Not Your Typical Cinema Multiplex

ImageLast Saturday, a member of my car club took us on a tour of the Paramount Theater in Oakland, CA.

If you think that it was just a movie theater, and what is the excitement about, you can be excused. But starting a few years ago I became interested in classic Hollywood.

There was a time when movies were for Americans the most popular form of entertainment. And during the silent film era, the most grand of the movie theaters had orchestras accompanying the film.

Starting in the 1920s, some magnificent movie palaces were built with seating for 3,000 people – and even more.

Sadly most through the years met the wrecking ball and there are but a handful left. The Paramount Theater, built by its theater division, Paramount-Publix (the production companies used to own their own theaters) – this magnificent theater was finished in 1931, right in the throes of the Great Depression. Within a few years because of the economy, it was sold to Fox who kept the name.

If it weren’t for the Oakland Symphony who bought it in the early 70s, this theater would probably be gone, too. It is currently owned by the city of Oakland, and it is rented out for events.

The amazing thing about this theater is that it has been restored to its glory, looking almost exactly as it did during its opening in 1931. Even 80% of its furniture is original, because for years it was so worthless that it wasn’t worth selling.

About a dozen times a year they show classic movies with only a $5 admission fee. Seeing this I felt that it would be worth it to drive there just for the grand experience.

The curator told me that the Fox Theater in Atlanta is similarly spectacular.

Anyway, here’s my write up of the tour. Unfortunately I could not show you the cavernous room with 3,000 seats as it was too dark for decent photography. But here is their website for some more pictures and information.


Filed under History, Hollywood

4 responses to “Not Your Typical Cinema Multiplex

  1. There was a gorgeous old 1,000+ seat theater in Brattleboro, VT. It burned out about 25 years ago or so. Real pity.

  2. Bill Brandt

    In town we had this wonderful old theater from the 1920s, the Alhambra.

    It wasn’t anything like the Paramount – still, a grand old theater built in 1927. It became a Safeway store in the early 70s.

    However when all this was going on Safeway said that if anyone could buy the property from them they would build elsewhere, and nobody stepped up.

    It takes money to run these and the Alhambra had to close because they weren’t selling enough tickets.

    I don’t know if the Paramount makes a profit, or even breaks even, but they said that just to keep the lights on in the main theater is over $300/hour.

    I was talking about this with my parents and they said that the destruction of Penn Station in NYC was probably the impetus to save Grand Central Station.

    It is restored…beautiful…and used today quite heavily.

    Unless a government (read you and me) is willing to run these at a loss, they have to make money.

    The curator was asked how he finds in the budget simple things like restoration costs to a sofa. He was saying that the material might come in one year, with the refinishing the next, and so on.

    Creative accounting 101.

  3. From The Wiki:

    The Fox Theatre is an ornate performing arts center in the United States, located at 2211 Woodward Avenue in Downtown Detroit, Michigan, near the Grand Circus Park Historic District. Opened in 1928 as a flagship movie palace in the Fox Theatres chain, it is noted as the first theater designed and built to include a speaker system for sound films. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. The area surrounding the Fox is nicknamed Foxtown. The city’s major performance centers and theatres emanate from the Fox Theatre and Grand Circus Park Historic District and continue along Woodward Avenue toward the Fisher Theatre in the city’s New Center.[4]

    The Fox has 5,048 seats (5,174 seats if removable seats placed in the raised orchestra pit are included). It is the largest surviving movie palace of the 1920s and the largest of the original Fox Theatres. The Fox was fully restored in 1988.[

    I went to many a concert at the Fox when I lived in Dee-troit… the venue is truly spectacular.

    • Bill Brandt

      Buck – from what one of the docents said Fox had a large chain of these movie palaces. There is one across the bay in San Francisco although I don’t think it is as large as the Paramount. And the Fox in Detroit – that has to be magnificent at 5,000 seats!

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