Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Roll Up for the Mystery Tour: A Visit to the Oakland Paramount Theatre

Have you ever wanted to tour a historic movie palace? One of those elaborately ornate monuments to cinema constructed during the Golden Age of American movie theaters, back in the ‘20s and ‘30s? Well, I have, and luckily for me I live not very far from one of the most spectacular of them all, the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, CA, a theater that hosts public tours twice monthly.

Considered an Art Deco masterpiece, the Paramount was at one time the largest theater on the West Coast. It’s opening night, in December 1931, featured Kay Francis, star of the theater’s first screening, The False Madonna, along with the film’s supporting cast, and scores of other luminaries, including the Governor of California. But this first blush of glory was short-lived; the theater closed its doors for the first time in June 1932, unable to meet its weekly $27,000+ in operating costs. The Paramount re-opened under new management within a year, but no longer featured stage shows, an orchestra, or light fixtures with full sets of working bulbs. Over the next several decades the Paramount weathered periods of decline and resurgence, but today stands resurrected, the anchor of Oakland’s thriving Uptown neighborhood.

Because we wanted to find out more about the Paramount’s nearly 90-years of history and get a behind-the-scenes look at this fabulously restored showplace, a friend and I attended a tour in July, a 2-hour excursion that led us into the past, through just about every nook and cranny, filled our heads with numberless historical and architectural facts, and ended with a spectacular light show in the theater’s cavernous auditorium.

Top of page: view of grand lobby from balcony portal; Above: view of mezzanine staircase from grand lobby