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Paramount Theater (Oakland, California)

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Title: Paramount Theater (Oakland, California)  
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Subject: Alameda County, California, Castro Theatre, Anthony Heinsbergen, Al B. Sure!, Toledo Window Box, Fox Oakland Theatre, Natty Dread Tour, Timothy L. Pflueger, Gaylord Carter, List of National Historic Landmarks in California
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Paramount Theater (Oakland, California)

Paramount Theatre
Location 2025 Broadway
Oakland, California, USA

37°48′34″N 122°16′05″W / 37.809532°N 122.26805°W / 37.809532; -122.26805

Type Indoor theater
Opened 1931
Renovated 1973
Owner City of Oakland
Seating type Orchestra, Balcony
Capacity 3,040
Paramount Theatre
Grand Lobby interior, Fountain of Light over entrance and marquee
Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California)
Location in Oakland/East Bay
Location Oakland, California

37°48′36″N 122°16′4″W / 37.81000°N 122.26778°W / 37.81000; -122.26778Coordinates: 37°48′36″N 122°16′4″W / 37.81000°N 122.26778°W / 37.81000; -122.26778

Area less than one acre
Built 1931
Architect Timothy Pflueger;
Architectural style Art Deco
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference # 73000395[1]
 # 884[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP August 14, 1973
Designated NHL May 5, 1977[3]
Designated  1975[2]

The Paramount Theatre is a 3,040 seat Art Deco movie theater located at 2025 Broadway in downtown Oakland, California, USA. When it was built in 1931, it was the largest multi-purpose theater on the West Coast, seating 3476.[4][5] Today, the Paramount is the home of the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Oakland Ballet, it regularly plays host to R&B, jazz, blues, pop, rock, gospel, classical music, as well as ballets, plays, stand-up comedy, lecture series, special events, and screenings of classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Era.


The Paramount Theatre was built as a movie palace, 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, Adolph Zukor's Paramount Publix Corporation, the theater division of Paramount Pictures, 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 San Francisco architect Timothy L. Pflueger, (1892 - 1946) of Miller and Pflueger. The Paramount opened at a cost of $3 million on December 16, 1931.[6] Pflueger was also the designer of the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The Art Deco design referred to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.[7] 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.[8]

Its exterior, with its 110-foot (34 m) high 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 (18 m) high 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.[9] 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 $20,000 in 1931.

The gala premiere on December 16, 1931 was attended by Kay Francis, star of the opening film, The False Madonna,[10] and cast members Conway Tearle, Charles D. Brown, Marjorie Gateson, and William Boyd (not yet known as Hopalong Cassidy). Notable guests included California's governor James Rolph 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.[11] The program also included a Fox Movietone News newsreel, a Silly Symphony 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 its doors, unable to meet operating expenses of more than $27,000 per week. Competing with Paramount was the Fox Oakland Theater, 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 Warfield Theater in San Francisco. 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 Dancing Lady (1933) with Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, Dames (1934) with Dick Powell, and The Gay Divorcee(1934) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The Great Depression gave way to World War II, and the Port of Oakland 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 The Robe with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons. The 1957 Elvis Presley's Jailhouse Rock attracted a thousand young people. At the end of the 1950s theaters were losing patrons to television, 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 Let It Be (1970) with The Beatles.[12] In 1971, a Warner Bros. movie, The Candidate, starring Robert Redford, was filmed using the interior of the Paramount as one of the principal locations.

Hope surfaced in October 1972 when the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, in need of a new home, purchased the Paramount for $1 million, half of which was donated by the seller, National General Theatres—formerly the Fox Theaters-West Coast -- 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.

Two years later, the Oakland Symphony Orchestra went bankrupt and gave the Paramount to the City of Oakland for $1, with the stipulation of guaranteed bookings for the next forty years. 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.[13] Documented in 1972 by the Historic American Buildings Survey, the theater was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on August 14, 1973, became a California Registered Historical Landmark in 1976[14] and a U.S. National Historical Landmark in 1977.[3]

Photo Gallery

  • Alvin Tenpo's smugmug photos of the Paramount Theater, Oakland, California
  • Flickr photos of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland, California

Main events

Symphony & Ballet

Oakland East Bay Symphony (OEBS) was founded in July 1988, when musicians from the former Oakland Symphony and the Oakland Symphony League joined together to form a new orchestra. Since September, 1990, Michael Morgan 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 Oakland 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.[15] With its May 18, 2007, performance of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" was sold out, the Oakland East Bay Symphony opened its final rehearsal to the public.[16]

December 2007, the Oakland Ballet celebrated the 35th Anniversary of Ronn Guidi’s famous "Nutcracker" at the Paramount Theatre, with Maestro Michael Morgan conducting the music of Tchaikovsky.

Notable concerts

The Paramount has hosted concerts by a wide variety of acts since the mid-1970s, including such luminaries as Bob Marley & The Wailers, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Prince, James Brown, Diana Ross, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green, Jeff Beck, Lionel Richie, B.B. King, Anita Baker, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Gladys Knight, Lucinda Williams, and Nelly Furtado. Since 2005, Another Planet Entertainment has booked five concerts on average per year. Those shows tend to be among the Paramount's more lucrative events. Other past performers include Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Lyle Lovett, Goran Bregović, Googoosh, and Enrique Iglesias, to name just a few.

























Stand-up comedy

The 3 sold out performances by Chris Rock in 2003, included a total attendance of 8,883 and a total gross of $448,000.[58]
In 2004, the 4 sold-out performances of Jerry Seinfeld sale gross of $819,390, 12,001 patrons, is a record since the renovation/re-opening of the Paramount Theatre back in 1973.[58]

Black Comedy Explosion:

Live stage plays

1997 - The musical play The Wiz was at the Paramount, with Grace Jones, Peabo Bryson and CeCe Peniston that provide the big draw this time around.[61]

2001 - The Diary of Black Men, director Clarence Whitmore, a play that had been touring the country since 1983.[62]

2006 - Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail to a packed seven-date stint at the Paramount.[63]

2008 - Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats 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 Buster Keaton's The General (1926), a silent film accompanied by the Wurlitzer. In 1988, Casablanca (1942), starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, launched the first movie series. The 2002 feature was Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove (1964).[64]

In 2002 it showed Wizard of Oz (1939), with Judy Garland, and in 2004 the Paramount showed several classic movies: Harvey (1950), starring James Stewart, Viva Las Vegas (1964) starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, The Graduate (1967) with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner.

The Paramount Movie Classics series continues scheduling screenings through out the year and is enthusiastically supported by guests and staff members alike who often dress up in costume as movie characters.[65]


In order to accommodate the large number of people attending on the High Holy Days, since 2001 Oakland's Temple Sinai 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.[66]

Notable events

The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame was founded in 1973 in Oakland. They held elegant events that honored such screen legends as Clarence Muse, Hattie McDaniel, Billy Dee Williams, Melvin Van Peebles, and Danny Glover with the Oscar Micheaux Awards. Some of the events were hosted at Oakland's Paramount Theatre. In 2001 Harry Belafonte, Eubie Blake and Diahann Carroll was inducted in the Filmmakers Hall of Fame at the Paramount.[67]

1995 - Poet Maya Angelou read from her work at a benefit at Paramount for the St. Paul's Episcopal School.[68]

1999 - Actress Halle Berry was at the Paramount for the premiere of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, an HBO docudrama.[69]

2007 - As former Congressman Ron Dellums was sworn in Monday, January 8, 2007 as Oakland's 48th mayor in a public ceremony at the historic Paramount Theatre. A crowd of 1,900 people gathered for the ceremony.[70]

2011- Host of the premiere for the 2011 film Moneyball. The cast as well as some Oakland Athletics players and executives attended the premiere.

2012 - Abel Gance's monumental film Napoléon had four screenings from 24 March to 1 April 2012, as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Accompanied by a live orchestra, Napoléon was shown at the original 20 frames per second and ending with a spectacular 20-minute final triptych sequence. These, the first US screenings of British film historian Kevin Brownlow'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.



  • Detailed History of the Paramount
  • Stone, Susannah Harris. The Oakland Paramount, Lancaster-Miller Publishers (1982) - ISBN 0-89581-607-5

External links

  • Paramount Theatre
  • Oakland East Bay Symphony
  • Oakland Ballet
  • Bancroft Library
  • Bancroft Library
  • Tours Rediscover Oakland Landmark, San Francisco Chronicle (Friday, November 20, 1998)
  • Historic American Buildings Survey, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1980. Photographs, description, history
  • Dan Vint's collection of Paramount Theatre photographs

See also

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