Tuesday, September 27, 2011

when it comes to windows, the fillmore's got area rock clubs beat

Fillmore Sign
Since the Fillmore Silver Spring opened last week, there's been concerns that the Live Nation-owned music hall could threaten promoters in the District and even Baltimore. Already, the venue has beaten most local rock clubs on one aspect: it actually embraces the street, with big windows, bright lights and even a couple of sidewalk benches.
The 930 Club!
The 9:30 Club in Shaw.

2010 07 01 - 1319 - Washington DC - Black Cat
The Black Cat in 2010. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr. 

Music halls don't necessarily need windows. They have shows at night and audiences come to watch the band, not the street. But these venues still exist during the rest of the day, when the neighborhoods they reside in play host to other activities. 

Having blank, featureless fa├žades discourage street life and can send the wrong message. Last year, the Black Cat, which anchors the shopping and entertainment district along 14th Street NW, painted a mural of a cat on their boarded-up second-floor windows. Nonetheless, it doesn't look much different from the outside than it did as an abandoned shell in 1988. Clubs like the Black Cat and the 9:30 Club a few blocks away have helped revitalize their neighborhoods, but by looking like abandoned bunkers, they can perpetuate a run-down image.
The Ottobar
The Ottobar in Baltimore's Station North neighborhood.

Birchmere Entrance
The Birchmere in Alexandria. 

Venues outside of the District are no better. While in Baltimore last weekend, I took my friends to The Ottobar, a tiny club in the emerging Station North neighborhood. Judging from its completely blacked-out storefront, they thought it was abandoned. I can imagine someone walking up North Howard Street, assuming there's nothing there, and turning around, missing out on the awesome coffee shop a block away. 

And in Alexandria, the venerable Birchmere Music Hall is largely invisible from the street, despite being in a fairly dense, urban neighborhood. If it weren't for the murals on the side, this club would just look like a warehouse behind a parking lot.


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One exception would be the Recher Theatre, located in the center of downtown Towson. I drove through Towson last weekend and was impressed at how busy the downtown is, despite being home to one of Maryland's largest shopping malls. With a big marquee left over from the theatre's days as a movie palace and an adjacent bar that's open every day, the Recher keeps the streets active in a way that other area clubs don't.

Of course, rock clubs thrive on an aura of obscurity, while windows suggest openness and transparency. But perhaps venues can create window displays that affirm their image while creating a more interesting streetscape. For example, the Trocadero, a rock club in Philadelphia, has raunchy dioramas of Barbie dolls in their windows.

Great streets require the participation of all the buildings that front them, even rock clubs. By creating storefronts that are visually interesting and engaging, or providing uses like cafes or bars that are open when shows aren't going on, clubs can create safer, more vibrant neighborhoods.


jag2923 said...

Great write-up. The Fillmore does an amazing job of transferring its vibrancy to neighborhood around it. The block has been immediately and permanently changed for the better.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

It's so nice to see that side of Colesville brightened up. I hope the success of the Fillmore helps the little businesses along that block. Good eating places and the folks who run the nail salon are very nice.

Amy said...

Hey, thanks for the link to Charmingtons, I'm one of the cafe's owners (there are 9 of us, the shop is worker owned)! My boyfriend directed me to here when he saw the write up of Jimmie Cone, and then I started poking around. We've been really lucky to have the support of The Ottobar staff (and patrons and bands), and if anyone wandering that way needs to pick up tickets for a show, we sell them at the cafe. Great blog, by the way, I'm looking forward to reading the archives.