The introduction of air conditioning to Baltimore movie theaters in the 1920s not only kept customers cool but also allowed many first-run houses that formerly closed during summer to remain open.
Earlier attempts at keeping moviegoers comfortable involved whirring electric fans or blowers that sent chilled air, which had passed over huge chunks of ice, through vents into theaters.
The Stanley Theater installed a mechanical air conditioning system in 1929, and two years later, the New Theater reopened in May, reported The Baltimore Sun, after installing a “refrigerating plant” that cost owner Morris Mechanic $50,000.
By the mid-1930s, air conditioning was common in the big downtown houses like the Hippodrome, Century and Valencia theaters.
Offering several hours of respite from the heat and humidity, theater owners draped movie marquees with signs decorated with dripping icicles, Eskimos or penguins, and in letters several feet high beckoned customers with such slogans as “20 DEGREES COOLER INSIDE,” “AIR-CONDITIONED COMFORT,” or “IT’S COOL INSIDE.”
In addition to legitimate moviegoers, police officers who walked beats apparently would dip into an air-conditioned movie theater to seek a respite from the heat.
The Sun reported in 1936 that General Gaither, commissioner of Baltimore police, had summoned captains to his office and instructed them to warn their subordinates that “all police who are laggards in performance of their duty will be dropped from the force.”
Gaither said he would not tolerate “loose policing” and said he would not retain men on the force “who spent too much of their time in air-conditioned motion picture houses.”