Building Description Hippodrome Theatre, Baltimore Maryland

The Hippodrome Theater, constructed in 1914, is located on the west side of Eutaw Street in downtown Baltimore, Maryland, one property north of the principal commercial intersection of Eutaw and Baltimore streets.

Famed theater architect Thomas Lamb (1871-1942) used ornamental brickwork and terracotta to frame a central motif on the Eutaw Street facade that created a powerful focal point along this urban streetscape. The overall composition demonstrates the symmetry, balance, and proportion associated with Neo-classical architecture, combined with a free use of texture and ornament characteristic of the architect's early eclectic style. On the interior, the theater's 2300-seat auditorium is a curvaceous composition of ovals, domes and coffers, which retains evidence of its original lavish decorative treatment in the baroque manner of the early 20th century.

The monumental east facade of the Hippodrome, fronting on Eutaw Street, is the primary exterior point of interest. The east facade treatment, which also returns around the north and south corners of the building, is a composition of brickwork and terra cotta which demonstrates a classically influenced tripartite composition including a base, mid-section, and ornamental top. The remaining exterior facades of the building, which face alleys on the south, west, and north, consist of ordinary dark brown brickwork punctuated by miscellaneous functional elements such as fire escapes in addition to doors and windows to back stage and other areas. While the east facade was carefully designed for its monumental effect, the other three exterior facades are simpler expressions of interior requirements.

The east facade is composed of a terra-cotta base at the sidewalk level which contains a central grouping of three arched openings forming the theater entrance. The original wood entrance doors with glass transoms have been removed, replaced by 1950s-vintage aluminum systems now covered with plywood. Embedded deep within the current fiberglass clad marquee, dating from the 1960s, are the remnants of the steelwork which supported the original glass and metal canopy which echoed the lines of the three entrance arches and was suspended from the facade by metal cables.

A projecting terra-cotta cornice caps the existing base. Rich texture is achieved in the mid-section through the use of projecting "cross" and "dot" beige brickwork laid out in a non-directional "diaper" pattern at either side of the framed central area. A rectangular frame of squares and diamond shapes surrounds a group of vertically stacked brick courses which create a Moorish, pointed-arch, effect. Substantial wooden window framing subdivides the open areas within the arches that are further divided by a delicate pattern of wooden mullions. The existing windows reflect numerous later modifications to the original design. Two of the four original cast metal light standards still exist on the facade, although the original white globes are missing. At least two variations of a large, vertical, illuminated sign, attached to the facade and announcing "The Hippodrome," are known to have existed in the past, although none survives.

The east facade was originally crowned with a magnificent treatment consisting of a terracotta frieze, a projecting terra cotta cornice, and a terra cotta parapet. Although the cornice has been lost, leaving a remnant band of rubble brick, the original frieze is nearly complete in its original bas-relief form. The frieze is composed of an ornamental pattern including repeating putti holding a continuous floral swag, dramatic masks, and the lyre, a classical stringed instrument and symbol of the musical arts. The original parapet is clad in terra-cotta panels and copings.

The auditorium is dominated by a primarily rectilinear proscenium arch that formerly contained elaborate opera boxes on either side. Above the proscenium arch, a richly colored allegorical painting survives despite damage from water and age. The rich and exuberant design of the interior theater space originally featured a subdued palette of creams, tans, and browns accented with silver and gold (since painted over). Original architectural drawings stored at the Avery Library of Columbia University indicate that most changes to the interior have been cosmetic in nature, with the exception of the removal of the opera boxes and alterations to the lobby area.

The auditorium space, with its large balcony, is baroque in terms of its flowing space and eclectic in terms of its ornate plasterwork and other ornament. Curvilinear forms define the main components of the auditorium space including the balcony edge, the rear wall of the lobby, and the motifs of saucer domes and moldings in the main ceiling and the ceiling at the underside of the large balcony. The main theater ceiling and the underside of the balcony each contain a large central recessed oval area, which originally contained ornamental chandeliers, now lost. These saucer domes are surrounded by ornamental mouldings and recessed curved panels. Ornamental boxes originally housed light fixtures, also removed. The concrete auditorium floor slopes gradually down to the edge of the stage through a series of risers. The former orchestra pit has been filled in with concrete.

Despite the effects of a series of cosmetic renovations between 1931 and 1962, and subsequent decay, the interior space retains sufficient integrity to reflect its former grandeur. The elaborate proscenium arch remains intact despite considerable plaster damage and several layers of paint. The central cartouche above the proscenium, incorporating the initials "H-T," also survives with some loss of ornament. The ornate proscenium boxes have been completely removed, leaving only a patchwork of remnant materials. While most of the original applied interior finishes have been removed, some visible remnants of the original pattern of framed wall fabric panels and "scagliola" faux-marble wainscoting survive. The seating currently in place dates from the 1950s. Other, more modern accommodations include a motion picture projection booth at the rear of the lower level and ceiling penetrations for a variety of mechanical and electrical devices.

The existing stage is approximately 80' wide, 30' deep and 60' high behind a 43' wide proscenium opening. On either side of the stage are areas for scenery and dressing rooms on several levels. Beneath the stage is a storage area, a boiler room, and former access to the orchestra pit. A fly gallery, with some rigging of an unknown date, exists above the stage area. The modest entry lobby from Eutaw Street provides an air-lock to the outside and a means of access to the balcony level from stairs that rise from the north and south ends of the lobby. The space was originally open to the auditorium; the curved wall which now defines the lobby was added at an unknown date. The current ceiling of the lobby space is a smooth plaster vault which is not believed to be original, as the original architectural drawings indicate a much more elaborate and flatter surface. The lobby currently has a vinyl tile floor and wood paneling from a later renovation. The ticket booth located in the lobby is also not original. Restrooms are located off each stair at an intermediate level between the lobby and the balcony. Additional restrooms are located off the balcony level.

The roof of the building is a concrete slab covered with multiple-ply roofing. The basement of the building is confined to the stage area, in addition to ventilation tunnels which originally circulated chilled air from an ice storage room to vents under the theater seats.