The Charles Theatre began not as a movie house but as a street car barn and powerhouse designed by architect Jackson C. Gott and built in 1892. The building then became a popular dance club hosting national acts such as Tommy Dorsey and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Times Theatre opened in the building in 1939 taking its name from its role as the city’s first “all newsreel movie house.” In 1959, the owners renamed the business the Charles Theatre.
During the theatre’s early history it showed art house films and frequently screened early works by John Waters. The theatre was managed by Pat Moran, who went on to become a notable casting director, and the projectionist was Garey Lambert, a gay rights activist who John Waters called “the Harvey Milk of Baltimore.” In 1999, the theatre was expanded adding four additional screens with modern auditorium style seating and large concession area.