Senator’s big screen goes dark for renovation

The $3 million effort is expected to take at least six months, add three smaller screens to the big one and install an in-house restaurant.

The landmark Senator Theater closes Friday for six months of renovation and expansion

The landmark Senator Theater’s closes Friday for six months of renovation and expansion

Photo by: Doug Birch

The big screen at the Senator Theater will go dark tomorrow (Friday) for the next six or seven months, the operator says, as work begins on the graceful landmark’s long-planned renovation and expansion.

James “Buzz” Cusack, who struck a deal to lease the Senator two years ago, says the $3 million project will add three new smaller screens in addition to the current single large screen. There are also plans to open a restaurant in the theater and for repairs to the rich decorative detailing of the Art Deco building.

“We expect to start work in a couple of weeks,” Cusack said today, adding he hopes to reopen by the start of the Christmas film season. But he said construction could take longer because of the scope of the planned work.

The Senator Theater's glass front doors

The Senator Theater's glass front doors

The Senator adds a dash of Hollywood glamour to a leafy north residential Baltimore neighborhood with its 40-foot-screen, 900 seats and occasional Hollywood-style movie premiers.

It is regarded as the anchor for the Belvedere Square shopping and entertainment district, which last year lost its Daedalus Bookstore.

The last showing of the current film, “Hunger Games,” is today.

Cusack, owner of the Charles Theater in Station North, said he is confident that an expanded and updated Senator can be a commercial success, despite the long-term growth of home entertainment systems and the more recent rise of movie streaming services.

“It’s a very different thing going to the movies,” he said. “People like to go out and be seen and see other people.”

The theater has seldom attracted large crowds in recent years and Cusack told the Baltimore Business Journal earlier this year that he hoped the refurbished theater would draw between 175,000 and 200,000 people a year.

The Senator's marquee at night

The Senator's marquee at night

The city purchased the mortgage on the financially struggling Senator in 2009, and reached an agreement to lease it to Cusack and his daughter Kathleen the following year.

The state and city have kicked in $1.3 million in loans and incentives for the project.

The renovations are slated to begin as Cusack’s Charles Theater gears up for the 2012 Maryland Film Festival.

The Charles is the primary venue for the festival, which also screens films at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Brown Center and The Windup Space on North Avenue.

For upcoming arts and culture events, see The Brew’s new Coming at You page.

Be sure to check our full comment policy before leaving a comment.

  • Tom Kiefaber

    Yada, yada. This story deserved a pro with a pad and pencil. 

    • Seer723

      i guess b/c Cusack was actually able to save the theater unlike you, and has good business sense, unlike you, that you just have to come on here and dismiss the reporting and the story. Your prolonged 15 are up, go hide back in whatever corner of the world you infest now.

  • Adam Appel

    I’m afraid to say it. When the curtain closes today, I am confident that it will be the last movie ever shown at the Senator. Cusack is disingenuous and has no intention of restoring it to it’s former glory. Or any glory, for that matter. I’m beginning to think the council paid him to appropriate the property and run it into the ground on purpose. Good job, there. 

    • Guest.

      Adam, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.  I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

    • John

      What is the basis for your comment? Do you know something no one else doses? Seems like Cusack did a pretty nice job with the Charles.

    • guest

      Adam, you clearly haven’t had a chance to visit the senator recently. Restoration of the mural at the entrance of the theatre has been happening for a few weeks now. What is the conspiracy behind that?

    • FestivalGal

      Adam and Tom K., if it never reopens, please tell us over and over again how you were right.  However, if the Senator is renovated and then reopens, please go away and never let us hear from you again, ok?

  • Unellu

    Why?  Does anyone know why the city would want to run the Senator into the ground?  I loved the Senator–I saw quite a few movies there.   When my family went, it was an event.  An added bonus–that theater had a magnificent bathroom–real elegant.  Ladies lingered there to chat about the movies–share impressions and gossip.  The theater had such a lovely feel of camaraderie and fun.  We have a bunch of Philistines in Baltimore with no sense of respect for the past.        

  • big b

    Yes, just like he has destroyed the Charles. 


  • Rar417

    The Charles seems to be a successful, profitable business that brought and has maintained interest in that part of the city.  So tell me how he is now going to ruin the Senator?  As long as he leaves the big screen in tact, he’s got a winner. 

  • Guest

    I must say that after drinking TK’s kool aid for
    a long time I now find myself a bit confused about his comments on the Cusack’s
    operation of The Senator over the past year and a half. TK, you have
    consistently informed the public of information leaked to you personally from
    someone “in the know” downtown. At first it was that the Cusacks would be out
    of there within six months, then that the city has grown tired of them and that
    it was confirmed to YOU that restorations will no longer take place, and now
    you have posted on FB that YOU have been informed that The Senator will no
    longer open.

    So let’s recap…

    The Cusacks have now been operating the Senator
    for a year past your initial six month claim, and according to the guest a few
    posts below restoration of the mural has been taking place for “weeks”. It sounds
    to me like this “person in the know” doesn’t really know very much.

    Your theory is that the city put the Cusacks in
    there to allow the senator to fail and have it close for good… However, wouldn’t
    that ruin their reputation in the business, which would affect business at The
    Charles? Only an idiot would put themselves in that position.

    So what FACTS do you have beyond this contact
    that you claim you have downtown that so far has been wrong regarding the Senator
    shutting down for good? You can leave out the bit about missed projections as
    every post that you have made in the past few months has been about this and it
    does not seem to matter as they are still moving forward with renovations regardless
    of that.

  • Guest

    Hey TK, know what will happen if I fall behind on my mortgage? I’m not sure what pedestal you think you’re living on – were living on, I should say – but you are no different than any of us. Here’s some advice for future reference: paying your bills goes a long way.

  • guest

    yada yada vitriol, yada yada misinformation, yada yada denial, yada yada. We’ve been hearing this same song for years now, Tom.

  • Tom Kiefaber

    Dear  Guest, guest, seer723, bob, big b and  and and rar417, etc: 

    I get it now. It took me  a minute  there. 

    On this site the majority of  regular forum posters  have become somewhat  familiar  through  spirited and generally civil interactions, and they attribute their posts. I note that an obvious shift  in tone and focus has occurred with this topic as the Brew rarely covers The Senator Theatre miasma.

    The TK troll hydra has arrived on the scene to inhibit  legitimate discussion of what’s taking place today to  keep an old blame-game focus on me and what did or didn’t occur over three years ago. [sigh…]I apologize to my extended “Brew” family, as this thread will no longer focus on the issues at hand . The topic and my association with it  have unfortunately attracted  a few invasive cyber germs into our community. Not to fear though, as they are really not that contagious and they’ll pretty much remain localized in this infected thread. I trust you will find the rest of the Brew site issues will remain healthy productive forums for the exchange of ideas and information.This thread, however, has no prospects for significant improvement at this stage of  infestation. Regardless I  suggest that  you  move on from here to more productive pursuits, as there’s nothing more  to see here folks. If they starve we won’t need to close the windows and set off an aerosol purge.               

  • 70mm

    What’s the plan? Will the old theater remain intact? Will the additional screens infringe on the main theater at all?

    • Doug Birch

      Illustrations of the planned renovations are posted on the Senator’s website, They show the new screens and restaurant space in planned additions or currently unused space.

      • 70mm

        Thanks Doug. The plan doesn’t look too bad but I would fully expect to be able to see short films, docs and niche art house films in those small theaters! I can’t imagine a Holywood Blockbuster in the 2 smaller theaters.

  • Adam Appel

    I’m not a fan of TK, nor an apologist. But I still saw the same photos of the Senator where the marquee bulbs burnt out this year. I also read stories about how the Friends of the Senator were having to change bulbs, donated, to keep the place lit. They didn’t even stay open for their final showing of “The Hunger Games” before the renovation. Attendance was down much lower than projected for this year. Sorry, I think you’re all drinking the kool-aid. 

More of the Daily Drip »

Below the Fold

  • December 15, 2014

    •   “Ha ha, so not a surprise.” “Shocking…not!!” We get applause but also the occasional eye-roll these days for our accountability reporting – like last week’s piece about how tax cuts promised by the mayor as a selling point for Horseshoe Baltimore probably won’t happen, thanks to the casino’s lower-than-expected revenues. We get where the […]