Oakland’s Paramount Theatre shines brightly 40 years after restoration efforts preserved the historic art deco building.
By Serena Valdez | Published by Oakland Tribune
April 24, 2013
OAKLAND — Imagine you’re walking into the lobby of the Paramount Theatre.
The sight before you is indescribable. The details are too rich to take in all at once — the golden glow from large decorated wall panels, the intricate ceiling lights.
A buzzing mixture of sounds surrounds you.
Women in full-length gowns adorned with sequins and men in tuxedos fixed with bow ties fill the room, dancing to a live jazz orchestra or enjoying a cocktail.
The style is reminiscent of a scene from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby.”
But it’s not fiction. It’s what is planned for Saturday’s Art Deco Preservation Ball, where the guest of honor will be the Paramount Theatre, celebrating 40 years since it was restored and honoring those individuals who helped.
The Art Deco Society of California has been celebrating surviving buildings from the Art Deco period (the 1930s and 1940s, mostly) since the first Art Deco Preservation Ball in 1984. Since then, the society has recognized other venues, including Bimbo’s 365 club in San Francisco and the Berkeley City Club, said Laurie Gordon, founder of the ball.
At this year’s ball honoring the Paramount, which Gordon called the “crowning jewel of the area,” the Art Deco Society will give its Preservation Awards to the Paramount Theatre and a handful of key individuals who contributed to the preservation of the theater.
“The ball is as close as you might get to a time capsule and being able to go in a door and magically, you’re in 1936 — or pick a year,” said H. Lynn Harrison, preservation director for the Art Deco Society.
“It’s losing yourself for a moment in a time warp; plus it’s a really fun event.”
Grand movie palace
The Paramount Theatre opened its doors in December 1931, two years after the stock market collapsed and the Great Depression began. Faced with the worst financial era in American history, everybody went to the movies.
Extravagant theaters began popping up all over the country, including the Fox Theater in Oakland, which opened in 1928.
Business boomed at the Paramount, but as the years passed, the movie house went from being one of the most popular theaters in the Bay Area to a forgotten gem.
Over decades of neglect, its golden walls were buried under layers of black smoke residue. Seats and other furnishings deteriorated.
The demand for such large theaters declined and, like many other movie palaces, the Paramount continually lost business until the doors closed in 1970.