She helps put the ac­tion in movies

For co-owner of Charles and Se­na­tor, there’s al­ways plenty to do

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Jeff Barker

Op­er­at­ing the 79-year-old Se­na­tor and Charles the­aters re­quires mul­ti­task­ing to the ex­treme.

“I do pay­roll, and we’ve got to make sure the movies get de­liv­ered. We’ve got to make sure we have pop­corn. And I al­ways joke that I’m the chief birth­day party plan­ner,” said Kath­leen Lyon, who owns the ven­er­a­ble the­aters with her fa­ther, James “Buzz” Cu­sack.

And then there’s an unwritten job: care­taker of Bal­ti­more­ans’ mem­o­ries.

Like old movies them­selves, the the­aters — both built in 1939, the same year “Gone with the Wind” was re­leased — tend to evoke nostalgia.

The Charles once showed news reels, but The Se­na­tor, an Art Deco build­ing, played Walt Dis­ney films and hosted other pop­u­lar at­trac­tions. “Peo­ple have a very strong emo­tional con­nec­tion to it,” Lyon said.

She said she reg­u­larly hears com­ments such as, “My grand­par­ents had their first date here,” or “I re­mem­ber when you could smoke up in the bal­conies.”

“It’s a unique thing to be a stew­ard of,” Lyon said.

The five-screen Charles has long been a show­case for art house films. The four-screen Se­na­tor shows pop­u­lar films, in­clud­ing the re­cent “Black Pan­ther.”

The Cu­sacks had pre­vi­ously leased the sin­gle-screen Se­na­tor from the city, and pur­chased the build­ing in 2012. It closed for a ma­jor ren­o­va­tion and ex­pan­sion be­fore re­open­ing in 2013.

The theater se­lected “Hair­spray” — the film of Bal­ti­more di­rec­tor John Waters — for its re-open­ing night fea­ture. Guests in­cluded Waters, Em­my­win­ning cast­ing di­rec­tor Pat Mo­ran and then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Reach­ing that mo­ment re­quired a bit of multi-task­ing as well.

“It was in­cred­i­ble,” Lyon said. “We had been get­ting plans, zon­ing, per­mits, his­toric tax cred­its, fi­nanc­ing. It was my fa­ther and I do­ing it all. It was all-con­sum­ing.”

Lyon has plenty of her own mem­o­ries of the the­aters, and rec­ol­lec­tions of long en­gage­ments.

“We played ‘Moon­light’ two years ago,” re­fer­ring to last year’s Academy Award win­ner for best pic­ture. “We played ‘La La Land’ for five months. The long­est-run­ning one I can re­mem­ber was Woody Allen’s ‘Mid­night in Paris.’ That played here for six months. There were lines around the block for ‘The Blair Witch Project’ be­fore I was here.”


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