Modernist Theater Under Threat!

Located in downtown Baltimore, the Morris A. Mechanic Theater is both an architectural and historical landmark that contributes greatly to the fabric of Baltimore as a city. However, the theater has been acquired recently after sitting empty for three years. Although no firm plans have been announced, various commercial and residential developments have been mentioned and the theater’s interiors have been partially demolished. With these recent activities and as part of a move by the Baltimore Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation to recognize the significance of historic buildings before they are under threat of imminent demolition, the commission is considering the theater for landmark status.

Designed by John M. Johansen in 1967, one of the leading modern architects of the twentieth century and known as one of the “Harvard Five,” the Morris A. Mechanic Theater is an excellent example of post war urban performing arts architecture. Known for his innovative designs, among which are the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, Ireland and the Oklahoma Theater Center, Johansen has described the Mechanic Theater as an example of “functional expressionism,” where the interior composition, of the balcony sections, stage tower and air vents, is revealed on the outside, expressing the theaters function on its exterior.

Created as one of the many urban renewal projects taking place across the country at the time, the 1967 theater was the first city center renewal project with a legitimate theater as its centerpiece and serves as a testament to the urban planning ideals and initiatives of post war United States. With contemporaries such as the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and the Guthrie in Minneapolis, which was recently demolished, the preservation of the Mechanic Theater has become all too important in recognizing the role of the arts and regional cultural centers in post war urban renewal and downtown revival projects.

On August 14th the CHAP will hold a public hearing on recommending the theater for historical landmark status at the Baltimore Department of City Planning. To support the landmarking of this theater and prevent its demolition DOCOMOMO-US urges you attend the August 14th hearing or to write a letter to Sheila Dixon, the mayor of Baltimore or to Tyler Gearhart, Chair of Baltimore Commission of Historical and Architectural Preservation.

Mayor Sheila Dixon
City hall, Room 250
100 N. Holiday Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Mr. Tyler Gearhart, Chair
Baltimore CHAP
417 East Fayette St
8th floor
Baltimore, MD 21202
FAX- Fax: 410-396-5662

 

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