Citing deterioration and neglect, Baltimore’s Westside neighborhood was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of most endangered historic places in 1999. The neighborhood’s Empire Theater, at 315 W. Fayette Street, with its neoclassical terra cotta and granite façade, was one of the Westside’s landmarks – and it, too, was at risk.
From the time it first opened its doors in 1911, the Empire hosted generations of audiences for vaudeville performances, burlesque shows, boxing matches, film screenings, and more. By 1990, however, the Empire stopped operating, and like much of the neighborhood surrounding it – was in a state of disrepair.
Nineteen-ninety was the same year that Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre began producing high quality, professional theatre at affordable prices for everyone and with a vision to engage, inspire and transform artists and audiences throughout the region. Since then, Everyman has become a beloved Baltimore institution, with more than nine out of ten season subscribers renewing their subscriptions annually. In addition, Everyman has become an important educational resource for the city, offering free programming for Baltimore’s school students in order to engage them with the arts.
In 2006, Bank of America and the Harold A. Dawson Trust donated the Empire Theater to Everyman – offering at once a larger home for Everyman, and also the opportunity to restore the Empire to its former luster. The Bank also provided $16 million in loans – $4.9 million of which would be forgiven after 7 years – and $6.1 million in construction financing to rehabilitate the Empire Theater.
With construction set to end in late 2012, Everyman Theater will begin producing in its new home in January 2013. The new facility will enable Everyman to operate on a higher level, with a wider range of play for its audiences and provide the requisite space for its ever growing education programs and roster of artists.
“Without Bank of America, we couldn’t have done it,” says Vincent Lancisi, Everyman Theater’s artistic director. “We feel the love.” Gina Hirschhorn, a member of Bank of America’s business strategy team, is a long standing Board member of Everyman Theatre. Gina and her husband Dan Hirschhorn led the $18million Capital Campaign to raise the private and public funding needed to complete the project.
Along with the recently restored Hippodrome Theatre and the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, the restoration of the Empire Theater is helping to fuel a renaissance in Westside.
“We know that the arts can make communities more exciting, vibrant places, which is good for local economies,” says Bill Couper, mid-Atlantic president, Bank of America. “That’s why we are thrilled to support projects like helping the Everyman Theater find a new home.”
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