, WXPN's Studios/Performance Space/Restaurant, and I have to say it's one of the nicer venues on the east coast. I'd love to see WTMD take the Senator in that direction and would be happy to financially support it (as a donor and as a regular patron).

kchertu said...

I've seen 3 of my own movies played at The Senator. I've also had movies played at Muvico at Arundel Mills. The Senator, by far, beats out the big new theaters on presence and atmosphere alone. I have been sad to see the troubles that have come to the Senator. I hope that Baltimore can save it, because I'd like to have more premieres there and continue making memories!

The Stugottz said...

Great idea. Thanks for keeping The Senator alive!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is a brilliant idea: help WTMD expand and enhance its offerings while keeping the Senator alive. I'm really glad Towson U. is stepping up for this. I hope the city will accept your proposal. Well done.

Sandy Asirvatham said...

What a terrific concept. I hope your proposal wins! As always, I am a huge fan and supporter of all the great things WTMD does for artists, fans, and the greater community.

~Sandy Asirvatham, musician & writer

Michael said...

Good Luck! I would be very comfortable supporting the project with WTMD at the helm.

Suz said...

I LOVE WTMD and really have enjoyed the unique experience of seeing movies at the Senator--esp. watching the Godfather with my boyfriend who is now my fiance :-) This new development plan sounds like "a deal you can't refuse!"

skribe said...

We're putting together a show @ The Senator DEC 26th with some great bands from the area. Come out, support the historic theatre and check out some live music! The building is beautiful, long live the Senator.

Evan said...

Fantastic idea. I'll spread the word as best I can.

mark said...

I think this is wonderful idea! I have a lot of warm memories of the Senator. One of my favorite happened about 15 years ago.
Our company, based on my recommendation, rented the entire theatre for a showing of the Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon classic "The Great Race". At the time it was my daughters favorite movie. We brought in our families for a great day of movies, cartoons and popcorn. It was a great time for all of us. Long Live the Senator!

Kathryn F said...

I've been involved in the Baltimore Theatre scene and would love to see the Senator used for radio play performances, cabarets and other live performances.

Anonymous said...

Excellent idea! I can visualize it already. I have never been to Senator in my 7 years of Baltimore life; but I always knew its cultural value. It seemed to be abandoned, not lively in recent years. It would be great to see festival films in there as well as WTMD concert activities! I would support this project to the fullest of my ability. Thanks WTMD and Steve Yazko!!!

Rachel said...

I love this idea! The Senator and its staff have always warmed my heart and I would absolutely love seeing it revamped with WTMD's proposal! It would be great to have wtmd shows and premieres in the same place. I grew up in Baltimore and have seen many movies at the Senator. My favorite memory was standing in line for the reproduction of the Star Wars movies for the midnight showings; I was probably 10 years old. People were dressed up and there was so much excitement. I also love how they showed It's A Wonderful Life every year at Christmas time and collected canned goods; my family and I went frequently. I work right around the corner now and would love to see it back in use. It has such potential and so many people love it, it would be a terrible place to lose!

Rachel said...

I forgot to mention, thank you for this idea!

Anonymous said...

I've seen many movies at the Senator but my favorite time at the Senator was sharing a meal and then going to see "It's A Wonderful Life" each Christmas with a group of friends.
I hope your proposal wins and I hope you can bring back the Sunday afternoon Christmas movies!!

Les Kurts said...

You may find this hard to believe, but I've been going to the Senator since 1960. I was 5 years old the first time my grandmother took me. We used to walk from her house on Belvedere Ave. Since then, I've seen hundreds of movies there. I saw Squeeze there in the 90's, and always thought more bands should have been booked there. I've been a long time listener to WTMD(WCVT),and I can't think of anyone better to take over the Senator. Good Luck.

Christopher said...

A multi media-function approach to the Senator is a very smart one, as we in the neighborhood have witnessed its slow demise due to uncreative thinking. How about adding an art gallery to the mix, as a professional artist I couldn't think of a more interesting venue

katers said...

This proposal would be the best use of space for this old historic Baltimore building. Wishing TMD much success!

Anonymous said...

It's a brilliant idea....Belvedere is not the same without the Senator in business! I hope this works out for everyone involved. To have WTMD and a movie space housed in the Senator space would be a win-win for all of us who are fans of music and film.
Keep us posted. Fingers crossed!

RUTH said...

Wow! I cannot imagine anything better for the Senator than what you propose. This is wonderful news - my fingers are crossed!

Holly said...

I really like this idea. It keeps the Senator tied to the community and oriented to the arts. This would be a fantastic use for that wonderful building.

Laura Serena said...

Some of this sounds good, but I am unconvinced. As a volunteer at The Senator, and an advocate for its preservation, I want to know what you're prepared to do to make sure this historic landmark is restored to its 1939 splendor and preserved in perpetuity. The building is going to need significant restoration, as well as an owner that is sensitive to the historic nature of the building and has its preservation at heart. The operation model you are proposing sounds intriguing, so I hope that you'll be able to convince me that your proposal will ensure the preservation of this significant building, on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kitty said...

So...I will tell you of one of a most painful, embarrassing, and instructive coming of age events for me that occured at the Senator Theater. It must have been 1967 or 1968. The movie that was showing was "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." I went there on a first date with a seemingly great guy named Larry. But I had recently broken up with a bullyish guy named Bruce. My sister told Bruce where I was that evening, and he stormed into the Senator Theater looking for me. When he found me, he insisted that I leave with him, and threatened my date. For fear of a scene, I left with Bruce, not thinking of what it must have been like for Larry when his parents came to pick us up. There was no such thing as assertiveness training at the time. I was 15. I was stupid. I have been ashamed of my action that night for 40 years. Larry, please forgive me.


Anonymous said...

I loveee WTMD, and I love this idea! It's brilliant. Although I have never gotten the chance to see a movie at the Senator, it is a Baltimore tradition, and if your proposal wins, we can all be assured that it will be in good hands. This plan would be great news for local musicians and artists alike. I would love to see bands play here. Go WTMD!

Phoenix Watson said...

Steve Yasko's posting and the responses are revealing. After reading his sales pitch for his RFP, highlighting an apparent reverence for The Senator, I must note, what's wrong with this picture?

In Steve's world, "The Senator has created countless memories" as a "beloved landmark", and now he aspires to be the prime-mover and "continue that tradition" by noting his "reverence for the building", "because, after all, all good things happen . . . At The Senator". [sic]

The respondents have reverence for the building too, yet their accolades note a key factor that Steve chooses to ignore, regarding why they love The Senator.

It's because of the theater's staff and all the extraordinary, first-hand experiences that millions of Senator lovers have consistently enjoyed there for years. It wasn't, however, the art deco building that sacrificed and struggled for decades to provide such a renowned level of programming, creativity and service to the community.

Tom Kiefaber and The Senator's extraordinary, devoted staff did just that for decades, as they continue to do today, against all odds while raising millions for area non-profits in the process.

In his rapturous ode to The Senator, why does Yasko pointedly omit any acknowledgment that it was Tom Kiefaber who steadily built and enhanced the unique Senator brand, elevating the theatre to become infinitely more than a beautiful edifice built by his family in 1939?

Perhaps Yasko took that approach to obscure the fact that what he's shilling as his personal RFP vision is a near-direct, copy and paste rip-off of Kiefaber's past written assessments of The Senator's optimal multi-purpose future, minus the radio station component.

Factions in city government and at the BDC have sought to throw The Senator's outspoken preservationist owner and activist community leader under the bus for over a decade.

Yasko's clumsy attempt to elevate his stature by standing on Kiefaber's shoulders is just more shameless opportunism at the expense of The Senator's true leader and unsung hero.

Anonymous said...

Good luck! You may want to look into the Paramount Theatre in Austin for ideas. It it a very similar theater that went through a similar demise, but found success again as a multi-use performance art and movie venue. I would love to see the Senator become a major music destination in Baltimore.

taotechuck said...

I sincerely hope your RFP is accepted, as your station has proven a genuine commitment to the arts. I would love to see what you would do with the opportunity to manage a space as wonderful as the Senator.

M Ferguson said...

If it's financially do-able, this would be a wonderful use of The Senator. As someone who also listens to WXPN-FM in Philadelphia, I've been very impressed by what they did with World Cafe Live. My first thought about The Senator would be to have it become somewhat like The Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA--as a community entity which would serve as a concert venue and a site for children's theater; indie film festivals & other community events. (Also, somewhat like the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown.)

I have lived near The Senator most of my adult life and have chosen to see most of the "key" movies of the last 25 years there. We celebrated my husband's 50th birthday with a party in the loges. There's something special about The Senator which should be preserved.

Jen Cashell said...

When I was a little girl (sometime back in the 70's), my dad took me, my brother, and my sister to see Fantasia at the Senator. A wonderful theater to see such a classic film! Little did we know at that time what a cool idea our dad had, but I appreciate it immensely as an adult. Kudos to my dad ... and to you WTMD! Your proposal to use this iconic Baltimore landmark as a place to continue serving the community is brilliant and I fervently wish that you are able to make this a reality. Perhaps I may once again have an opportunity to view Fantasia at the Senator theater.... and share the moment with my niece and nephew so they too can one day look back and reminisce.

Anonymous said...

This would be great for Baltimore! This is precisely the kind of partnership that would help take the city to the highest levels of culture and entertainment.

shifty said...

I wonder if Phoenix Watson is one of Tom's pseudonyms. Why else would they be so angry. I am sure the WTMD staff wouldn't stroke their egos before every showing by spouting on and one the way Tom does - the only thing I hated about the senator.

Good luck WTMD.

70mm Alien/Aliens double bill in '87 was my best memory there.

Widderic said...

I was so happy when the senator was saved the first time around, and even more so that its going to become an active theatre like it should be.

Myself and a crew of 50 some people filmed a full length feature film over the summer of 05-06. We had it premiered at the senator being the first movie to be projected digitally without the use of a reel there at the senator.

I'm currently in the midst of my film career at Towson University and would love to know how I could contribute to this project. I am also a WTMD 5000 member and an avid listener. Email me!!!

-eric widder

Anonymous said...

My first movie memory is at The Senator. In the early'60s my grandmom took me to see "My Fair Lady." Of course, we dressed up. We sat towards the back on the left side. I had never sat in such a sumptuous chair. The memory is of vibrant color and sound and "yer bloomin' arse" - had to go to confession after that. Good luck, Ellen McA

'becca said...

Steve or anyone else who knows: Is there any way we can concretely show support for WTMD's RFP, or is the Baltimore Development Corporation just going to pick without community input?

Aside from personal bias (I love WTMD and am committed to radio in general), it's definitely the strongest proposal. Rental apartments would be a tragedy, and the other two proposals just aren't exciting.

Abby said...

As a resident of the Senator's surrounding neighborhood, I really think this is the strongest proposal of the four that have been put out. It's clear to me that WTMD knows how to successfully operate a non-profit, and it would be fantastic for the theater to continue to be used as an arts and performance space.

I hope that there is a chance for us to make our voices heard as the BDC goes through the selection process. Please keep us up to date on any ways that we can give public input as to which proposal is accepted.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing "Indian Jones and the Temple" of Doom there when it first came out in theatres. I remember standing on my chair and screeming when they pulled the beating heart of the guys chest. Not exactly a heart warming memory but I can't think of the Senator and not think of that.


Anonymous said...

This would be an absolute disaster for Belvedere Square and the surrounding businesses. As would the apartment plan, for that matter. How does no one see that? Buzz Cusack has demonstrated an incredible ability to create a vibe around the Charles Theater, is an amazing contributor to the City arts and theater scene, and has what it takes to make the Senator a success. He would leverage his marketing skills and cross-promote with his other theaters, could add the Senator to the mix for the acclaimed film festival, and return it to the vibrant theater it once was. That would be the best thing for all involved. WTMD is an amazing radio station; I just don't think it is a slam dunk like everyone else seems to. The Recher, maybe...but NOT THE SENATOR!

Mary Anne Tom said...

I haven't read all the proposals, but I definitely think rental apts. would not bring the community there together the way the Senator has over all these years. Maybe the local businesses would benefit, but it definitely disheartens me to think of the Senator being put to such use. I went to my first movie there in 1972, when I was 6 years old. My father took me to see
"The Towering Inferno," and I knew that I was a at a special place. I've seen many movies there over the years and try to see everything I can there, actually, because I love the Senator and want to see it survive so I can take my children there. I didn't see Squeeze there, for some reason, but have loved seeing concert movies like the
Grateful Dead movie and "Stop Making Sense," the Talking Heads movie there and dancing in the aisles along with the shows. Special treats like the
"Wizard of Oz" set to Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" are etched in my memory forever. We also met Laurie Anderson and
Michael Hedges (RIP) there when they performed on the Senator's stage, and I remember being there when someone proposed to his gf, before one of the movies (don't recall which one it was). Say what you will about Tom Kiefaber's pontification before the shows and on the recordings, but he has a wonderful voice, and his love for the Senator was always quite evident. I could go on about the premiers and always bringing folks to see the many handprints on the sidewalk (oh yeah, did I mention meeting Fred Schneider of the B-52's outside after a premier?), but suffice it to say, anything to save the Senator would be great. I think a multi-media use would be smart, although I have to say that as much as I've supported the Charles Theatre over the years, I am inclined to believe that, if I dropped a passport in the Senator, I would be much more likely to get it back from the Senator than I was from the Charles (yes, this happened, and I was not allowed to go back in and look for it, and, of course, it was gone the next day, along with the money I had tucked in it--this was at the end of the night, when the only people left in the building were cleaning staff.) Good luck, Senator!! And I hope your steps in the back are repaired, before someone gets hurt on them. ;)

Tom Kiefaber said...

Tom Kiefaber here.

I appreciate [Mr. or Ms.] Watson's spirited support of my efforts at The Senator over the years as it's former owner. The public's abiding love for The Senator however, also has a great deal to do with its dedicated long-term staff, who have been its true heart and soul for many years, including "Natty Boh" and "Nipper" !

Watson sounds like someone who's researched the real Senator back story that the general public is blissfully unaware of. Knowing those egregious circumstances, as opposed to the fiction passed on through the media, can often trigger a counterproductive "Team Tom" mentality. It's a distraction though.

I respectfully disagree with the posts that support Buzz Cusack's RFP plan as good for the hood. While I consider Buzz a friend, from my perspective his plan is quite problematic. Thankfully many others seem to agree and the emerging consensus may have quickly shot his RFP plan down before it achieved any altitude. He's a good guy, but with a bad plan. That's showbiz...

In response to the post that relates The Senator's struggles to unimaginative thinking, I can't help having a defensive response to that fallacy. The truth be known, a great deal of collective imaginative thinking has kept the theatre intact and elevated The Senator 's brand to national renown. This was accomplished while also overcoming severe economic hurdles, seven days a week, for over 25 years. For decades the national accolades for The Senator, and it's inclusion on national top-ten lists have also been off the charts.

The revelation that TU has an interest in owning and operating The Senator as an enhanced multi-purpose showcase for a wide array of entertainment and educational programming is very encouraging. At first blush, we are genuinely excited and simpatico at The Senator with the overall direction things appear to be headed. The TU / WTMD RFP mirrors, in large part, the plans that have been developed in the past few years at The Senator through scores of round table meetings and numerous town hall events in collaboration with historic theatre consultants and the extended community.

The added WTMD public radio station component in the TU proposal is very intriguing, and it may well represent a key synergistic plus to the mix of proposed uses for The Senator. While the business and residential community leaders might be initially reticent embrace the TU plan, hopefully through the process of extensive evaluation, its merits will emerge and overcome any knee-jerk, "nimby", college-town concerns.

In that light perhaps Phoenix Watson's spirited posting may be a form of advocacy for key Senator staff to be recognized as valuable future assets in place with award-winning, hands-on experience. We may well have much to offer to further the cause and assist in bringing TU's proposed new Senator Theatre incarnation to fruition.

The Senator Theatre and Towson University are both celebrated, historic institutions that have coexisted in close proximity on York Road for over 70 years. Perhaps it is their destiny to be linked together to ensure that the beloved and irreplaceable Senator Theatre will evolve to realize its great potential, and in the process be preserved and protected in perpetuity. That may turn out be a wonderful surprise ending to this cliffhanger.

See you at The Senator!

Woodstock John said...

Go for it, WTMD! The Senator needs to live on, and I can think of no better custodian for such an historic venue. My best memory of the Senator was seeing Lawrence of Arabia there. Even though it's a 4-hour movie, I was ready for more! I hope to see WTMD keep the Senator going long into the future.

Jesse said...

Sounds like a perfect match. WTMD is already intimately involved with the Baltimore/Towson community and would really keep the spirit of the Senator alive while also expanding on its mission admirably.

My fondest memories of the Senator are attending the midnight world premier of Dick Tracy and a private event celebrating John Waters' Divine Trash.

I enjoyed more than a few movies at the Senator and was always saddened to see the steady deterioration of this beautiful landmark. I know that WTMD can provide love, restoration, and (most importantly) restore the public support the Senator needs to reclaim its status as a relevant anchor to the surrounding community.

Go for it!

Larissa said...

Though I have not been back to visit my hometown theatre in many years, The Senator Theatre will always hold a special place in my heart. Thomas Kiefaber was the cornerstone of keeping this unique piece of history above water in even the dimmest of times. My memories as a prior employee will always be remembered with the excitement, pride and enthusiasm Tom displayed.

My time in this classic art deco theatre welcomed a host of celebrities ~ Muhammad Ali, Johnny Depp, Kevin Bacon and John Waters to name just a few. I can reminisce also of the wonderful experience during the Senator's 50th Anniversary celebration in October 1989 in conjunction with the restored 1939 classic, "The Wizard Of Oz."

In regards to the latest proposal, it seems most fitting that Towson University be the best candidate for this transition.

To you Tom, congratulations on your THSA's "Creating Theatre History" Award. It seems most fitting and well deserved. And, thank you for all the years I could be a part of "a bunch of old theatre nuts."

vichere said...

The WTMD/Towson proposal would benefit the City and all of us. The proposal for music, film mixed media would be well supported and successful.

There are great music venues across the country that have become successful by supporting their local, regional and eventually national arts (e.g. World Cafe, Austin City Limits, etc.) Another successful model for music would be "Later with Jools Holland".

One of the most successful artists is from Towson University; Hank Levy. I note there are a lot of acoustic Jazz and big bands in the area and showcasing this type of music at the Senator would add a unique element along with all of the diverse local talent in the area.

The exhibits and themes from the students of the local schools such as Towson, Peabody, Morgan, and MIA will provide the energy for this approach, and placing operations of WTMD on the site will assure that a positive energy is maintained.

knachodsky said...

I was at the Senator Theater tonight for the proposal presentations. Let me first say that your presentation was professional, full of energy, and informative. Some of the others lacked all or most of the above.
In my opinion, WTMD has the only VIABLE proposal.
The day of the single screen/single purpose theater has (sadly) passed. Adding restaurants and additional retail space is not what attracts people to an area such as Govans. To revitalize the theater and the surrounding area, a multi-purpose venue such as you are proposing is the answer. A variety of exciting attractions - concerts, dance, and MOVIES - will, I believe, do just that!

Peter Davis said...

A bolder call to action would be appreciated. What can I do, besides agree with the idea and/or leave a memory?

Steve said...

Thanks for the direct question. The proposal is in the hands of the Baltimore Development Corporation.

If you feel moved, a short email in support of our proposal wouldn't be innappropriate. Though please remember, this is not a popularity contest, the BDC will choose a proposal baised on lots of considerations.

I would encourage you to be specific about your thoughts on programming and the financial impact on the community.

Their link is in the posts.

Bruno said...

Awesome! One key factor I've found is that whether one's a local originally or an urban history buff from abroad, people truly don't know such landmarks exist, and so close to their home at that.

WTMD could be great at getting the word out through the universities around town as well as on the radio. A recent drive-by with my best friend gazing toward The Senator recently left him befuddled, asking me the typical who/what/when/where/why questions in regards to its history. People just don't know. Look at Bolton Hill-it's beautiful. As a grad student, so many of my peers are clueless to these stunning areas.

Baltimore is a city that acts on what it knows; however, not by way of its Ph.Ds. Get the word out-loud. Music, events, movies, maybe a history field trip so kids familiarize with these places before suburban lands call and urban blight cycle through again? I've a grandparent in Pasadena; she'd be safer and happier within city limits; and has great memories of dates at The Senator.

Once in the suburbs, it's easy to move; however if you've lived in Baltimore, you simply can't. As a Texan recently described it to me: "It's a comfortable leather boot."