March 2, 2024

BASS

Booking Travel

Bringing arts, entertainment back to Pennsylvania Avenue

Business leaders and community members seek to revitalize what was once Baltimore’s thriving entertainment district.Walk through the doors of The Avenue Bakery, and you’ll find a gem that looks less like an actual bakery and more like a museum. The bakery is on Pennsylvania Avenue, Baltimore’s Black arts and entertainment district. The avenue is not the thriving area it once was decades ago, and several business owners and residents are trying to change that.James Hamlin told 11 News that owning The Avenue Bakery in the neighborhood where he grew up wasn’t a childhood dream of his. It’s simply a means to an end.”We have a tendency to build museums until people go, but that doesn’t always happen, and if you want to revitalize the community, you have to put it where the people are. So, that’s the whole idea of the bakery and all the history we have here,” Hamlin told 11 News. “The whole idea of the bakery has been — and still is — to attract people back to historic Pennsylvania Avenue so that we can spearhead investment in redevelopment of the business district from an economic perspective.”The bakery represents the first step in the redevelopment process, but the mission extends outside of the bakery’s walls to revitalize the entire Pennsylvania Avenue corridor and restore it to its former glory.”It was a thriving business district. It was our business district. That’s where we went to shop. That’s where all the entertainment was. It was full of movie theaters. You had all kinds of nightclubs and entertainment places up and down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Hamlin told 11 News.Perhaps the biggest and most famous entertainment venue was The Royal Theatre, which opened in the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in the 1920s and was part of the Chitlin’ Circuit, where big names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and so many more came to perform.”The premiere theater was the Royal. If you didn’t make it at the Royal, you were not going to be successful in the entertainment business,” Hamlin told 11 News. “The most strongest venue there is on that avenue was the Royal Theatre.”But the 1968 riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the urban renewal that followed, changed the face of Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Avenue. The theater was demolished in 1971, leaving behind only a monument in its stead.Hamlin wants to change that. He started the Royal Theatre Community Heritage Corp., a nonprofit organization geared toward revitalizing the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, starting with the Royal Theatre.While they’re currently raising funds, the project is bigger than restoring the area to its former glory. It’s also about creating a better future for generations to come.”We have to change what our young people are growing up in, this atmosphere that young people are growing up, and it’s not what I grew up in,” Hamlin told 11 News. “When we talk about revitalizing Pennsylvania Avenue, we talk about changing the whole perception, the whole narrative for Baltimore.”The next big step in the project is to find a location for the new Royal Theatre to call home.

Business leaders and community members seek to revitalize what was once Baltimore’s thriving entertainment district.

Walk through the doors of The Avenue Bakery, and you’ll find a gem that looks less like an actual bakery and more like a museum. The bakery is on Pennsylvania Avenue, Baltimore’s Black arts and entertainment district. The avenue is not the thriving area it once was decades ago, and several business owners and residents are trying to change that.

James Hamlin told 11 News that owning The Avenue Bakery in the neighborhood where he grew up wasn’t a childhood dream of his. It’s simply a means to an end.

“We have a tendency to build museums until people go, but that doesn’t always happen, and if you want to revitalize the community, you have to put it where the people are. So, that’s the whole idea of the bakery and all the history we have here,” Hamlin told 11 News. “The whole idea of the bakery has been — and still is — to attract people back to historic Pennsylvania Avenue so that we can spearhead investment in redevelopment of the business district from an economic perspective.”

The bakery represents the first step in the redevelopment process, but the mission extends outside of the bakery’s walls to revitalize the entire Pennsylvania Avenue corridor and restore it to its former glory.

“It was a thriving business district. It was our business district. That’s where we went to shop. That’s where all the entertainment was. It was full of movie theaters. You had all kinds of nightclubs and entertainment places up and down Pennsylvania Avenue,” Hamlin told 11 News.

Perhaps the biggest and most famous entertainment venue was The Royal Theatre, which opened in the 1300 block of Pennsylvania Avenue in the 1920s and was part of the Chitlin’ Circuit, where big names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and so many more came to perform.

“The premiere theater was the Royal. If you didn’t make it at the Royal, you were not going to be successful in the entertainment business,” Hamlin told 11 News. “The most strongest venue there is on that avenue was the Royal Theatre.”

But the 1968 riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the urban renewal that followed, changed the face of Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Avenue. The theater was demolished in 1971, leaving behind only a monument in its stead.

Hamlin wants to change that. He started the Royal Theatre Community Heritage Corp., a nonprofit organization geared toward revitalizing the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, starting with the Royal Theatre.

While they’re currently raising funds, the project is bigger than restoring the area to its former glory. It’s also about creating a better future for generations to come.

“We have to change what our young people are growing up in, this atmosphere that young people are growing up, and it’s not what I grew up in,” Hamlin told 11 News. “When we talk about revitalizing Pennsylvania Avenue, we talk about changing the whole perception, the whole narrative for Baltimore.”

The next big step in the project is to find a location for the new Royal Theatre to call home.

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