Sunday, September 23, 2007

Paramount Theater Restored

The Paramount Theatre - completely restored.

One of the balconies.

Sample of gorgeous stenciling on ceiling.

Zumbro Valley Sweet Adelines; Janet to left of conductor.


Donna, self, Geri

When I was a little girl, my home town of Austin, Minnesota, had two movie theaters: the Paramount Theatre and the State Theater. They were across the street from one another. While I cannot recall what the State Theater looked like on the inside, I have vivid memories of the Paramount Theater, as it was a very special, unusual structure -- both inside and outside. You see, it was an "atmospheric" theater, designed to resemble the courtyard of a Spanish castle. On the inside walls of the theater were little balconies and windows; the ceiling done to resemble the midnight sky, complete with little lights implanted appearing like stars and planets. It had a balcony with two circular staircases. It was a grand building.

The lobby had a candy counter. The restrooms were in the lower level. The painted trim along the ceiling beams and around the doors were a work of art. It was just beautiful.

My earliest memory is when I was about 4 years old and my mother made my sister take me to the showing of
Jack and the Beanstalk. I remember some of the film where Jack was at a beautiful castle high in the clouds which he discovered by climbing the huge beanstalk grown from his magic beans. I remember the scene where he was sitting a large banquet table, overflowing with vessels of food. Next I remember him running to get away from the giant who had discovered him at the table. He ran and ran, the giant getting closer and closer to him. Jack reached the beanstalk and began scurrying down. I was so scared and concerned for Jack, that my sister said I started screaming and took off my shoes and threw them over the balcony, trying to hit the giant. She was so embarrassed and mad at me that when we got home, she announced to my mother she was never going to take me to the movies again!

When I was old enough to go to movies unaccompanied by an older person, I remember going to movies with friends. But sometime in the mid 70's, the theatre closed with the coming of a new theatre in the local mall. Soon the building was bought and turned into a supper club, the new owners leveling out the sloping floor and painting the walls and ceiling black, red and yellow. That lasted about 10 years, and then the building was once again put up for sale.

In 1985, the Paramount was placed on the national register of historic places. In 1987, Austin Area Commission for the Arts was formed to restore it to its 1929 glory. A lot of work went into restoring this theatre. Through the help of the Minnesota Historical Society and generous donors, many volunteer hours went into fixing plaster, brickwork, replacing seats and repainting the inside.

The ceilings were painted black, red and yellow during the bar era. John Durfey, local artist recovered the original stencil patterns and colors, and had to go layer by layer with special solvents and at times using q-tips to find them. You’ll find figures of dogs, winged creatures along with different Spanish designs. It took him close to three years to unearth the original designs and to repaint them.

Last night was the first opportunity I have had to attend a performance at the restored theatre. My sister's Sweet Adeline's chorus performed as guests of a male barbershop chorus. Several members of my family and a couple of my friends, sat in the 5th row enjoying the concert. Oh, the memories that came back to me. After the concert, I walked to the lower level to have one more look. There on the wall was a framed photo that I knew I had seen before. It was a picture of about 100 young boys who were paper boys for the local news paper, standing and sitting on the curb in front of the Paramount Theatre. The caption read something like this "Local paper boys are treated to a free movie." Sitting in the front row, almost in the center, was my brother.

1 comment:

MamaD4 said...

That sounds like a great trip down memory lane. God bless the people who are trying to save these places. There has been an ongoing project for years in St. James to restore the opera house downtown. It moves at a snail's pace. This is a building that I haven't actually been in, but my dad can remember roller skating there. Kinda neat! I like the story about your 4 year-old self!