The Garfield’s Marquee and Screen are Good “Signs” for Chestertown by Philip Dutton


During the week after Thanksgiving the final adornment, a refurbished marquee, will be returned and installed on The Garfield Center for the Arts at the Prince Theatre. A ‘re-lighting’ event is being planned for First Friday in December.

The Garfield Center will be asking the Historic District Commission, Planning Commission and Town Council to make accommodations to the Town’s sign ordinance which will permit our historic marquee signs and new programmable screen. The theatre is unique in the Historic District in its history of a higher level of lighting and need for signage. But, we also understand the valid concerns of residents and officials about utilizing new technologies in historic marketplaces.

To help everyone become more informed about the proposed marquee and screen, we have produced the following 3-D video that shows these signs in their historic context.

Theaters everywhere are upgrading their signage to programmable screens. These new signs allow theaters to create their own messages on computer and communicate with the public in colorful and informative ways. Communicating is the key to financial viability because the shows theaters offer are constantly changing. On the other hand, as a 501(c) 3, the Garfield has a broad mission to nurture our community, including responsibility for the theater’s historic preservation.

The Garfield Center cannot survive as a museum. It is an active, vibrant theatre that needs modern tools to promote not only the shows that appear on its stage, but all community events that contribute to the success of our historic community. We believe these signs are in keeping with both the character of the historic building and historic district while still exuding the energy and excitement of a contemporary performing arts theater.

Philip Dutton
Board President
The Garfield Center Foundation

Letters to Editor

  1. Melinda Bookwalter says


  2. As a lifelong Water Street resident, I fully endorse the new marquee for The
    Garfield Center. I urge the Historic District Commission, The Planning
    Commission, and The Town Council to join the overwhelming support of the
    community to give The Garfield Center what they need for
    continued success. For decades Chestertown has sought a viable
    solution for The Prince Theater, and now we have it through the The
    Garfield Center. The Chesapeake Architects has captured and historical value
    of the original Marquee. We are fortunate to have the newly renovated Garfield Center
    as an example of what the downtown Historic District needs to help revitalize Chestertown.

  3. Joe Diamond says

    Any chance the Garfield Center for the Arts could testify to past threats to artistic expression and past injustices that illegally denied certain Americans full participation in Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights? We should not forget the Maryland Board of Censors and the state sponsored examination of what films were appropriate for citizens to view. We should not forget Joe McCarthy and the Hollywood Blacklist; Americans who were excluded from working as artists in the film industry because of their suspected political beliefs. We should not forget racial segregation. As late as 1962 African Americans were admitted to the Prince Theater if they paid full admission and agreed to sit in the balcony.

    The new facade looks great. The town council and the Historical Society embarrassed themselves with the discussion of the details of the new signage. I think it would be a real lapse if an establishment calling itself a center for the arts did not at least acknowledge past issues that threatened the chance of such an institution being possible today in this state and town.


    • You might want to attend our next reconciliation program. The first was a moving acknowledgement of segregation practices at The Prince and a step forward in bringing our community together. The third will be in 2013. You also might get someone to show you the “shadow staircase” in the Kohl Lobby. It is a permanent architectural acknowledgement of those earlier days.

      • Joe Diamond says

        Yes, thank you,

        These are things outside my experiences here. I will watch for the reconciliation program. I had not heard of the “shadow staircase” and my first visit to Chestertown was in the seventies…been living here since the early eighties.

        I did notice right outside the theatre a monument to the American Civil War and local veterans. Some of those named on the stone went south to fight. On the other side of the stone the names of other veterans who fought in northern ranks. Aside from that there is little recognition of anything that happened between 1865 and 1965.

        Very interested,


    • Steve Frohock says

      Joe – The Historic District Commission and the Historical Society are NOT the same body. The HDC is a government entity, the society is not.

      • Joe Diamond says

        Again thanks,
        Their functions have been indistinguishable to me. This is because I have never worked at discovering why either exist or reviewing their work.
        I get a sense that past structures and their details are considered by one group and future architectural details are controlled by another. I am familiar with HOA rules and zoning rules and see their functions. The others, not so much.

        I think part of my confusion is an ignorance of the goals of both groups. I’ll start looking.

        Thanks again,


  4. We typically think of historic Chestertown as being 18th Century town. But, in truth it is 19th C. and 20th, too. Indeed, this theater is a product of the “Roaring Twenties” – toward the (very) lively end of our National Register District’s “Period of Significance” (1707-1939).

    Our Historic District Commission has thoughtfully approved the rehabilitation of its marquee, not the restoration: the historic exterior is preserved, the marquee signs updated, the missing ceiling all new , and the lighting upgraded to energy-efficient LEDs.

    The theater’s entrance doors are also new. There were no doors there in the 1920s. That part of the lobby was open to the outside. If the HDC had required the 1950s aluminum storefront doors be retained, there might be some sense to keeping the 1950s letter board sign. However, as the HDC has already shown, 1950s technology is not historically appropriate by any rational (except fear of change).

    Let’s suppose for a moment, Chestertown installed its HDC some time after the civil war. Would they have permitted Stam Hall (1886)? The Imperial (1911)? And, if neither of these, certainly not our Roaring Twenties sweetheart, the New Lyceum, it was called back then. All were strikingly modern in their time. Chestertown would be missing its Three Grand Ladies on High Street if this hypothetical HDC had opposed all that’s new.

    In the spirit of this theater’s era of origin, it makes no sense to weigh this lively lady down with obsolete signage, especially in this era of the “Great Recession”. We need the Garfield Center as an anchor business downtown, doing her level best to bring more Wallets and Purses into our Historic Marketplace. By all means, let’s give her the tools she needs. Historic Marketplaces don’t thrive if they aren’t lively.

  5. Armond Fletcher says

    The new marquee is a great landmark centerpiece of the downtown business area. As a native-born downtowner, we called the theatre back then “the movies”, and now today, the ‘Garfield Center’, was always then, and even today, shows all the great possibilities that we can all enjoy.

    When living in the era of segregation and sitting upstairs with family and neighbors of my community, we were not allowed to sit downstairs, but time changed things in the 1970s- with a huge demand for black movies and the financial impact that came with that demand. We begin to sit downstairs – packed out with African-Americans-filling the movie house – for saturday afternoons matinees.

    Maybe this could be a fresh look at what possibilities we could all enjoy today as we become a more diverse community. That everyone can benefit from in the downtown area, as the former movie owners recognized. I went to the first reconciliation celebration 3 years ago, and that changed my attitude toward the building- over 200 people celebrating the new owners and board members new attitudes toward the pass wrongs of segregation, in the building and hearing more stories of sitting upstairs.

    And in the mist of that first powerful reconcilation-celebration,,,,the president of the Garfield Center, Philip Dutton, stood in front of all the attendees that night and boldly said these words; segregation was wrong,and we are sorry to have you sit upstairs in the balcony. And also that night a reconciliation proclamation was read to all.

    The peace treaty has been read and signed so we must all act on it and grow together as a community. Today as a new board member of the new Garfield Center, I can say with no doubt, these are great people who truly believe in the great stewardship of the Garfied Center, the arts, and the community that we all share together.

  6. Kathleen James-Chakraborty says

    I grew up around the corner from the Prince Theater; my bedroom (all three of them as I moved around the house) always faced out onto the side of it. For some years, Peter Newlin of Chesapeake Architects lived next door. Although I am white, I often sat in the balcony in the latter part of the seventies, just after desegregation, because it was calmer up there. I, like most of those classmates, left Chestertown decades ago, but I retain a fond interest in its welfare. I became a historian of modern architecture in part in reaction against the unthinking celebration of all things “historic” that too often surrounded me as I gre up, including a status quo in which many of my classmates and their families were not always recognized as the equals of others among us. My first publication ever was a letter to a national newspaper complaining about blow-ins. Among the buildings about which I have written are several Berlin movie theaters of the 1920s; Chestertown was always a quiet backwater in comparison to their bold illumination, which even included search lights. To remain alive, communities and their architecture have to change. This does not mean throwing out the best of the past, but it does encompass making some room for the most dynamic aspects of the present. A small screen reset into a part of a facade intended for advertising, seems far from a bold step in this direction compared, for instance, to the design of the Gibson Fine Arts Center or the Miller Library. I think it is sad that there are so few twentieth-century buildings in Chestertown, that display the architectural distinction of the best eighteenth and nineteenth century structures, and I fear that this will also be the case for the twenty-first. Of course their scale should be harmonious, but there should be a space for the new.

  7. J.Michael Kelly says

    The three sided sign for Garfield reflects good thought layout and is in keeping with the real challenge in Chestertown for the 21st century. From my perspective that challenge would be to create a flourishing economic environment that would attract the arts and the culture, the business owners and operators, which can drive the opportunities for commerce and tourism in a charming colonial setting befitting the heritage that Chestertown holds yet build a setting where “flourishing” is a constant key word. There are plenty of examples around our country: Williamsburg, Carmel, Santa Fe, Guilford, and Charleston to name a few. The Garfield Center sign will fashionably inform all of the many enjoyable performances that are a part of colonial Chestertown.

  8. As owner of a nearby 18th-Century building [357 High St.] I can think of no better contribution to the viability and aesthetic appeal of Downtown Chestertown than the proposed marquee for The Garfield Center.
    Renderings of the project seem to me in perfect harmony with the progression of historical entities represented on the most beautiful main street on the Eastern Shore; if not the U.S.
    Go Garfield!

  9. Vic Pfeiffer says

    My wife and I live on the 100 block of High Street – one block from the theatre. We absolutely support the new margue and signage. Everything that the theatre as undertaken with the building, and that local citizens have largely paid for, has been in great taste and keeping with the history of the building. The theatre is one of the town icons, and to have it thrive and contribute to the vibrancy of downtown takes a lot of work. I applaud those who are investing time and money to get this done, and look forward to having the new and improved sign in place to help inform and attract customers.

    Vic Pfeiffer

  10. Margie Elsberg says

    Ditto ditto ditto. The Garfield Center for the Arts is important to the cultural health and welfare of EVERYONE in this area, and it’s important to the economic and social health and welfare of Downtown Chestertown. Those who’ve praised the Reconciliation Program do so with good reason–the Garfield Center is everything an arts center should be: brave, honest and true to the best principals of entertainment and education. I love that the brand-new historic-design marquee is back; I’m looking forward to seeing the programmable screen installed; and I’m thrilled that High Street neighbors feel the same way.

    • Finally the marquee is about to again give lustre and prominence to the Garfield Center which represents a symbol of tradition and history of Chestertown. But more importantly it signifies an important step forward into today’s world of entertainment -the arts, theater, music etc.

      To complete this so elegantly revived focus point in the heart of our town, I like to express my support to add the proposed modern version of the letter board in form of a programmable screen . This will allow the Garfield Center to link its communication efforts to most of the communities major events and become an effective tool to invite visitors and residents to view and enjoy Chestertown’s numerous cultural activities. These activities will give new and much desired energy to the economic engine of our downtown . The Garfield Center and its energetic staff is fulfilling its mission well beyond Chestertown.
      If anyone still doubts the value of this sign I urge you to view the outstanding presentation of facts and benefits as detailed by Phillip Dutton, Chesapeake Architects Inc. and the Garfield – tune into these two sites:

    • Carla Massoni says

      Ditto, ditto, ditto!! Looking out my gallery window and the “hills are alive with the sound of music” – the Garfield is a vibrant part of our community and the signage concepts feel right on!! I have copies of the proposal graphics and layout in the gallery if anyone would like to see them!

  11. The Garfield Center is a very important to the vitality of downtown. It is one of Chestertown’s most valuable Jewels. It is an anchor for our downtown. Its importance to the vitality of all of downtown can’t be stress enough. The number and quality of the people they draw is significant. Everything and I mean everything they have done has been first class and in keeping with the historic charm of Chestertown. I don’t see anything in their proposal that counters that. Their commitment to the town and its historical roots has been proven time and time again. Their proposed plan for marquee and sign has been well thought out and designed to fit their unique character as a historic theater and yet provide them a means of informing and promoting. No business can survive without being able to inform and promote properly. Downtown Chestertown needs a healthy Garfield Center like never before.

  12. Joe Diamond says

    Hey Bob,

    It is you and Carla and Mr. Dutton who should have the loudest voice in deciding what goes on downtown. You and the other business owners have invested your money and keep your doors open to the public. It is you and the others who buy the inventory and meet the payroll every day. The idea of an Historic District Commission dictating how you present your enterprises to the public just makes me dizzy.

    Even downtown residents need to back off. It is they who reserve the rare parking spaces for their own use while the downtown businesses write the checks for the taxes that keep the lights on.

    This looks pretty good as planned.


  13. Holly Geddes says

    I am thrilled to see all the positive comments discussing the programmable sign. The marquee is elegant. I was so glad to see it installed. The design for theaters has traditionally been bright and colorful. We need that sense of liveliness here in town. We are still struggling in these tough economic times and need to consider allowing updates that will support a vibrant town. We already have an interactive and modern sign on the corner of High and Cross Streets that promote businesses in town. So placing a second modern sign to accomplish the same goals does not seem like much of a stretch to me.

    Also, my neighbor, Carolyn, and I were talking last week about the possible uses for the sign. She had seen a sign in another town that thanked all those who had donated to support the people of Chrisfield after Storm Sandy. She said that a number of churches in Kent County had also taken many donations to the victims of the storm and she suggested that a public thank you on such a sign would be very appreciated. With the programmable nature, pictures of some participants could be included to further stress the thanks. I think that is exactly the sort of public announcement that would be good for Chestertown.

  14. Cynthia Saunders says

    Cynthia Saunders says:
    November 29, 2012 at 11:06 AM
    As a Washington College student in the late 60′s I gleefully dodged in-house bats at the Prince Theater while watching the Friday night double feature horror shows. Much later, I took my daughter to see “Saturday Night Fever” and “Star Wars”, enjoying both the popcorn (always fresh!) and the fact that we only had to walk around the corner to view a current film. Then the theater closed and Carla Massoni opened her wonderful gallery and the lights continued to burn brightly on both the marquee and behind the theater’s marvelous High Street windows. Later still, Ron and Susan Kerns facilitated the full restoration of the interior of the theater, bringing it back to life and opening the door to the creation of a lively and varied arts venue in downtown Chestertown. I’ve lived for 32 years just around the corner on Queen Street and can attest to the beauty, energy and excitement the (now) Garfield Center brings to “our end of the block”…….when Evergrain’s baker is busy baking and Carla’s gallery lights are on and window displays are lit up at the “Weekend Gallery” and the “Vintage Gallery” next door and the beautiful bar at the Imperial Hotel is full and the lobby of the Center is illuminated, showing it off as the perfect little jewel box it is, turning the corner onto lower High Street lifts the spirit for sure! The theater and other noted businesses occupy the block where commercial and residential entities meet in the Historic District, to date, most harmoniously. Increasingly, the residential portion contains many houses which are occupied only seasonally or sporadically, leaving the area mostly dark and lit only by street lights at night……..the computer-generated “show” produced by Chesapeake Architects perfectly illustrates the impact of the illuminated marquee and interior of the Garfield Center, bringing life and liveliness to this block closer to Chester River. Contrastingly, when all the lights are off, High Street presents a long dark path “uptown.” The theater, hotel and other businesses already provide the core of a revitalized and enlarged business district on High Street and I feel strongly that the proposed “adventure in updated signage” will help to bolster that process for the rest of the town as well.


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