The dream palace:How rescuing the Paramount Theatre 25 years ago reinvented downtown Abilene [TX]

Theater spotlight of city’s downtown

By Jeremy Goldmeier
Abilene Reporter-News
Posted November 26, 2011 at 10:46 p.m.

In the early 1980s nearly every historical building in downtown Abilene had either met with the wrecking ball or was staring down an impending execution.

The structures that had survived were suffering a fate worse than death.

Instead of well-heeled guests, the old Drake Hotel hosted transients and an army of stray cats. The men burned everything inside just to keep the place warm.

Its counterparts, the Windsor Hotel and the Hotel Wooten, were in similar disrepair. The T&P Depot, the Cypress Building and the structure that would later become the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature were shuttered or crumbling.

And at the heart of all the blight sat the Paramount Theatre. Built in 1929, the grand old dame of Abilene’s downtown had begun to show her age. All of the old, gold leaf edifices were beginning to fade, the seats creaked, and the carpet had become a patchwork mess.

The local galas of yesteryear had become a distant memory. The theater passed through a procession of owners, even closing between 1976 and 1977. Each new owner attempted to reinvent the wheel. For a time the Paramount even presented country music shows as a sort of makeshift opry.

In 1980 its lease was up once again.

With rumors of demolition flying, the Abilene Preservation League stepped in around 1981 to purchase the building. By 1983 the organization’s ardent lobbying had landed the Paramount on the National Registry of Historic Places. But even Preservation League members at the time acknowledged that the honor was no guarantee for the building’s survival, let alone its revitalization.

The benefactor

What happened next was the equivalent of a fourth quarter Hail Mary pass straight to the end zone.

A local owner surfaced, one ready to pony up the money for a full-scale face-lift of the old building. The Paramount wouldn’t just return to its ’30s design and grandeur, it would be better than ever, complete with a contemporary sound system and revamped dressing rooms to support live theater productions. …

The Paramount, meanwhile, is in the midst of another, “miniature” restoration, according to Hukill. Thanks to another donation (again, anonymous), the Paramount is expanding its technical booth and getting a few cosmetic touch-ups in the coming years. More than a venue for nostalgia, Hukill wants the theater to continue making memories for today’s and future generations.

“We’d like to make the Paramount last another 25 years looking as good as it does,” Hukill said.

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