Paramount Theater in Downtown celebrates 90 years of cinema magic – Cavalier Daily

A symbol of Downtown Mall and Main Street, the Paramount Theater has given generations of Charlottesville residents a weekend escape from the cliche of real life. This year, Paramount is celebrating 90 years since its opening, a year behind the pandemic.

“We’ve been celebrating our 90th anniversary since last November,” said Communications Director Andy Pillifant. “We made 25 cents of films for that purpose … We made a film of every decade of our history, starting in the 1930s.”

The theater hosts a number of events to celebrate the site’s rich history, including tours where visitors can learn about a site that has long been a staple of the Charlottesville community.

As explained during these tours, the original theater opened in 1931, at the start of the Great Depression, and quickly became the backbone of the community. Couples, families and individuals attended the dazzling theater for movies, as well as vaudeville shows, rallies, concerts and social events.

The theater’s original architects, CW and George Rapp, assumed that the theater should look like a palace, inspired by Greco-Roman architecture. Upon entering the theater, there is a large, arched corridor with gold detailing on each wall and huge movie posters of upcoming events. Maintaining the theater’s original atmosphere is very important to the staff to this day.

“I think of it as a time machine,” said Pillifant. “When you walk in, you don’t have all the neon lights, the kind of setup and decor you would have if you went to a more modern movie theater.”

Although the current building retains the atmosphere of the 1930s, the theater has undergone many changes since then. Business flourished in Paramount until the 1960s, when the economic crisis made the theater’s charm lose its luster. The owners of the theater tried to modernize it, hoping for the return of customers. However, this move did not bring the effect expected by the owners, and Paramount Closed its door in 1974.

For over 30 years, the building was empty, dust, mold and rodents accumulated, destroying the once beautiful infrastructure. Knowledge shared during the tour says the university fraternity reportedly hosted the haunted house in an abandoned building for several years. There was talk of demolishing the theater for good. However, the citizens of Charlottesville have not yet given up hope.

In 1992, Paramount Theater Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring the theater, bought property subsidized from the city of Charlottesville. They began work to restore the theater to its original size, which resulted in a $ 16.2 million venture. The project involved not only bringing the original parts of the building back to life, but also extending it to meet contemporary needs.

New seats provide more comfort for customers. The stage widened 15 feet to accommodate more stage performances as the stage was originally designed to show movies.

“[The size] creates an intimate environment and scenery for this audience and this performer, ”said Pillifant.

However, a few key elements remain from the theater’s beginnings. The ornate details of the ceiling, as well as the balconies next to the stage where the organ pipes were once located, come from the original building. Perhaps the most surrounding part of the theater is the two massive silk paintings on either side of the audience, salvaged from the original Paramount. These Elizabethan-style paintings were supposed to remind the patrons of Europe, giving them a sense of a journey to a distant place.

Charlottesville’s effort to bring the theater to life paid off – in 2017, Paramount was named Outstanding Historical Theater, an award that recognizes its impact on the community, its rich history and commitment to its preservation.

The Paramount remains community-driven, always striving to put its patrons at the center of the hundreds of events they organize each year.

“We’re making our events available to the community,” said Pillifant. “We are a non-profit theater. Our goal is to present a diverse line-up on our programming calendar so that we don’t exclude anyone from coming here. ”

Pillifant encourages university students to venture beyond the bubble of terrain to discover and learn about the greater historic Charlottesville community that many have yet to visit.

“The more you can learn about where you live, I think everyone should,” said Pillifant. “Regardless of whether you are in college, elementary school or retired.”

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