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Paramount Theatre (Seattle)
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Built in 1928 at 9th Avenue and Pine Street in downtown Seattle, the Paramount Theatre (originally called the Seattle Theatre) has over its long history brought to town some of the most diverse entertainments the city has seen. Despite several close brushes with oblivion, it stands today as one of the few and one of the finest remaining examples of the theater-building boom of the 1920s. Built as a silent-movie and vaudeville house by Seattle businessman L. N. Rosenbaum (1881-1956) and investors from the East Coast, the theater went through several changes of ownership during the twentieth century, and its stage and screen accommodated everything from first-run movies and Broadway musicals to rock bands and stand-up comics. Its most serious near-death experience came in 1992, when it was saved from destruction by the vision and generosity of Ida Cole (b. 1947), one of the region's legion of "Microsoft millionaires." Some three years and $37 million later, the Paramount reopened in March 1995 in all its former glory and with many modern updates. Since then, it has continued to bring to Seattle audiences a blend of top-drawer entertainment in musical theater, comedy, drama, and popular music of nearly every genre.
The Show Divine at 9th and Pine
What is now the Paramount Theatre at 9th Avenue and Pine Street in downtown Seattle started life in 1928 as the Seattle Theatre, built to showcase films and provide a venue for the fading but still-popular vaudeville shows of the day. The first "talkie" had been released the year before, and the Depression was still over the horizon. The popularity of movies created a major industry, and a handful of big studios ran everything from the production and distribution of films to the ownership or control of many of the venues in which they were shown. This was an extremely lucrative vertical monopoly, and it would be another 20 years before the Supreme Court forced the studios to divest themselves of their interests in many of the nation's leading theaters. Until then, the moguls could well afford to build or lease elaborate venues in which to display their products.
The Seattle Theatre would become the newest addition to a chain operated by the Fox West Coast Theatres Corporation in association with Paramount's Publix Theatre chain. The project was inspired by Seattle businessman L. N. Rosenbaum, who had recently returned to the Puget Sound area after spending several years in New York. He and his East Coast connections formed the Paramount Building Corporation, with New York banker W. S. Hammond serving as president, and together they raised most of the estimated $3 million in capital necessary to build the new theater.
Rosenbaum wanted the security of having a film company run the theater, and he knew where to turn. Adolf Zukor (1873-1976), who dominated Hollywood's Paramount Studios for nearly 60 of his 103 years on earth, contributed no money directly its construction costs, but he agreed in advance to a 25-year lease on the venue, and this helped sell the project to Rosenbaum's investors.
Despite the presence in Seattle of Benjamin Marcus Priteca (1889-1971), a nationally known movie-palace architect, the Publix Theatre chain, which was responsible to the venue's design, retained the Chicago architectural firm of Rapp & Rapp. They patterned the Seattle Theatre in part on the firm's design of New York's Paramount Theatre, which had opened only a short time before. Priteca was not entirely left out, however; the building that housed the theater had nine stories above ground level and Priteca, who designed a number of Seattle's most famous venues (including the Coliseum and the Pantages), was the architect for this part of the project. Although the entertainment portion of the premises was at first called the Seattle Theatre, from the start the entire structure was called the Paramount Building. The upper floors were primarily for residential use and intended to be "the first apartment building designed exclusively for aesthetic activities." As described in The Seattle Daily Times,
"In the nine stories of commercial and apartment space constructed over the Seattle Theatre there will be accommodations for the musician, artist, sculptor and photographer. Some of the apartments will be fitted up for the medical and dental profession. The space on the Pine Street level and mezzanine will be available for gift shops, tea rooms, beauty parlors and other services of similar character" ("Paramount Is First Studio Building").
The section of downtown Seattle where the theater would sit had in 1928 not yet been widely developed. When Rosenbaum purchased the 28,000-square-foot site at 9th Avenue and Pine Street there was little business activity in the immediate area, and most of the city's leading theaters were clustered downtown around 2nd Avenue. But Rosenbaum had plans for a greater development program, with many improvements in addition to the Paramount Building. But the key component would be what was possibly the largest and perhaps the fanciest movie palace in Seattle up to that time. (The Chinese-themed 5th Avenue Theatre had opened two years earlier, and it too was large and opulent.)
The dominant interior-design program of the new theater was Beaux-Arts (also called French Renaissance and rococo, or "Late Baroque"), reminiscent of the Palace of Versailles, mixed with traditional Italian influences. The walls of the four-tiered lobby featured ornate plaster moldings and spectacular chandeliers that illuminated elaborate ironwork and wall medallions encrusted with gold leaf. Designer Morris Greenberg of New York, who was charged with obtaining rugs and tapestries for the new house, indulged an occasional burst of the exotic by incorporating a few accessories of East Indian origin. Many of these pieces found their way into the grand foyer, the ornate appearance of which was softened by a variety of wall hangings and period furniture, including high-backed settees, chairs, and corner pieces. Similar furnishings were liberally distributed throughout the other common areas of the theater.
Unique to the venue were the separate lobby areas as one ascended the staircase to the upper levels, as well as a grand lounge located below the main entrance. A general feeling of openness was maintained throughout the house, but these separate lobbies were dotted with smaller alcoves. Even with the theater's official seating capacity of 3,054, these intimate spaces provided places where couples or small groups of theatergoers could retreat with a degree of privacy
No expense was spared in creating an impressive ambience for the new Seattle Theatre. Its proscenium arch spanned 54 feet and was 32 feet high, and the ceiling of the auditorium was specially designed with hollow areas to incorporate a distinctive lighting scheme. Management claimed that portions of the ceiling were suspended from the actual roof, a design element popular at the time in Europe, but which had yet to catch on in America. This gave the house, they claimed, "an artful and charming effect of space and freedom" ("Ceilings in New Theatre Expert Work").
Rose, gold, and ivory were the predominant colors throughout, with the walls coated with nearly three tons of white, lead-based paint, portions of which were highlighted with gold leaf. A total of 200 packs of gold leaf -- at $14 each -- were applied by hand throughout the house. The cost for this detail work paled in comparison to the tab for drapes and chandeliers, said to have been in excess of $200,000. The two large chandeliers in the foyer (still there today) reportedly cost $5,000 apiece, and originally contained some 52,000 individual crystals.
A Grand Opening Night
The Seattle Theatre's program booklet on opening night, March 1, 1928, summed it all up in somewhat immodest terms:
"No theatre in America excels The Seattle Theatre in soundness of construction, in beauty of design, in decorative loveliness and in spaciousness. It is rightly termed ... the largest and most beautiful theatre west of Chicago. It is remarkable in the impressive grandeur of its colonnaded foyer and the artistic opulence of its four tiers of grand lobbies, one above the other.
"The designers have created an atmosphere of intimacy, of luxurious comfort, of warmth in this imposing interior. It is a theatre in which you will feel at ease, welcome, at home" (Peltin, "Seattle's Paramount Theatre").
The city's newspapers were equally enthusiastic. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer was rapturous in its coverage of the theater's opening:
"No one has ever really described the touching beauties of a sunrise. No one can adequately state in words the gripping effect in the architectural artistry of Seattle's newest theatre .... It is felt, not viewed ... Seattleites who haven't had the thrill of walking breathlessly through the ornate halls of the palace at Versailles, halls made famous by the kings and beauties whose merest words made history, can get a fairly good idea of what that old stomping grounds of royalty is like from visiting the Northwest's newest theatre -- the incomparable Seattle" ("All Seattle Glories").
Not to be outdone, a writer for the rival Seattle Times compared the new house to the fabulous pleasure dome of Kubla Khan, although he calmed down a bit later in the same article, characterizing the theater as "tastefully decorated," with "nothing glaring, nothing done for too-obvious effect" ("Thousands are Delighted"). Another Times article gushed:
"For never has such a magnificent cathedral of entertainment been given over to the public. Indescribable beauty! Incomparable art! Spacious foyers and rest rooms! And a seating capacity of 4,000 ... . In keeping with the splendor of the house, the stage production will be of the most lavish design, brilliant in their lighting effects and gorgeous in their settings" ("Theatre Opening is Awaited by Seattle")
The city's newspaper writers seemed to be in competition to outdo each other's descriptions of the new venue. Another Seattle Times reporter enthused:
"The appeal is made through rare beauty in the surroundings and furnishing, enchantment in the music that reaches the ear, perfumed atmosphere kept fresh as the air on a high mountain, clever entertainers picked from the world's best, moving pictures and legitimate play, giving variety to the entertainment. It's all there" ("New Seattle Theatre Plans for 10,000 First-Nighters").
The review noted that the cost of admission for opening night was 50 cents. Left unexplained was how the Seattle Theatre planned to shoe-horn 10,000 "first-nighters" into a space designed for just over 3,000. In fact, that number was a clear exaggeration, and although there were two shows presented that night, the total attendance was closer to 7,000.
As Seattleites awaited opening night, the Times told them what was in store:
"Catchy tunes, tantalizing melody, snappy and graceful dance steps by a bevy of girls will form but a small part of this elaborate affair. The music for both the stage presentation and the screen offerings will be provided by the Seattle stage band, the Seattle grand orchestra and the giant Wurlitzer" ("Theatre Opening is Awaited by Seattle").
The debut show lived up to the publicity. It opened with selections from Faust performed by the Seattle Grand Concert Orchestra, followed by a "Technicolor novelty" short film entitled Memories. The duo Don and Ron played the giant Wurlitzer for a bit, and then came a Publix road show, A Merry Widow Revue, that had just completed a run at Zukor's New York Paramount. The night closed with a film, Feel My Pulse, starring Bebe Daniels (1901-1971), Richard Arlen (1899-1976), and William Powell (1892-1984).
Ten months later, in December 1928, the Seattle Theatre presented its first film featuring sound, entitled Varsity. It was not a full "talkie" however, and had sound only near the end of the film. The first full "talkie" came one month later, in January 1929. Titled Interference and starring William Powell, it drew an enthusiastic response. Sound was taking over, and the reign of the silent films that had introduced the public to the magic of movies would soon draw to a close.
A Staff to Match the Style
The staff at the new theater was said to be as impressive as the surroundings, with courtesy and efficiency being the hallmarks. Patrons were amazed at the bevy of young ushers on hand for the performances -- they seemed to be everywhere on opening night, though their presence was largely unobtrusive. Their jobs were made a considerably easier by electronic callboards in the foyer and ladies' lounge area that allowed ushers, with a mere glance, to direct patrons to open seats. "The system is exact, and it saves endless annoyances to patrons on busy days," declared Alex E. Levin, the first manager of the theater and a man who prided himself on the military precision of its operation ("New Theatre Directed Like Battleship").
Levin's sentiments were echoed by Sam Katz (1892–1961), the powerful head of Publix Theatres, which supplied the stage shows appearing at the Seattle on a weekly basis. Katz told local reporters:
"A properly conducted theatre is of the same importance to a community as a school or a church. Such a theatre contributes to the general welfare of the community, because wholesome recreation is essential to its well-being ... . The well-operated theatre combines order, system, regularity and cleanliness to the nth degree" ("Film House Tendency is Upwards").
Behind the Scenes
As the opening-night bill demonstrated, the Seattle Theatre was fully equipped to present combination shows -- entertainment that drew both from the stage and the screen as part of a single weekly offering. For example, the venue was constructed with a "flying" stage (one of only three in the United States at the time) that allowed the stage area to be altered based on the needs of the particular live production. Backstage were 41 modern dressing rooms spread over several floors (each with its own shower), with elevator service to the stage. These rooms were in addition to employees' and artists' common areas, such as a "green" room and a separate card room for theater staff.
The stage lighting of the new theater was top-notch, and it was rivaled by the projection equipment for movie offerings, among the best in the city. The house projectionist also could make use of an elaborate backdrop-projection system to create the illusion of clouds, stars, rainbows, snow, and other effects during stage presentations.
Four Grands and a Grander Wurlitzer
In those earliest days the Seattle Theatre, like most in town, offered film fare that ranged from the relatively highbrow to the purest escapist fluff. From December 1 to December 5, 1929, for example, theatergoers saw Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, starring Mary Pickford (1892-1979) and Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939). Replacing it beginning December 6 was a typical Flo Ziegfeld (1867-1932) extravaganza of feathers, bubbles, and leggy women called Glorifying the American Girl.
Where the Seattle really stood apart from its competition, however, was in the nature of its musical accompaniment. In addition to having some of the finest acoustics of any local theater, the Seattle boasted four Knabe grand pianos, reportedly the largest installation of pianos anywhere outside of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Three of these instruments were made of finished mahogany -- a concert grand piano in the orchestra pit and two smaller grand pianos onstage. The fourth was a Knabe Ampico (Louis XV version) player piano, specially finished in gold and ivory to match the Seattle's interior décor. It was situated in the "Salon de Musique" on the mezzanine floor, and the special decorations were done in Seattle at the local Knabe studios. This "custom" Knabe, after being sold and removed in 1967, was loaned back in 1998 and is today located in the lounge area just above the foyer.
The Knabe pianos were indeed impressive, but not as impressive as the theater's massive Wurlitzer 4/20 Publix No. 1 organ, reportedly the largest instrument of its kind when it was installed. Costing in the neighborhood of $46,500, this organ also was specially decorated in white and gold to match the theater's interior, and could be raised to the stage or lowered to the orchestra pit on a special lift. Such organs were once a common feature in nearly every significant movie house, but most venues got rid of them shortly after the arrival of sound film in the late 1920s, as they were no longer necessary for film accompaniment and were costly to maintain. (Most were sold to churches or private collectors.) Not so at the Paramount. Although most of the theater's original furnishings, sculptures, rugs, and tapestries are now long gone, the organ remains, kept in operating condition with parts scrounged from other instruments around the country.
Restored to its former glory in the late 1990s, the "mighty Wurlitzer" is regularly featured as part of the Paramount's ongoing series, "Silent Movie Mondays," now sponsored by Trader Joe's and held several nights each year. Played now by organist Jim Riggs, the instrument greatly enhances the showing of these classic silents and helps recapture the glory days of early cinema.
A New Name and Hard Times
The Seattle Theatre didn't remain so for long, and on March 14, 1930, after only two years in business, its name was changed to the Paramount Theatre in conformity with the Publix Theatre chain's policy of giving the grandest of its theaters in each city that name (there were to be a total of 44 "Paramount Theatres" across the country). It continued to offer a mix of movies, plays, and vaudeville, but the Great Depression was underway, and many could no longer afford even the moderate cost of an evening out at the theater. In June 1931 the Paramount was forced to temporarily suspend regular operations. From then until October 1932, the theater would be closed for days or weeks at a time, then opened for the presentation of specific movies or other events. When it fully reopened, the elaborate stage shows were gone; only films and organ music would be offered to give the public brief respite from the rigors of those hard times.
Gaylord B. Carter (1905-2000) was hired as the Paramount Theatre's chief organist when it reopened in 1932. Carter, whose previous job was house organist at Sid Grauman's Million-Dollar Theatre in Los Angeles, was a highly accomplished musician, and his compositions and organ playing won him national fame. The days of silent film were virtually over, but Carter's work on the elaborate Wurlitzer drew the crowds and helped keep the theater alive during those bleak years. Carter's work can still be heard today -- decades after leaving the Paramount, he was hired to compose and perform much of the eerie music that is played in the Haunted Mansion feature at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
In December 1930, Fox West Coast Theatres paid $20 million to lease Seattle's Paramount Theatre and six others venues on the West Coast from the Paramount-Publix Corporation. On January 1, 1931, the Paramount opened under this new management. The theater again played host to various vaudeville attractions (this during that form's dying days), in addition screening films, including new releases from Paramount Pictures. One historian of the theater catalogs the varied fare:
"'1,000 Pounds of Harmony,' 'The Three Musketeers,' 'The 8 Sirens of Syncopation,' and 'The High Hatters of Rhythm.' Small musical bands, choruses, magicians, tumblers, jugglers, and comedians also appeared. More unusual acts involved Swedish bell ringers, illusionists 'burning a woman alive,' horseshoe pitching, a lecture on the Gold Rush Days, one-legged bicyclists, a Three Little Pigs animal act, thirty trained cockatoos, 'a big game archer explaining his picture,' radio personality mimics, singers famous from radio performances, ventriloquists, clairvoyants, a burlesque mind-reader and contortionists. Dancers performed 'eccentric' pieces, tap, soft shoe, and 'acrobatic waltzes.' The Theatre presented children and adult roller skaters, 'Girls in Cellophane' (from Atlanta), aerialists, whistling choruses, clowns and one-man circuses" (Peltin, "Seattle's Paramount Theatre").
In January 1933 the Northwest division Fox West Coast was renamed the "Evergreen State Amusement Corporation," which operated the Paramount, 5th Avenue, Coliseum, Egyptian, and Neptune theaters.
Up and Down, But Mostly Down
Through the 1940s up to the early 1960s, the Paramount sustained itself showing films, with only occasional "live" productions. For a time it was a "first-run" house, and the movies shown were the cream of the Hollywood crop. Among the increasingly rare live performances during this time were appearances by Danny Kaye (1913-1987), Betty Hutton (1921-2007), and Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996), and the play John Brown's Body, starring Tyrone Power (1914-1958) and directed by Charles Laughton (1899-1962).
One experiment in the 1950s did not go at all well. In 1956 the theater was leased to the Stanley Warner Cinerama Corporation, which removed 1,600 seats to make room for the three projection booths needed by the wide, curved "Cinerama" screen and to eliminate any seats that presented a distorted view of the film being run. The horizontal, three-sided signboard on which current attractions are advertised on the theater's exterior was added at this time, specifically to tout the new technology. But that technology was far from perfected, and the three separate screen segments, each served by its own projector, were visibly divided by dark bands. The innovation was short lived, but the signboard remained. By early 1958 the Cinerama format was abandoned, and the Paramount once again survived on regular-format movies, now mostly second-run. These were hard years, as described by Nena Peltin:
"The Paramount closed for long periods in the 1960s, including a time in 1965 during which nine magnificent paintings, still in their original gilded frames, were stolen from the lobby. One Friday night in 1967, only 13 people came to see Gone with the Wind -- a poignant demonstration of the theatre’s decline. However, The Paramount limped along as a movie house until 1971" (Peltin, "Seattle's Paramount Theatre").
From Rock to the Rockettes
In the mid-1950s, probably in 1954, the Paramount Theatre was sold to Clise Properties Inc., a family-run business that has been investing in Seattle real estate since 1889. On May 30, 1971, the theater reopened as "Paramount Northwest" and became one of the city's leading music venues, featuring regular appearances by touring rock bands, leavened with some jazz and soul performances. Among the many rockers to play there were Bob Marley and the Wailers, a young Bruce Springsteen (b. 1949), The Guess Who, and the Kinks.
The raucous young rock crowd was not always easy on the historic old movie house. Bits and pieces of it disappeared, much-needed maintenance was deferred, and the Paramount's once-sparkling opulence faded further behind thick layers of smoke and grime. A reporter for The Seattle Times, Don Duncan, mourned that the venerable theater was now like "a good woman forced to do menial labor for survival" (quoted in Peltin). But it was still alive, still a legendary venue in Seattle, and in 1974, even in an advanced state of deterioration, it found a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Paramount rocked along for several years, and in 1979, Clise sold the theater to Paramount Associates, which consisted of the Volotin Investment Company and West Coast Theatres. Norman Volotin and Eulysses Lewis (the latter of whom had been involved in Paramount Northwest's management), attempted to slow down the theater's physical deterioration with an investment of $500,000, with a new coat of pain, extensive reupholstering, sound-system improvements, and new red carpeting throughout. The giant Wurlitzer got some attention too, and a slightly refurbished Paramount came to life once more in October 1981.
Throughout the 1980s, the theater was the scene of concerts and productions of dizzying variety. For the non-rockers there were song and/or dance shows by Mitzi Gaynor (b. 1931), Tom Jones (b. 1940), Dionne Warwick (b. 1940), Juliet Prowse (1936-1996), Frank Sinatra (1915-1998), Duke Ellington (1899-1974), The Krasnayarsh Siberian Dancers, and The Rockettes. For the rockers, there were appearances by, among many others, the Grateful Dead, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie (b. 1947), and Stevie Ray Vaughn (1954-1990). Those in need of a laugh during that post-disco decade could see George Carlin (1937-2008), Lily Tomlin (b. 1939), Robin Williams (b. 1951), Bob Hope (1903-2003), and Joan Rivers (b. 1933). In 1985, the Paramount was the opening stop on Madonna's (b. 1958) Virgin Tour, her first. Such Broadway musicals as South Pacific, Singin’ in the Rain, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Miserables, and Evita also were staged. Fred Rogers ("Mr. Rogers") (1928-2003) came for the kids, and the theater's Beaux-Arts ambience was put in stark contrast by a convention of Star Trek fandom in full costume array. During these eclectic years there was even a poetry jam and an inspirational talk by Oprah Winfrey (b. 1954).
Down Again, Up Again
Despite such a wide range of offerings, before the decade was out the Paramount was in deep trouble yet again. In 1987, the Volotin Investment Company filed for bankruptcy. The company even sold off some of the venue's original furniture and equipment. Seattle's equally famous Music Hall Theatre met the wrecking ball in 1991, and the Paramount appeared to be facing the same fate.
Then came Ida Cole, a former Microsoft executive, who purchased the Paramount Theatre on February 8, 1993. She vowed to restore the venue, and she retained the heavyweight architectural firm NBBJ to do the design and Sellen Construction to do the work. In 1994 Cole and others took over a previously established non-profit, the Seattle Landmark Association, to spearhead the project and sought help from both governmental and private entities. When asked by Seattle Times columnist Emmett Watson (1918-2001) about her motivation, Cole replied:
"It was a challenging project that needed doing. Also, it was unbelievably beautiful and it had to be saved ... . I thought of Sam Stroum, Herman Sarkowsky and Jim Ellis. They were the kind of men who could put this together. Then I said, 'Well, why can't I do it?'" ("We're a Fortunate Community ...").
Others agreed, and Cole soon had some help. A $13-million bank loan was obtained, and private donors contributed about $15 million. The City's Landmarks Preservation Program kicked in $1.8 million, the state's Building for the Arts program $1 million, and the Metro-King County Arts Council another $1 million.
The work, costing roughly $37 million, was extensive. Space was purchased from an adjoining land owner and the rear of the building expanded to provide more room backstage, including a loading dock for sets and equipment. (What was once considered a large and state-of- the-art backstage system was viewed 60 years later as outdated and cramped.) Aiming for flexibility, the new owner later installed an ingenious electric system that allows the seating area of the theater to be reconfigured. Costing $5 million and having 300,000 parts, the system divides the theater's floor into 64 moving sections which can be configured in a multitude of ways. The first half of the floor can be elevated using electric screw jacks to a height above the second half. Seats can be stowed and the entire floor can be raised to stage level, or each section can be raised to different heights. The system, which is computer controlled, was completed just one day before its first use.
The new, expanded, and refurbished Paramount reopened on March 16, 1995, with a touring production of the hit musical Miss Saigon. During the remainder of the 1995-1996 season, the Key Bank-sponsored "Broadway at the Paramount Series" brought productions of the musicals West Side Story, The Phantom of the Opera, the Pointer Sisters in Ain't Misbehavin', Kiss of the Spiderwoman, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The season also offered one dramatic production, An Inspector Calls.
Firmly back on its feet, the Paramount throughout the 1990s brought to its stage a steady program of Broadway musicals, concerts, comedians, and other entertainments, including, in 1999, a performance by the Seattle Ice Theatre that required most of the regular seats to be tucked beneath the floor, which was then covered with a two-inch-thick slab of smooth ice. In 1998, the family of Dick Schrum (1933-1994), who had been instrumental in the renovation of the theater's mighty Wurlitzer and had purchased the Paramount's Knabe Ampico piano in the 1960s, allowed the piano's return to its location just above the foyer in what was originally called the Salon de Musique.
Under New Ownership
In 1999, the Seattle Landmark Association changed its name to the Seattle Theatre Group (STG), and on December 20, 2002, Ida Cole transferred to it ownership of the Paramount Theatre. Still generous, Cole sweetened her gift even further by paying off $6 million of the theater's $14.5-million mortgage.
The Paramount Theatre celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2003, and was still bringing to town a mix of entertainment including, in that year, a children's show called The Wiggles, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, rock concerts, traveling Broadway productions, silent films, and Northwest Ballet's production of The Nutcracker. In recognition of her outstanding contributions, the theater auditorium was named after Ida Cole at the 75th-anniversary celebration on March 1, 2003.
The original theater marquee, which first said "Seattle" and was changed to "Paramount" in 1930, had been designed by the theater's original architects, Rapp and Rapp. It had missed out on all the refurbishment that the rest of the venue enjoyed, and was becoming both an eyesore and a safety concern. All this was remedied on October 2009 when an exact replica of the original was hoisted into place on the northwest corner of the Paramount Building.
Throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century the Paramount has continued to offer varied and top-rate fare. For its 2012-2013 season, the lovely old house will host, among other presentation, the musicals Mama Mia, Cats, Million Dollar Quartet, The Book of Mormon, Flashdance, and Sister Act, along with the 2011 Tony Award-winning best dramatic play, War Horse. With excellent care and management, the Paramount today continues to be a destination for Seattle theatergoers, and is poised to fulfill the prophecy of one who witnessed its opening in 1928. Everhardt Armstrong, then theater critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, mused on that occasion:
"Many modern theatres, planned with a view to presenting entertainment for the masses, possess a surface glitter -- the glamour of gilt and the shimmer of ostentatious hangings -- but they seem rococo, impermanent, ephemeral, built for a short life, to be replaced in future decades by structures still more ornate. The Seattle, one senses, has been built to endure" ("New Playhouse").
And so, with a lot of help, it has.
"Elaborate Stage Fare for Opening of New Theatre," The Seattle Times, February 26, 1928, p. 22; "Theatre Opening is Awaited by Seattle," Ibid., March 1, 1928, p. 13; "New Seattle Theatre Plans for 10,000 First-Nighters," Ibid., March 1, 1928, p. 1; "Seattle Theatre." (advertisement) Ibid., February 28, 1928, p. 8; "Theatre Opening is Awaited by Seattle," Ibid., March 1, 1928, p. 13; "Thousands are Delighted With New Seattle Theatre," Ibid., March 2, 1928, pp. 1, 16; "Paramount Is First Studio Building," Ibid., October 23, 1927, p. 19; Everhardt Armstrong, "New Playhouse is Real Triumph of Fine Architecture," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 26, 1928, pp. 1-D, 7-D; "Excelsior Watchword of Seattle," Ibid., February 26, 1928, p. 7-D; "Film House Tendency is Upwards," Ibid., February 26, 1928, p. 8-D; "New Page in History of Theatre is Written Here," Ibid., February 26, 1928, p. 8-D; "Four Grand Pianos in New House," Ibid., February 26, 1928, p. 7-D; "Ceilings in New Theatre Expert Work," Ibid., February 26, 1928, p. 7-D; "Knabe Studios Fill Large Piano Order," Ibid., February 29, 1928, p. 14; "Experts Called in to Build Seattle," Ibid., February 29, 1928, p. 14; "Rosenbaum Gets Credit for New Seattle Theatre," Ibid., February 29, 1928, p. 15; "New Theatre Directed Like Battleship," Ibid., February 29, 1928, p. 15; "New Seattle Theatre Opens Doors Today," Ibid., March 1, 1928, p. 3; "All Seattle Glories in New Theatre," Ibid., March 2, 1928, pp. 1, 2; Everhardt Armstrong, "Publix Show Wins Favor With Crowds," Ibid., March 2, 1928, p. 15;"New Seattle Inaugurates Amusement Plan Today," Seattle Star, March 1, 1928, p. 9; "Seattle Opening Has Four Honor Splitting Acts," Ibid., March 2, 1928, p. 11; Everhardt Armstrong, "Publix Show Wins Favor With Crowds," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 2, 1928, p. 15; "Paramount Theatre," Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society Website, (http://www.pstos.org/instruments/wa/seattle/paramount.htm); Lawrence Kreisman, Made to Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999), 156-166; Sean McIntyre, "History of the Paramount," Paramount Theatre Website, (http://www.theparamount.com/about/paramount/history.html); Nena Peltin, "Seattle's Paramount Theatre," Columbia, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring 2008); Al Delugach, "Justice Won't Oppose Theater Ban on Studios: Antitrust Chief Says Industry Isn't Interested in Seeking Change in Court," The Los Angeles Times, February 07, 1985 (http://articles.latimes.com/); Albin Krebs, "Adolph Zukor Is Dead at 103; Built Paramount Movie Empire," The New York Times, June 11, 1976 (http://www.nytimes.com/); "Gaylord B. Carter," Find-a-Grave website accessed March 19, 2012 (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=25472271); "The 999 Happy Haunts Haunted Mansion," Sound of Magic website accessed March 19, 2012 (http://www.soundofmagic.com/sounds/tributes/HM/index.htm); "Seattle Theatre," Silent Era website accessed March 19, 2012 (http://www.silentera.com/theaters/USA/washington/seattle/seattle.html); "Building Seattle's Future Since 1889," Clise Properties website accessed March 19, 2012 (http://www.cliseproperties.com/about/index.php); Patrick MacDonald, " Paramount Theatre Sparkles on its 75th Anniversary," The Seattle Times, February 28, 2003 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/); Misha Berson, "Dancing On Ice -- At The Paramount," The Seattle Times, October 14, 1999 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/); Misha Berson, "Hit Revivals Bring Back That Broadway Spirit At The Paramount," Ibid., June 10, 1995 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/); Emmett Watson, "We're a Fortunate Community: Up to Our Keisters In Millionaires," Ibid., May 28, 1996 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com);
Patrick MacDonald, "Paramount Theatre Sparkles on its 75th Anniversary,"Ibid., February 28, 2003 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/); Moira MacDonald, "Silent Movie Mondays Are Back at The Paramount," Ibid., October 29, 2009 (http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/); "Paramount Theatre," CinemaTour website accessed March 22, 2012 (http://www.cinematour.com/tour/us/9996.html); John Caldbick interview with Lynn Thrasher and Marian Thrasher of the Seattle Theatre Group Library, May 21, 2012, Seattle.
Note: Originally written in April 2002, this essay was corrected on June 12, 2006, substantially expanded in April 2012, and further corrected on May 24, 2012.
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Paramount Theatre, 9th Avenue and Pine Street, Seattle, April 26, 2012
HistoryLink.org Photo by Priscilla Long
Program cover, Seattle Theatre Gala Opening, March 1, 1928
Courtesy Seattle Theatre Group Historic Theatres Library
Seattle Theater opening night, Seattle, March 1, 1928
Courtesy Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society
L. N. Rosenbaum (1881-1956), New York, 1917
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. UW24156)
Poster, Feel My Pulse, first film presentation, Seattle (later Paramount) Theatre, March 1, 1928
Paramount Theatre lobby, Seattle, 1930s
Courtesy Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society
Paramount Theatre upstairs promenade, Seattle, 1930s
Courtesy Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society
Paramount Theatre proscenium, Seattle, 1930s
Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. UW17218)
Knabe Ampico piano in music room, Seattle (later Paramount) Theatre, Seattle, 1928
Courtesy Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society
Paramount Theatre, Seattle, 1947
Courtesy MOHAI (Image No. 1983.10.16682.1)
Dick Schrum (1933-1994) at Paramount Theatre's Wurlitzer, n.d.
Courtesy Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society
Restored Wurlitzer Model Publix 1 organ, Paramount Theater, Seattle
Courtesy Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society
Cinerama advertisement, Paramount Theatre, Seattle, September 12, 1956
Courtesy The Seattle Times
Ida Cole (b. 1947), Seattle Theatre Group
Photo by Lloyd Wright
Paramount Theater following restoration (NBBJ, 1994), Seattle
Paramount marquee, The Sonics, Seattle, October 31, 2008
Photo by Peter Blecha
Paramount Theatre, 9th Avenue and Pine Street, Seattle, April 26, 2012
HistoryLink.org Photo by Priscilla Long
Foyer stairway, Paramount Theatre, Seattle, September 20, 2012
Photo by Esther Helfgott
Chandelier, Paramount Theatre, Seattle, September 20, 2012
Photo by Esther Helfgott
Paramount Theatre marguee on HistoryLunch day, Seattle, September 20, 2012