When the city foreclosed on the Senator Theatre in 2009 and one year later took possession of it from owner Tom Kiefaber after he defaulted on one of multiple loans that had kept his movie house afloat, he lost more than the venerable, if aging Art Deco cinema that had been operated by his family since its 1939 inception. Suddenly, it seemed, Kiefaber also lost his raison d'etre, his self-control, and his bearings.
Over the three years since Kiefaber ceased overseeing the Senator, he has skipped from mishap to mayhem: He disrupted a June 2011 Baltimore City Council meeting and was subsequently barred from its chambers; was shortly thereafter tossed out of a city Board of Estimates meeting as a precautionary measure; was issued a restraining order by a city district court in July 2011 after a scuffle with the husband of one of the Senator's new owners outside the theater; ran a quixotic, invective-laced campaign for Baltimore City Council president, finishing a distant second in the September 2011 Democratic primary election; was arrested for trespassing at the Senator in August 2012; and this past February copped a plea bargain on charges of second-degree harassment and assault in connection with the 2012 incident.
As part of that deal, Kiefaber agreed to accept one year of unsupervised probation, take an anger-management course, and, finally, refrain from setting foot on the Senator's premises, contacting its owners, James "Buzz" Cusack and his daughter Kathleen Lyon, and making social media posts that could be interpreted as personal attacks on Cusack, Lyon, and the latter's husband.
Often overlooked amidst this cavalcade of increasingly mortifying public pratfalls is the fact that, in addition to the aforementioned intangibles that appeared to desert the post-Senator Kiefaber, he also lost three real-world entities: his homes-two located in Govanstown within spitting distance of the York Road theater, the other located, oddly enough, also on York Road, but way the heck out in Baltimore County, in Sparks.
To help secure one of the boatload of city, state, and private-foundation loans and grants-totaling a bit less than $2 million-that Kiefaber received to stoke the Senator's wheezing engines over nearly two decades, he put up as collateral the small Sparks farmhouse he had owned since 1982, plus the larger Govanstown homes: one on Orkney Road which had been in his possession since 1994, and a second on Rosebank Avenue which he bought in 1995. Three years after Kiefaber defaulted on that loan, the state exercised a lien against the 8-acre county property, and it was auctioned off in May 2012, snapped up for $75,000 by a Towson-based limited liability company.
In spring 2011, the city purchased the Orkney Road house at auction for $50,000 under similar circumstances. Built in 1920, the 2,280-square feet, two-and-a-half-story home (plus basement) sits on approximately 10,000 square feet of land. According to Cheron Porter, director of communications for Baltimore Housing, "It is the city's [acting through the Department of Housing and Community Development] plan to dispose of the property for residential purposes. There has not been any formal expression of interest in acquiring the property to date. We have received no application to purchase this property."
The Rosebank Avenue home, which sits adjacent to the rear of the Senator property, was also taken from him in foreclosure proceedings. Built in 1907, it measures 1,745 square feet on a plot of 7,148 square feet. The buyer: Laura Perkins, a prominent member of the group Friends of the Senator Theatre; she purchased the place at auction for $106,000 in February 2010. It appears to be vacant. Kiefaber now reportedly lives nearby with a friend just down the street at another Rosebank Avenue residence. (Kiefaber declined to comment for this story, noting via email, "Thanks for your interest in covering what's occurred regarding the government's double-cross sale of my home[s], but it's basically way too late in the game for that assessment, from my perspective.")
Meanwhile, the Towson LLC flipped the Sparks farmhouse in December, snagging $220,000. The new owner: Kara Mejia, a 51-year-old self-described natural health and wellness advocate, Whole Foods cook, and motivational speaker. She bought the teeny-1,004 square feet, including the basement-one-and-a-half storys 1934 "microhouse," as she calls it, "as is," moving in this past March. Mejia replaced the roof, knocked out walls, painted the exterior, and bailed water out of a finished basement. Next step: paint the interior. And if she can swing it, at some point in the future she plans to build an all-new microhouse on the grounds.
For now, though, she's tending a vegetable garden and taking in stray animals. "You're in heaven when you're here," Mejia says. "It's like paradise. I'm creating the life of my dreams."