Continuing our recent Brew theme of hot weather and hot fires, we went over to Howard Park yesterday afternoon to check out the fire damage at the historic Art Deco-style Ambassador Theater – often described as the Senator Theatre’s sister movie house.
The charred interior of the building at 4604 Liberty Heights Avenue was still reeking of smoke in the wake of the two-alarm blaze early Thursday morning that drew crews from across the city. No injuries were reported from the fire inside the 76-year-old theater, which hasn’t been used as a movie house in decades.
Its current owner, Larry Gaston, of Silver Spring, has not returned a call from The Brew asking about the extent of the damage or his plans for the building. It’s located near the Gwynn Oak Avenue intersection, in a struggling part of the city, sandwiched in between a gas station and a funeral parlor.
Across the street from the Ambassador, however, is a parcel that has received some attention from political leaders – the property where the long-vacant Super Pride supermarket was demolished and the city-subsidized Liberty Heights Shopping Center is planned to rise in its place.
“It’s really strange that this burned all of a sudden,” passerby Felder Chapel said Thursday. Chapel, who has lived nearby for four years, on the street behind Calvin Rodwell Elementary School, pointed over toward the vacant building lot when asked what he thought would happen to the Ambassador. “They might tear it down the same way,” he speculated.
If that happened, it would mean the loss of another Baltimore architectural gem. The Ambassador’s striking vertical sign rises above a yellow brick building decorated with octagonal panels and black vertical stripes. Both it and the Senator, on York Road, were designed by architect John J. Zink.
Bidders at a 2009 auction of the property never went above $120,000 and the owner opted not to sell, according to a Baltimore Sun story. According to the piece, the Ambassador was one of the first neighborhood theaters to show first-run movies, ceased operation as a theater in 1968, functioned as a church and a school of cosmetology and has lately been vacant.
Small liquor bottles littered the sidewalk near the theater Thursday and massive poison ivy vines twined around the building’s walls and boarded-up windows.
Here’s a great website, Kilduff’s, with some photos and other artifacts from the Ambassador’s glory days.
Here are some pictures we took standing just outside the condemned structure: