Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California)

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Paramount Theatre
Oakland Paramount Theatre exterior, 1975.jpg
Location2025 Broadway
Oakland, California, USA
Coordinates37°48′34″N 122°16′05″W / 37.809532°N 122.26805°W / 37.809532; -122.26805
Public transitBay Area Rapid Transit 19th Street
OwnerCity of Oakland
TypeIndoor theater
Seating typeOrchestra, balcony
Paramount Theatre
Paramount Fountain of Light.jpg
Grand Lobby interior, Fountain of Light over entrance and marquee
Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California) is located in Oakland, California
Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California)
Location in Oakland/East Bay
LocationOakland, California
Coordinates37°48′36″N 122°16′4″W / 37.81000°N 122.26778°W / 37.81000; -122.26778Coordinates: 37°48′36″N 122°16′4″W / 37.81000°N 122.26778°W / 37.81000; -122.26778
Arealess than one acre
ArchitectTimothy Pflueger
Architectural styleArt Deco
NRHP reference No.73000395[1]
CHISL No.884[2]
ODL No.9
Significant dates
Added to NRHPAugust 14, 1973
Designated NHLMay 5, 1977[3]
Designated CHISL1975[2]
Designated ODL1975

The Paramount Theatre is a 3,040-seat Art Deco concert hall located at 2025 Broadway in Downtown Oakland. When it was built in 1931, it was the largest multi-purpose theater on the West Coast, seating 3,476.[4][5] Today, the Paramount is the home of the Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Oakland Ballet, it regularly plays host to R&B, jazz, blues, pop, rock, gospel, classical music, as well as ballets, plays, stand-up comedy, lecture series, special events, and screenings of classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Era.


The Paramount Theatre was built as a movie palace, during the rise of the motion picture industry in the late 1920s. Palace was both a common and an accurate term for the movie theaters of the 1920s and early 1930s.[according to whom?] In 1925, Adolph Zukor's Paramount Publix Corporation, the theater division of Paramount Pictures, one of the great studio-theater chains, began a construction program resulting in some of the finest theaters built. Publix assigned the design of the Oakland Paramount to 38-year-old San Francisco architect Timothy L. Pflueger (1892–1946) of Miller and Pflueger. The Paramount opened at a cost of $3 million on December 16, 1931.[6] Pflueger was also the designer of the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The Art Deco design referred to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.[7] The term Art Deco has been used only since the late 1960s, when there was a revival of interest in the art and fashion of the early 20th century.[8]

The Paramount organ was built by Wurlitzer for the Paramount Publix theaters: a four-manual, twenty-rank model called the Publix I (Opus 2164), which cost $20,000 in 1931.

The gala premiere on December 16, 1931, was attended by Kay Francis, star of the opening film, The False Madonna,[9] and cast members Conway Tearle, Charles D. Brown, Marjorie Gateson, and William Boyd (not yet known as Hopalong Cassidy). Notable guests included California's governor James Rolph and Oakland mayor Fred N. Morcom. Tickets were first-come, first-served: sixty cents for the balcony seat and eighty-five cents for a seat in the orchestra.[10] The program also included a Fox Movietone News newsreel, a Silly Symphony animated cartoon The Spider and the Fly, and the music of the Paramount's own 16-piece house orchestra, under the direction of Lew Kosloff. Last on the program was the stage show Fanchon & Marco's "Slavique Idea", a forty-minute revue featuring Sam Hearn, comedians Brock and Thompson, dancer LaVonne Sweet, the acrobatic Seven Arconis, Patsy Marr, and the Sunkist Beauties in a chorus-line finale.

In June 1932 the Paramount closed, unable to meet operating expenses of more than $27,000 per week. Competing with Paramount was the Fox Oakland Theater, which had opened in 1928. The Paramount stayed closed for nearly a year. The days when movie theaters could support not just the showing of movies, but entire orchestras, stage shows, and uniformed attendants, were over, just as the Paramount was being completed. When it reopened in May 1933, it was under the management of Frank Burhans, the manager of the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. He was commissioned to get the Paramount out of debt, and his method for achieving this was to operate without either a stage show or an orchestra, and to unscrew light bulbs in an effort to reduce energy expenses.[citation needed] The Paramount showed the best of the new motion pictures, including such features as Dancing Lady (1933) with Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, Dames (1934) with Dick Powell, and The Gay Divorcee (1934) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The Great Depression gave way to World War II, and the Port of Oakland became a major departure and arrival point for servicemen. The Paramount's comfortable chairs and spacious lounges were a favorite gathering place. In the 1950s, popcorn machines and candy counters were installed, and on the lobby walls the incandescent lights were taken out and replaced by neon tubing in red and blue. In 1953, it played the first CinemaScope movie The Robe with Richard Burton and Jean Simmons. The 1957 Elvis Presley's Jailhouse Rock attracted a thousand young people. At the end of the 1950s theaters were losing patrons to television, but the Paramount management responded with talent shows, prize nights, and advertising campaigns.

For a second time the Paramount closed on September 15, 1970, because it no longer was able to compete with smaller movie theaters in the suburbs. The Paramount's last film was Let It Be (1970) with The Beatles.[11] In 1971, a Warner Bros. movie, The Candidate, starring Robert Redford, was filmed using the interior of the Paramount as one of the principal locations.

Hope surfaced in October 1972 when the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association (OSO), in need of a new home, purchased the Paramount for $1 million, half of which was donated by the seller, National General Theaters—formerly the Fox Theaters-West Coast—with the other half coming from generous[clarification needed] private donors. The popcorn machines and candy counters were removed. With the help of restoration project manager Peter Botto, new, wider seats were installed, the distance between rows was increased to provide more leg room, and a replica of the original carpet was laid throughout the theater. Two bars, one on the mezzanine and one on the lower level, and a new box office were added. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill were consultants for the restoration, with Milton Pflueger & Associates assisting. The Paramount reopened on September 22, 1973,[12] in its original 1931 splendor. Following the Opening the Oakland Symphony had sold out nearly all seats on subscription sales and sold out a majority of individual concerts.

But even with the house full the Paramount Theatre proved a financial burden to the Oakland Symphony. In addition the Oakland Symphony financed renovation costs with a $1 million loan. Rather than continue absorbing the Paramount's operating losses, the Oakland Symphony transferred the Paramount to the City of Oakland in 1975 for $1 in exchange for 40 years of free rent. They continued with that agreement until the Oakland Symphony Orchestra filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in September 1986.

Seeing an opportunity, a group of seven private citizens banded together and approached city officials with the idea of managing and operating the Paramount on behalf of the city as a nonprofit organization. They agreed, and the management structure has remained to this day.

Walking into the main lobby, with its gold ornamentation along the walls, curving staircase, and glowing light fixtures, is like taking a trip back through Old Hollywood.[citation needed] Public tours of the Paramount Theatre are given on the first and third Saturdays of each month, excluding holidays and holiday weekends.[13] Documented in 1972 by the Historic American Buildings Survey, the theater was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on August 14, 1973, and became a California Registered Historical Landmark in 1976[14] and a U.S. National Historical Landmark in 1977.[3]

Photo gallery[edit]

Main events[edit]

Symphony and ballet[edit]

Oakland East Bay Symphony (OEBS) was founded in July 1988, when musicians from the former Oakland Symphony Orchestra and the Oakland Symphony League joined to form a new orchestra. Since September 1990, Michael Morgan has been music director. Under Maestro Morgan's direction, the Symphony has become a leader in music education for young people, bringing orchestral music into schools throughout Oakland and the East Bay. More than 60,000 people attend the Symphony's performances at the Paramount Theatre, at churches and senior centers, and at other community sites each year.[15] With its May 18, 2007, performance of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess sold out, the Oakland East Bay Symphony opened its final rehearsal to the public.[16]

In December 2007, the Oakland Ballet celebrated the 35th anniversary of Ronn Guidi's Nutcracker at the Paramount Theatre, with Michael Morgan conducting the music of Tchaikovsky.

Notable concerts[edit]

The Paramount has hosted concerts by a wide variety of acts since the mid-1970s, including Bob Marley & The Wailers, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Prince, James Brown, Diana Ross, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green, Jeff Beck, Lionel Richie, B.B. King, Anita Baker, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Gladys Knight, Lucinda Williams, and Nelly Furtado.[citation needed]


























Stand-up comedy[edit]

Black Comedy Explosion[edit]

Live stage plays[edit]

  • 1997 – The musical play The Wiz was at the Paramount, with Grace Jones, Peabo Bryson and CeCe Peniston.[61]
  • 2001 – The Diary of Black Men, directed by Clarence Whitmore, a play that had been touring the country since 1983[62]
  • 2006 – Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail played to a packed seven-date stint at the Paramount.[63]
  • 2008 – Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats was performed in May.

Classic movie nights[edit]

It wasn't until 1987 that the Paramount returned to its true calling as a movie house, showing Buster Keaton's The General (1926), a silent film accompanied by the Wurlitzer. In 1988, Casablanca (1942), starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, launched the first movie series. The 2002 feature was Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove (1964).[11]

In 2002 it showed Wizard of Oz (1939), with Judy Garland, and in 2004 the Paramount showed several classic movies: Harvey (1950), starring James Stewart, Viva Las Vegas (1964) starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, The Graduate (1967) with Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner.

The Paramount Movie Classics series continues scheduling screenings throughout the year and is enthusiastically supported by guests and staff members alike who often dress up in costume as movie characters.[64]


In order to accommodate the large number of people attending on the High Holy Days, since 2001 Oakland's Temple Sinai has held its main High Holy Day services at the Paramount, filling the entire 1,800 seats on the mezzanine of the theater, and most of the 1,200 seats in the balcony.[65]

Notable events[edit]

The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame was founded in 1973 in Oakland. They held elegant events that honored such screen legends as Clarence Muse, Hattie McDaniel, Billy Dee Williams, Melvin Van Peebles, and Danny Glover with the Oscar Micheaux Awards. Some of the events were hosted at Oakland's Paramount Theatre. In 2001 Harry Belafonte, Eubie Blake and Diahann Carroll was inducted in the Filmmakers Hall of Fame at the Paramount.[66]

1995 – Poet Maya Angelou read from her work at a benefit at Paramount for the St. Paul's Episcopal School.[67]

1999 – Actress Halle Berry was at the Paramount for the premiere of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, an HBO docudrama.[68]

2007 – Former Congressman Ron Dellums was sworn in on Monday, January 8, as Oakland's 48th mayor in a public ceremony at the Paramount Theatre. A crowd of 1,900 people gathered for the ceremony.[69]

2011 – Hosting of the premiere for the 2011 film Moneyball. The cast as well as some Oakland Athletics players and executives attended the premiere.

2012 – Abel Gance's film Napoléon had four screenings from March 24 to April 1 as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Accompanied by a live orchestra, Napoléon was shown at the original 20 frames per second and ending with a 20-minute final triptych sequence. These, the first US screenings of British film historian Kevin Brownlow's 5.5-hour-long restored version, were described[by whom?] as requiring three intermissions, one of which was a dinner break. Score arranger Carl Davis led the 46-piece Oakland East Bay Symphony for the performances.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Paramount Theatre". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved March 30, 2012.
  3. ^ a b NHL Summary
  4. ^ Pitts, Carolyn (February 17, 1977). "Paramount Theatre" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places – Nomination and Inventory. National Park Service. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  5. ^ "Paramount Theatre" (pdf). Photographs. National Park Service. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  6. ^ "Tours Rediscover Oakland Landmark. San Francisco Chronicle". November 20, 1998.
  7. ^ Menten, Theodore, The Art Deco Style in Household Objects, Architecture, Sculpture, Graphics, Jewelry, Courier Dover, (1972), ISBN 0-486-22824-X
  8. ^ Mackrell, Alice. Art And Fashion, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., page 116, (2005) – ISBN 0-7134-8873-5
  9. ^ "The False Madonna". December 5, 1931. Retrieved April 16, 2017 – via IMDb.
  10. ^ Stone, Susannah Harris. The Oakland Paramount, Lancaster-Miller Publishers, page 18, (1982) – ISBN 0-89581-607-5
  11. ^ a b "Now playing -- grand nostalgia / Oakland's Paramount film series evokes an era of reel glamour". August 2, 2002. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  12. ^ contributor. "Paramount Theatre". Cinema Tour. Retrieved May 30, 2015.
  13. ^ "Paramount Theatre: Guided Tours". Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  14. ^ "Landmark 884 – Paramount Theatre – Alameda County". Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  15. ^ "Oakland East Bay Symphony History". Archived from the original on June 3, 2008. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  16. ^ "DATE LINES / News, notes and updates from the Bay Area arts and culture scene". Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  17. ^ "Anita Baker -- Over the Top / Rapturous singing at Paramount overwhelms the songs". April 5, 1995. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  18. ^ "Witherspoon still serving up the blues". October 27, 1995. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  19. ^ "Raitt shows steal PBS spotlight". December 8, 1995. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  20. ^ "Stevie Wonder Emerges From Hibernation / Singer wows concert crowd". January 18, 1995. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  21. ^ "k.d. in the Comfort Zone / Crooner k.d. lang lacks edge at Paramount". February 21, 1996. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  22. ^ "Waits Benefits Friend, Audience". February 6, 1996. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  23. ^ "Charles Brown Gets His Reward / Raitt, Hooker celebrate R&B veteran's comeback". November 4, 1997. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  24. ^ "A surprising "Porgy and Bess' at the Paramount". November 3, 1997. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  25. ^ "Raitt Fundamentally Fine at Warfield / Singer entertains with musicianship, charm". June 8, 1998. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  26. ^ "James Brown: Still "Pleasing'". August 5, 1999. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  27. ^ "Something to Crow about". April 13, 1999. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  28. ^ "Smoking Cubans / Ruben Gonzalez and Ibrahim Ferrer full of life in quirky, festive concert at end of S.F. Jazz Festival". November 8, 1999. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  29. ^ "With a hot, 16-piece band behind her, she shows that her phenomenal solo album was not a fluke". March 3, 1999. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  30. ^ "Maxwell's Silver Sound Blows Warm and Cool". August 13, 1999. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  31. ^ "Pop Princess / Britney Spears makes adoring fans squeal with delight at Paramount Theatre". July 31, 1999. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  32. ^ "Blige Taps Her Superpowers / Hip-hop queen gives knockout performance at Paramount Theatre". August 25, 2000. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  33. ^ "James Brown Still Can't Act His Age / Birthday concert sets Paramount ablaze with funk". May 12, 2000. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  34. ^ "D'Angelo's A Turn-On In Oakland / Singer seduces crowd with sexy, skillful R&B". April 7, 2000. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  35. ^ "The Man in the Bubble / A gloomy Paul Simon lets his well-crafted music do the talking at the Paramount". November 15, 2000. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  36. ^ "A Mesmerizing Badu Loosens Up". March 13, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  37. ^ "Quixotic Bjork spreads her wings in Oakland". October 19, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  38. ^ "Elfin Bjork alights in Oakland". October 18, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  39. ^ "Maxwell has crowd swooning / No gimmicks, just sexy soul sound". November 12, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  40. ^ "Amos through the ages / Singer's message as complex as ever". November 13, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  41. ^ "REVIEW / Blige, royal and real / R&B star toys with dualities at Paramount". March 2, 2002. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  42. ^ "Keys concert only hints at her power / Reigning soul diva is missing in action at crucial moments of Oakland show". March 5, 2002. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  43. ^ "Purple reign at the Paramount as Prince pontificates / True believers lap it up at surprise show". April 26, 2002. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  44. ^ "The (r)evolution of Erykah Badu / Revamped persona stands out but message remains same". January 16, 2003. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  45. ^ "Natalie Cole at the Paramount". March 30, 2004. Archived from the original on November 18, 2007. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  46. ^ "Groban brings musical comfort food to Paramount". January 30, 2004. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  47. ^ "Enrique doesn't have to sing to get his fans to scream". February 26, 2004. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  48. ^ "I'm With The Band / Nels Cline talks about going from avant-garde improviser to Wilco's new guitarist". November 11, 2004. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  49. ^ "Ballet aside, it comes down to rock for Costello". March 24, 2005. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  50. ^ "Jill Scott's Soulful Slam / Singer unleashes her unique mix". February 14, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  51. ^ "LOOKING FORWARD TO IT! / FORECAST". May 21, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  52. ^ "Paramount Theatre presents: B.B. King & Mavis Staples". Archived from the original on September 12, 2012. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  53. ^ "DATE LINES / News, notes and updates from the Bay Area arts and culture scene compiled by Chronicle staff writers and critics". September 27, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  54. ^ "Late start, new approach disappoint Lauryn Hill fans at Oakland concert". June 29, 2007. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  55. ^ "Review: Diana Ross sings blues, pop, disco – and it's all superb". November 5, 2007. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  56. ^ "Rock on a Roll / Caustic comic does rip-roaring Oakland show -- and we can tell you about some of it". March 9, 1999. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  57. ^ "Chris Rock learned to roll with the punch line". December 31, 2003. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  58. ^ a b "Paramount Theatre: Press Releases". May 4, 2005. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  59. ^ "JERRY SEINFELD Everyguy". May 26, 1996. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  60. ^ "REVIEW / Seinfeld Voices His Petty Grievances / Comedian delivers flawless routine". March 30, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  61. ^ "Big Names, Small Parts / Grace Jones gets wicked in 'The Wiz'". June 13, 1997. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  62. ^ "Long-running 'Diary of Black Men' returns to Paramount / Fans appreciate show's message about relationships". June 29, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  63. ^ "Perry's 'Family' Matters". February 26, 2006. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  64. ^ "Movie Classics: Paramount Theatre, Winter, 2016/2017". Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  65. ^ Altman-Ohr (2009).
  66. ^ "Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Came to San Francisco in 1976". February 9, 2001. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  67. ^ "Tour Honors Blacks in Bay's History / It's one of month's many commemorations". February 6, 1995. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  68. ^ "Illuminating Halle Berry". August 21, 1999. Retrieved April 16, 2017.
  69. ^ "IT'S DELLUMS' DAY / THE PEOPLE SPEAK: Diversity of opinion on what the city needs is as varied as the constituency". January 9, 2007. Retrieved April 16, 2017.


External links[edit]