One of Pikesville's most charming and well-loved buildings — a 1937 Art Deco structure fronted by a stately marquee — could soon open its doors to movie patrons for the first time in 30 years.
The Baltimore County Council will be asked on April 15 to approve a zoning measure that would allow two 80-seat theaters to be added to what currently is the Pikes Diner on Reisterstown Road.
"Even though the Pikes Diner operated as a movie theater for many, many years, for some reason that's not currently one of the permitted uses of that facility," said County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who has drafted a change to the current zoning classification that would rectify the oversight.
If successful, Wil Reich, the Diner's owner, would proceed with the planned, $200,000 renovation. Two screens showing first-run films could be unveiled as soon as July.
"The Pikes Theatre has such a history and sentimental value attached to it," Almond said. "I can't tell you how many people have told me, 'I had my first date here,' or 'This is where I got engaged.' "
Reich said the renovations wouldn't require him to shut down his 95-seat restaurant, which specializes in seafood and serves an all-day breakfast. At most, he said, the restaurant might close for a day or two at the height of construction.
"We're going to carry on the nostalgia theme that's in the restaurant right now," Reich said. "We'll have the original projector on display. The restaurant has the original Art Deco ceiling from the movie theater. And we have about 25 life-size statues of the Blues Brothers, Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe. The whole place will have a movie theme."
Though the Pikes opened in 1937 as a single-screen, 200-seat theater, it closed in 1983 and was transformed into a succession of restaurants. Reich said he was approached recently by a local businessman — whom he declined to name until the zoning measure can be approved — about restoring the theater to its original purpose. Once the renovation is complete, Reich will operate the diner and outdoor patio, while his partner runs the theaters.
Both Reich and Almond said the area has struggled for several years to attract visitors at night. There are five restaurants within a block of the diner — including Jilly's Bar and Grille, which Reich also owns — but customers tend to eat and go home, Almond said.
'Mr. Reich needs to do something with that property, and I didn't want to see it torn down and become a gas station," Almond said.
"If it becomes a movie theater, it will draw people into the area, and they may stay to eat and shop. There's a senior center right down the block, and they could have matinees for seniors. I'm excited — this could be just what that part of Pikesville needs."