The Paramount Theatre is a 3,040-seat located at 2025 Broadway in . When it was built in 1931, it was the largest multi-purpose theater on the West Coast, seating 3,476. Today, the Paramount is the home of the and the Oakland Ballet, it regularly plays host to , , , , , , , as well as , plays, , lecture series, special events, and screenings of classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Era.
The Paramount Theatre was built as a , during the rise of the motion picture industry in the late 1920s. Palace was both a common and an accurate term for the movie theaters of the 1920s and early 1930s. In 1925, 's Paramount Publix Corporation, the theater division of , one of the great studio-theater chains, began a construction program resulting in some of the finest theaters built. Publix assigned the design of the Oakland Paramount to 38-year-old , (1892–1946) of . The Paramount opened at a cost of million on December 16, 1931. Pflueger was also the designer of the in . The design referred to the 1925 in . The term Art Deco has been used only since the late 1960s, when there was a revival of interest in the art and fashion of the early 20th century.
Its exterior, with its 110-foot-high (34 m) tile mosaic of enormous figures and a projecting Paramount sign which can be seen up and down the street, is impressive, but it is the interior that rises to unequaled heights. A 58-foot-high (18 m) grand lobby, with side walls made of alternating vertical bands of warm green artificial light panels and muted red piers, and with both ends and ceiling decorated with an almost luminescent grillwork, forms a regal introduction. Rare and costly materials are everywhere: hand-adzed quartered oak, Hungarian ash crotch, bird's-eye maple, Balinese rosewood, Malaysian teak, and Italian marble. The auditorium is unmatched for its refulgent splendor, with gilded galaxies of whorls and gold walls with sculpted motifs from the Bible and mythology. Outside and in, the Paramount radiates the dream-world escapism with which sought to beguile its customers. The Paramount organ was built by Wurlitzer for the Paramount Publix theaters: a four-manual, twenty-rank model called the Publix I (Opus 2164), which cost ,000 in 1931.
The gala premiere on December 16, 1931, was attended by , star of the opening film, The False Madonna, and cast members , Charles D. Brown, , and (not yet known as Hopalong Cassidy). Notable guests included California's governor and Oakland mayor Fred N. Morcom. Tickets were first-come, first-served: sixty cents for the balcony seat and eighty-five cents for a seat in the orchestra. The program also included a newsreel, a animated cartoon The Spider and the Fly, and the music of the Paramount's own 16-piece house orchestra, under the direction of Lew Kosloff. Last on the program was the stage show Fanchon & Marco's "Slavique Idea", a forty-minute revue featuring Sam Hearn, comedians Brock and Thompson, dancer LaVonne Sweet, the acrobatic Seven Arconis, Patsy Marr, and the Sunkist Beauties in a chorus-line finale.
In June 1932 the Paramount closed, unable to meet operating expenses of more than ,000 per week. Competing with Paramount was the , which had opened in 1928. The Paramount stayed closed for nearly a year. The days when movie theaters could support not just the showing of movies, but entire orchestras, stage shows, and uniformed attendants, were over, just as the Paramount was being completed. When it reopened in May 1933, it was under the management of Frank Burhans, the manager of the in . He was commissioned to get the Paramount out of debt, and his method for achieving this was to operate without either a stage show or an orchestra, and to unscrew light bulbs in an effort to reduce energy expenses. The Paramount showed the best of the new motion pictures, including such features as (1933) with and , (1934) with , and (1934) with and . The gave way to , and the became a major departure and arrival point for servicemen. The Paramount's comfortable chairs and spacious lounges were a favorite gathering place. In the 1950s, popcorn machines and candy counters were installed, and on the lobby walls the incandescent lights were taken out and replaced by neon tubing in red and blue. In 1953, it played the first CinemaScope movie with and . The 1957 's attracted a thousand young people. At the end of the 1950s theaters were losing patrons to , but the Paramount management responded with talent shows, prize nights, and advertising campaigns.
For a second time the Paramount closed on September 15, 1970, because it no longer was able to compete with smaller movie theaters in the suburbs. The Paramount's last film was (1970) with . In 1971, a movie, , starring , was filmed using the interior of the Paramount as one of the principal locations.
Hope surfaced in October 1972 when the (OSO), in need of a new home, purchased the Paramount for million, half of which was donated by the seller, National General Theaters—formerly the —with the other half coming from generous private donors. The popcorn machines and candy counters were removed. With the help of restoration project manager Peter Botto, new, wider seats were installed, the distance between rows was increased to provide more leg room, and a replica of the original carpet was laid throughout the theater. Two bars, one on the mezzanine and one on the lower level, and a new box office were added. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill were consultants for the restoration, with Milton Pflueger & Associates assisting. The Paramount reopened on September 22, 1973, in its original 1931 splendor. Following the Opening the Oakland Symphony had sold out nearly all seats on subscription sales and sold out a majority of individual concerts.
But even with the house full the Paramount Theatre proved a financial burden to the Oakland Symphony. In addition the Oakland Symphony financed renovation costs with a million loan. Rather than continue absorbing the Paramount's operating losses, the Oakland Symphony transferred the Paramount to the City of Oakland in 1975 for in exchange for 40 years of free rent. They continued with that agreement until the Oakland Symphony Orchestra filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in September 1986.
Seeing an opportunity, a group of seven private citizens banded together and approached city officials with the idea of managing and operating the Paramount on behalf of the city as a nonprofit organization. They agreed, and the management structure has remained to this day.
Walking into the main lobby, with its gold ornamentation along the walls, curving staircase, and glowing light fixtures, is like taking a trip back through Old Hollywood. Public tours of the Paramount Theatre are given on the first and third Saturdays of each month, excluding holidays and holiday weekends. Documented in 1972 by the , the theater was entered into the on August 14, 1973, and became a in 1976 and a in 1977.
2005 view of marquee listing
1975 photograph by showing the four-story Grand Lobby
Fountain of Light over seven double doors at entrance
Grand Lobby north wall showing dancing figures
1932 image of auditorium ceiling and balcony soffit. Round holes in balcony edge are for stage lighting instruments. Dark windows in far wall are for film projectors and spotlights.
1932 view looking down from the balcony at the ceiling, proscenium, curtain, seating and hydraulic orchestra pit
Basement lounge showing stylized couches and benches. Note the bold wall and ceiling designs
Men's lounge, mezzanine level
Women's lounge, basement level
Women's Smoking Room, basement level
Architect's basement plan
Architect's first floor plan
Architect's mezzanine plan
Architect's longitudinal section (cutaway side view)
A small section of 's patented ceiling grid which extends over the entire auditorium
Detail of mosaic on facade
Detail of mosaic on facade
Detail of Women's Lounge, basement level
Symphony and ballet
(OEBS) was founded in July 1988, when musicians from the former Oakland Symphony Orchestra and the Oakland Symphony League joined to form a new orchestra. Since September 1990, has been music director. Under Maestro Morgan's direction, the Symphony has become a leader in music education for young people, bringing orchestral music into schools throughout and the East Bay. More than 60,000 people attend the Symphony's performances at the Paramount Theatre, at churches and senior centers, and at other community sites each year. With its May 18, 2007, performance of 's sold out, the opened its final rehearsal to the public.
In December 2007, the Oakland Ballet celebrated the 35th anniversary of Ronn Guidi's at the Paramount Theatre, with Michael Morgan conducting the music of .
The Paramount has hosted concerts by a wide variety of acts since the mid-1970s, including , & The E Street Band, , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .
- , July 8
- with and , September 9
- , , , , , "Jelly Roll Jazz Festival", October 3
- "A Night to Remember", December 29
- , , January 16
- , February 15
- , May 29 and 30
- & the E Street Band, October 2
- with ,
- Big Band, Quintet, The "" All-Star Jam with , , and
- "California Blues - Swingtime Tribute" with , , , , , and Earl Brown
- and Family
- with Dorothy Norwood, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Choir of Oakland
- with , ,
- with , ,
- , , Donald O'Connor, Williams Brothers
- "Porgy and Bess" concert sextet with , , , and Stephan Harris
- 70s Soul Jam with , , , and featuring
- , ,
- and the Palast Orchester
- 1974 –
- 1975 –
- 1975 –
- 1997 –
- 2000, 2001 –
- 2004, 2007 –
- 2005 –
- 2006 –
- 2007 –
- 2008 –
- 2008 –
Chris Rock (1997, 1999, 2003, 2008)
- The three sold-out performances by Chris Rock in 2003 included a total attendance of 8,883 and a total gross of 8,000.
- (1996, 2001, 2004, 2011)
- In 2004, the four sold-out performances of Seinfeld grossed 9,390; 12,001 patrons is a record since the renovation and re-opening of the Paramount Theatre back in 1973.
Black Comedy Explosion
- 1990 , , , , Larry La La, Laura Hayes
- 1991 , , Chris Thomas,
- 1992 , Chris Thomas,
- 1993 , , , , Ruben Paul
- 1994 , , ,
- 1995 , ,
- 1996 , ,
- 1997 , , , Chris Thomas, , Arnez J, ,
- 1998 ,
- 1999 Don "DC" Party, ,
- 2001 , Bruce Bruce, Ricky Smiley
- 2002 , , Alex Thomas
- 2004 ,
- 2005 ,
- 2007 , Earthquake, , Ruben Paul
Live stage plays
- 1997 – The musical play The Wiz was at the Paramount, with , and .
- 2001 – The Diary of Black Men, directed by Clarence Whitmore, a play that had been touring the country since 1983
- 2006 – Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail played to a packed seven-date stint at the Paramount.
- 2008 – 's musical was performed in May.
Classic movie nights
It wasn't until 1987 that the Paramount returned to its true calling as a movie house, showing 's (1926), a silent film accompanied by the . In 1988, (1942), starring and , launched the first movie series. The 2002 feature was in (1964).
In 2002 it showed (1939), with , and in 2004 the Paramount showed several classic movies: (1950), starring , (1964) starring and , (1967) with and , and (1952) starring and .
The Paramount Movie Classics series continues scheduling screenings throughout the year and is enthusiastically supported by guests and staff members alike who often dress up in costume as movie characters.
In order to accommodate the large number of people attending on the , since 2001 Oakland's has held its main High Holy Day services at the Paramount, filling the entire 1,800 seats on the mezzanine of the theater, and most of the 1,200 seats in the balcony.
The was founded in 1973 in . They held elegant events that honored such screen legends as , , , , and with the Awards. Some of the events were hosted at Oakland's Paramount Theatre. In 2001 , and was inducted in the Filmmakers Hall of Fame at the Paramount.
1995 – Poet read from her work at a benefit at Paramount for the St. Paul's Episcopal School.
1999 – Actress was at the Paramount for the premiere of , an HBO docudrama.
2007 – Former Congressman was sworn in on Monday, January 8, as Oakland's 48th mayor in a public ceremony at the Paramount Theatre. A crowd of 1,900 people gathered for the ceremony.
2011 – Hosting of the premiere for the 2011 film . The cast as well as some players and executives attended the premiere.
2012 – 's film had four screenings from March 24 to April 1 as part of the . Accompanied by a live orchestra, Napoléon was shown at the original 20 frames per second and ending with a 20-minute final triptych sequence. These, the first US screenings of British film historian 's 5.5-hour-long restored version, were described as requiring three intermissions, one of which was a dinner break. Score arranger Carl Davis led the 46-piece Oakland East Bay Symphony for the performances.
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