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Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California)

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Title: Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California)  
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Subject: Oakland East Bay Symphony, Ralph Stackpole, National Register of Historic Places listings in Alameda County, California, Paramount Theater, Berkeley Dil Se
Collection: Art Deco Architecture in California, Buildings and Structures in Oakland, California, California Historical Landmarks, Cinemas and Movie Theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area, Concert Halls in California, Event Venues Established in 1931, Historic American Buildings Survey in California, History of Alameda County, California, Movie Palaces, National Register of Historic Places in Alameda County, California, Theatres Completed in 1931, Theatres in the San Francisco Bay Area, Theatres on the National Register of Historic Places in California, Visitor Attractions in Oakland, California
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California)

Paramount Theatre
Location 2025 Broadway
Oakland, California, USA
Public transit 19th Street Oakland
Owner City of Oakland
Type Indoor theater
Seating type Orchestra, Balcony
Capacity 3,040
Opened 1931
Renovated 1973
Paramount Theatre
Grand Lobby interior, Fountain of Light over entrance and marquee
Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California) is located in Oakland, California
Location in Oakland/East Bay
Location Oakland, California
Area less than one acre
Built 1931
Architect Timothy Pflueger;
Architectural style Art Deco
Governing body Local
NRHP Reference # 73000395[2]
CHISL # 884[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP August 14, 1973
Designated NHL May 5, 1977[3]
Designated CHISL 1975[1]

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.


  • History 1
    • Photo Gallery 1.1
  • Main events 2
    • Symphony & Ballet 2.1
    • Notable concerts 2.2
    • Stand-up comedy 2.3
    • Live stage plays 2.4
    • Classic Movie Nights 2.5
    • Other 2.6
    • Notable events 2.7
  • See also 3
  • Footnotes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


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[13] 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.[14] 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[15] 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 opened its final rehearsal to the public.[17]

December 2007, the Oakland Ballet celebrated the 35th Anniversary of Ronn Guidi’s famous "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. Other past performers include Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Lyle Lovett, Goran Bregović, Googoosh, Enrique Iglesias and One Direction, 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.[59]
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.[59]

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.[62]

2001 - The Diary of Black Men, director Clarence Whitmore, a play that had been touring the country since 1983.[63]

2006 - Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail to a packed seven-date stint at the Paramount.[64]

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 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).[65]

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 throughout the year and is enthusiastically supported by guests and staff members alike who often dress up in costume as movie characters.[66]


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.[67]

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.[68]

1995 - Poet Maya Angelou read from her work at a benefit at Paramount for the St. Paul's Episcopal School.[69]

1999 - Actress Halle Berry was at the Paramount for the premiere of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, an HBO docudrama.[70]

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.[71]

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.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Paramount Theatre". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  3. ^ a b NHL Summary
  4. ^ Pitts, Carolyn (February 17, 1977). "Paramount Theatre" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory.  
  5. ^ "Paramount Theatre" (pdf). Photographs.  
  6. ^ "Tours Rediscover Oakland Landmark. San Francisco Chronicle". November 20, 1998. 
  7. ^ Menten, Theodore, The Art Deco Style in Household Objects, Architecture, Sculpture, Graphics, Jewelry, Courier Dover, (1972), ISBN 0-486-22824-X
  8. ^ Mackrell, Alice. Art And Fashion, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., page 116, (2005) - ISBN 0-7134-8873-5
  9. ^ Smith, G. E. Kidder. Source Book of American Architecture: 500 Notable Buildings from the 10th Century to the Present, Princeton Architectural Press, page 372, (2000) - ISBN 1-56898-254-2
  10. ^ The False Madonna (1931)
  11. ^ Stone, Susannah Harris. The Oakland Paramount, Lancaster-Miller Publishers, page 18, (1982) - ISBN 0-89581-607-5
  12. ^ Now playing -- grand nostalgia
  13. ^ contributor. "Paramount Theatre". Cinema Tour. Retrieved 30 May 2015. 
  14. ^ Paramount Theatre Tours
  15. ^ California State Historic Landmark #884
  16. ^ Oakland East Bay Symphony History
  17. ^ Oakland East Bay Symphony
  18. ^ Anita Baker -- Over the Top Rapturous singing at Paramount overwhelms the songs
  19. ^ Witherspoon still serving up the blues
  20. ^ Bonnie Raitt shows steal PBS spotlight
  21. ^ Stevie Wonder Emerges From Hibernation: Singer wows concert crowd
  22. ^ K.D. Lang in the Comfort Zone
  23. ^ Tom Waits Benefits Friend, Audience
  24. ^ Charles Brown Gets His Reward: Raitt, Hooker celebrate R&B veteran's comeback
  25. ^ A surprising "Porgy and Bess' at the Paramount
  26. ^ Bonnie Raitt: Singer entertains with musicianship, charm
  27. ^ James Brown: Still "Pleasing': Godfather of Soul plans next birthday show in Oakland
  28. ^ Sheryl Crow: A once lightweight singer digs in and earns some respect
  29. ^ Ruben Gonzalez and Ibrahim Ferrer full of life in quirky, festive concert at end of S.F. Jazz Festival
  30. ^ Lauryn Hill: With a hot, 16-piece band behind her, she shows that her phenomenal solo album was not a fluke
  31. ^ Maxwell's Silver Sound Blows Warm and Cool
  32. ^ Pop Princess Britney Spears makes adoring fans squeal with delight at Paramount Theatre
  33. ^ Blige Taps Her Superpowers Hip-hop queen gives knockout performance at Paramount Theatre
  34. ^ James Brown Still Can't Act His Age: Birthday concert sets Paramount ablaze with funk
  35. ^ D'Angelo's A Turn-On In Oakland: Singer seduces crowd with sexy, skillful R&B
  36. ^ A gloomy Paul Simon lets his well-crafted music do the talking at the Paramount
  37. ^ A Mesmerizing Badu Loosens Up
  38. ^ Quixotic Bjork spreads her wings in Oakland
  39. ^ Elfin Bjork alights in Oakland
  40. ^ Maxwell has crowd swooning: No gimmicks, just sexy soul sound
  41. ^ Amos through the ages: Singer's message as complex as ever
  42. ^ Mary J. Blige, royal and real R&B star toys with dualities at Paramount
  43. ^ Alicia Keys concert only hints at her power
  44. ^ Purple reign at the Paramount as Prince pontificates True believers lap it up at surprise show
  45. ^ The (r)evolution of Erykah Badu: Revamped persona stands out but message remains same
  46. ^ Natalie Cole at the Paramount
  47. ^ Groban brings musical comfort food to Paramount
  48. ^ Enrique doesn't have to sing to get his fans to scream
  49. ^ Nels Cline talks about going from avant-garde improviser to Wilco's new guitarist
  50. ^ Elvis Costello at the Paramount
  51. ^ Jill Scott's Soulful Slam: Singer unleashes her unique mix
  52. ^ Al Green Looking Forward To It!
  53. ^ Paramount Theatre presents: B.B. King & Mavis Staples
  54. ^ Madeleine Peyroux with Vienna Teng at Pramount
  55. ^ Lauryn Hill: Late start, new approach disappoint Lauryn Hill fans at Oakland concert
  56. ^ Review: Diana Ross sings blues, pop, disco - and it's all superb
  57. ^ Chris Rock: Caustic comic does rip-roaring Oakland show -- and we can tell you about some of it
  58. ^ Chris Rock learned to roll with the punch line
  59. ^ a b Paramount Theatre Press
  60. ^ Jerry Seinfeld Everyguy: His timing is impeccable, but where's the beef?
  61. ^ Seinfeld Voices His Petty Grievances: Comedian delivers flawless routine
  62. ^ The Wiz
  63. ^ Long-running 'Diary of Black Men' returns to Paramount Fans appreciate show's message about relationships
  64. ^ Perry's 'Family' Matters
  65. ^ Now playing -- grand nostalgia: Oakland's Paramount film series evokes an era of reel glamour
  66. ^ Paramount Theatre Movie Classics
  67. ^ Altman-Ohr (2009).
  68. ^ Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame inductions 2001
  69. ^ Tour Honors Blacks in Bay's History
  70. ^ Halle Berry: Starlet exudes aura of actress Dorothy Dandridge
  71. ^ It's Dellums' Day


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

External links

  • Official website
  • Oakland East Bay Symphony
  • Oakland Ballet
  • Article on Paramount Theatre archives at Bancroft Library
  • Guide to the Paramount Theatre Records at Bancroft Library
  • Tours Rediscover Oakland Landmark, San Francisco Chronicle (Friday, November 20, 1998)
  • Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. CA-1976, "Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland, Alameda County, CA", 39 photos, 2 color transparencies, 54 data pages, 5 photo caption pages
  • Dan Vint's collection of Paramount Theatre photographs
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