Owner has hopes for historic Middletown building, but no plans -- Gazette.Net







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In November 1918, the United States signed the armistice marking the end of World War I.

Four months later, a group of Middletown residents and a committee appointed by Maryland’s governor began meeting to plan an appropriate homecoming and memorial for the town’s soldiers.

In 1923, the Middletown Memorial Hall was dedicated near the intersection of Main Street and Md. 17. The building served as a center of the community, at one point housing the town’s fire company and library, as well as a theater and place for residents to gather and socialize.

Now the building’s owner would like to see it once again serve as a community centerpiece by providing commercial and office space.

The hall’s design has always allowed for a variety of uses.

“The main auditorium was likewise designed with a view and flexibility, the same being perfectly well adapted for moving pictures, legitimate drama, lectures, home-talent productions and as a town hall or public forum, where all matters of a community interest can be exploited and discussed in an intimate and result-producing manner,” according to a pamphlet prepared for the building’s opening.

Today, the battered hulk of the building sits empty, its interior crumbling, and plaster falling from the ceiling. The horseshoe-shaped balcony that once ringed the theater is gone, leaving only a doorway that looks down from the building’s second level on the empty space below.

Bob Brenengen, who owns the building, said he envisions a mixed commercial use of office and retail space in the historic building. But he has no plans to renovate the building any time soon, largely because of the difficulty of getting loans for a project with no clear timeline or tenant waiting to occupy it.

Brenengen, who owns the Main Cup restaurant down the street, has owned the property since 2005.

“I just bought it because it was a cool building,” he said.

The town doesn’t have a position on what it would like to see in the building, which is already zoned commercial, Town Administrator Drew Bowen said.

“We just like to see buildings used,” Bowen said.

Another of the town’s historic buildings was recently filled when the St. Thomas More Academy signed a one-year lease to move into the Old Middletown Primary School on Prospect Street. That building had been empty for about two years.

Bowen said some residents feel nostalgic toward the building. Some have mentioned they’d like to see it once again serve as a theater or arts center, but Bowen said he doesn’t know if that’s commercially viable.

Brenengen, who renovated the Main Cup building when he bought it, said the Memorial Hall has space to someday accommodate several retail businesses if he can ever get it renovated.

“It’s just got so much potential,” he said.