Paramount Theatre/Bristol, TN

Bristol Herald Courier (Virginia)

October 16, 2010 Saturday


Roof leak a job of ‘Paramount’ importance

By David McGee, Bristol Herald Courier, Va.

Oct. 16–BRISTOL, Tenn. — Tiny scraps of gold leaf paint were piled on a towel Friday as artists Jim and Holly Thomas began the time-consuming process of restoring parts of the ceiling in the lobby of the Paramount Center for the Arts.

Damaged by months of moisture seepage, a close inspection reveals cracked decorative gold leaf paint and buckled plaster throughout the lobby of the nearly 80-year-old Art Deco theater.

"Last winter really took its toll on us," Paramount Executive Director Merle Dickert said. "The hailstorm in 2001 got the process started. The roof over the lobby is a flat membrane roof, but last year’s deep snows went above the lip lines and allowed moisture in."

That section of roof has now been replaced and the restoration work begun, thanks to an unnamed donor, Dickert said.

On Friday, Jim Thomas carefully applied plaster to damaged areas while his wife dabbed on matching paint.

"We are doing a surgical demolition in selected areas and we’re going to move through the lobby — one section at a time — repairing the plaster and restoring the paint finishes as we go," Holly Thomas said.

The work inside the lobby is expected to be completed in about two months.

"We will make repairs as we can pay for repairs. There is a lot of damage. When plaster gets damp it’s a rapid process," Dickert said.

But that damage isn’t the greatest threat to the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Water extensively penetrated a section of the eastern wall inside the auditorium more than a month ago and it remains damp, despite the use of industrial fans to dry it out, Holly Thomas said.

"Water went between two buildings. We drilled holes in the wall and you can feel it’s still wet. We’re trying to let the wall dry gradually and get the water out naturally. There were literally chunks falling out of this wall," she said.

One of three large murals hanging along that wall sustained some minor damage.

The community resurrected the old theater once before, contributing more than $1 million to repair and restore it so it could reopen in 1991.

"We’re coming up on the 20th anniversary [reopening] in 2011 and the 80th, and we need a roof over the main part of the building to stop this damage on the east wall. We were able, through the generosity of some donors, to make a partial [roof] repair to get this damage stopped," Dickert said.

Replacing the main roof is expected to cost about $65,000, Dickert said.

"We baby this place and that’s what a historic building takes. You have to be gentle and watchful," Dickert said.

Only about 22 of the more than 120 Paramount theaters built around the country in the 1920s and 1930s still operate today.

"People don’t understand how hard these places are to maintain. You’ve got a massive building that takes constant maintenance. You can’t just restore it and walk away," Holly Thomas said.

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