Welcome to the subterranean lair of Doctor No near the banks of the Gwynns Falls in Windsor Hills.

Decades ago, the cream of the city’s Black professional class gathered here for good times — eating, drinking and dancing in a classic Baltimore “club basement”; the room lively with lawyers, judges, politicians and the hospitality of Milton B. Allen, the nation’s first big-city African American state’s attorney, and his wife Martha.

Drinks poured by Allen behind the block-glass and stainless steel bar during the “Great Society” of the Johnson administration are now served by his son Peter. A darkroom built by the elder Allen — who put himself through law school taking pictures of weddings and portraits of children — is long shuttered. Near a small kitchen is a row of disconnected rotary and push button phones, one of them panic-button red.

“The Kremlin on line one, JFK on two, M holding on three,” laughed Peter, sole dweller of the “lair,” named for the 1962 James Bond film in which M is the head of the British Secret Service.

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The Talbot Road basement is the laboratory of Peter’s imagination; the dark, cool spot where, under posters of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, and often in the company of his dog Huckleberry, he writes scripts and pitches them to the world.

Wary of ageism in Hollywood, Allen is decades beyond the role of the wide-eyed kid trying to separate the true from the tinsel and asked that his age not be published. Let’s say he’s old enough to remember when the smell of freshly ground cinnamon from the McCormick factory wafted across the rotting piers of Pratt Street.

Over those decades, he’s ground out enough success as a writer/producer/director of film and television to make a living the way he always wanted.

His father thought he’d make a good trial lawyer and counseled Peter to go into law like his older brother, retired attorney David B. Allen. “Dad envisioned a law firm of Allens,” he said, noting that his younger brother, Milton Jr., markets gospel music internationally.

The Allens were a family of moviegoers. A standing date for Milton and Martha when the kids were young was Thursday night dinner and a movie at the Linden (later known as the Cinema) at 910 W. North Ave.

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Peter succumbed to stardust early, transfixed by Disney’s 1953 “Peter Pan” when his mother took him to the Hippodrome Theatre before he was old enough to go to school.

Though downtown was officially segregated at the time, the Hippodrome had a somewhat relaxed policy. The Allen family mostly attended “Black” theaters: the Regent on Pennsylvania Avenue and the Harlem at 616 N. Gilmor St., in addition to the Linden. The color line is documented in photographer Amy Davis’s 2017 book, “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters.”

“I’m not surprised that they could go to the Hippodrome” before Maryland’s 1963 public accommodations act, Davis said of the Eutaw Street movie palace. “But they usually gave Black customers bad seats.”

Peter later sought out art films — Godard’s “Weekend” and Truffaut’s “Day for Night” — at theaters like the 5 West and 7 East, named for North Avenue addresses on either side of Charles Street.

“From the time I was 12, I was determined to get to Hollywood. I remember going to see the original ‘Ocean’s 11′ by myself,” he said. “There was something about that movie. It was like the characters were saying, ‘Hey you, the kid in the third row. You need to come out here and be cool with us.’”

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Allen left Baltimore just a few weeks after graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1974, taking a job on the photo staff of The Kansas City Star, once the paper of Ernest Hemingway.

For four years he chased fires, ribbon cuttings, ballgames and, he said, “a lot of misery and rivalries to make the front page. It was an exceptional staff and I thought of myself as a bad-ass photographer, but I got burned out taking pictures every day.”

With a K.C. newspaper buddy, the Disney animator Marshall Lee Toomey, he moved to Los Angeles in 1978 and the pair began “taking any work we could get,” before producing scores of music videos — Eddie Kendricks’, Stanley Clarke’s and Rick James’ among them — at the beginning of the MTV era.

Allen’s biggest success to date was a collaboration with Gabriel Casseus on the screenplay for the 2010 heist film “Takers,” which starred Idris Elba of “The Wire” fame and debuted at No. 1 at the box office. “We wanted to put a Black spin on the movie ‘Heat,’” Allen said.

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His other credits for writing and producing include the feature films “Doggmen,” “Book of Swords” (Allen fenced in his younger days), “A Foreign Land” and “Kla$h.” He was in L.A. when his father — known as “Milton B.” — died at age 85. As his mother approached 100, he decided to come home.

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“My parents bought this house in 1961 at the beginning of white flight,” he said. “We’d been living on Madison Avenue with a 10-by-10-foot patch of dirt behind the house, and here we had a big yard right next to Leakin Park. It felt like it was all mine.”

He lives there today with his brother Milton, his son, Christian — a film lighting professional who sometimes helps Peter with scripts and production — and Christian’s wife, Donna. (His mother, who worked in city schools for 35 years and was known as “Motts,” died in 2020, just short of 102.)

To the side of his desk, near a row of spinning globes similar to the kind his mother used in class, is a fat orange shipping case stuffed with his father’s papers, awards, ledgers, news clippings and photographs. Beyond it, a wall pinned with index cards for stories unproduced and germinating.

Screenwriter Peter Allen poses for a portrait in front of a bulletin board on a wall of his home in Baltimore on Friday, March 31, 2023. The board is filled with index cards referring to stories, scripts and films in various stages of development. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

At the top of the list is a biopic of Milton B. Allen Sr. and the men with with whom he formed Baltimore’s first Black law firm, Brown, Allen and Watts — an accomplishment captured on the front page of the Afro-American newspaper in December 1948.

Peter’s father spent World War II in Hawaii teaching Black sailors to read. With the GI Bill and extra money from photography and waiting tables, he graduated from the University of Maryland law school. The future beckoned with opportunity earlier generations of Black Americans could not fathom.

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“It’s a Baltimore story that’s never been told and the women in their lives were a big part of the equation,” said Allen, whose mother chaired the United Negro College Fund while her husband was state’s attorney.

Though barriers continued to be broken throughout the elder Allen’s long career, some things never change. In 1974, he was defeated for reelection as state’s attorney by William A. Swisher, a white candidate who ran a law-and-order campaign with ads that said Baltimore had become “a jungle.”

In 1976, Allen was named a city circuit court judge (then called the Supreme Bench) by Governor Marvin Mandel.

“I found a story where my father sentenced two guys to eight years for robbing a pizza man with weapons,” Peter Allen said. “They weren’t making deals like they do now; people got hard time.”

A few times while sitting in on cases in his father’s court, Peter heard him scold the guilty: “What were you thinking? You’ve got a brain, you can think. Did you really think that was a good idea?”

For Allen, making movies was more than a good idea. It was the only one, a vocation with a capital V in the rough trade of Hollywood and all its attendant joy and disappointments. And that’s why, on any given day, you can find him at the controls in the lair of Doctor No on the banks of the Gwynns Falls.

“I’ll be here as long as I’m mobile and my mind is in one place,” he said, smiling. “What else am I gonna do?”

Rafael Alvarez is the author of “Don’t Count Me Out: A Baltimore Dope Fiend’s Miraculous Recovery.” He can be reached via orlo.leini@gmail.com.