Paramount Theatre (Oakland, California) in Oakland

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The Paramount Theatre is a massive Art Deco movie theater located in downtown Oakland, California, USA. When it was built in 1931, it was the largest multi-purpose theater on the West Coast, seating 3476 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 re-runs of classical 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. 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, of Miller and Pflueger. The Paramount opened at a cost of $3 million on December 16, 1931. 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. 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.

Its exterior, with its 110 ft high tile mosaic of enormous figures and a projecting Paramount sign which can be seen up and down the street, is impressive, but it is the interior that rises to unequaled heights. A 58 ft high grand lobby, with side walls made of alternating vertical bands of warm green artificial light panels and muted red piers, and with both ends and ceiling decorated with an almost luminescent grillwork, forms a regal introduction. Rare and costly materials are everywhere: hand-adzed quartered oak, Hungarian ash crotch, bird's-eye maple, Balinese rosewood, Malaysian teak, and Italian marble. The auditorium is unmatched for its refulgent splendor, with gilded galaxies of whorls and gold walls with sculpted motifs from the Bible and mythology. Outside and in, the Paramount radiates the dream-world escapism with which sought to beguile its customers. 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, 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. 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 its doors, unable to meet operating expenses of more than $27,000 per week. Competing with Paramount was the Fox Oakland Theatre, 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 Theater 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. 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. 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, in need of a new home, purchased the Paramount for $1 million, half of which was donated by the seller, National General Theatres—formerly the Fox Theaters-West Coast -- with the other half coming from generous 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 in its original 1931 splendor.

Two years later, the Oakland Symphony Orchestra went bankrupt and gave the Paramount to the City of Oakland for $1, with the stipulation of guaranteed bookings for the next forty years. 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. Public tours of the Paramount Theatre are given on the first and third Saturdays of each month, excluding holidays and holiday weekends. Documented in 1972 by the Historic American Buildings Survey, the theater was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on August 14, 1973, became a California Registered Historical Landmark in 1976 and a U.S. National Historical Landmark in 1977.

Photo Gallery

Main events

Symphony & Ballet

Oakland East Bay Symphony (OEBS) was founded in July 1988, when musicians from the former Oakland Symphony and the Oakland Symphony League joined together 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. With its May 18, 2007, performance of George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" was sold out, the Oakland East Bay Symphony opened its final rehearsal to the public.

December 2007, the Oakland Ballet celebrated the 35th Anniversary of Ronn Guidi’s famous "Nutcracker" at the Paramount Theatre, with Maestro Michael Morgan conducting the music of Tchaikovsky.

Notable concerts

Concerts at the Paramount — which are responsible for the bulk of the theater's revenue — tend to serve an older clientele. For every young act, such as Nelly Furtado, there are many older acts, such as Bob Marley & The Wailers, Diana Ross, Bonnie Raitt, Al Green, Jeff Beck, Lionel Richie, B. B. King, Anita Baker, Brian Wilson, Googoosh, Gladys Knight, or Lucinda Williams. Since 2005, Another Planet Entertainment has booked five concerts on average per year. Those shows tend to be among the Paramount's more lucrative events. Other past performer included Britney Spears, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Mary J. Blige, James Brown, Alicia Keys, Enrique Iglesias, just to name a few.


  • Boz Scaggs "Slow Dancer", March 4


  • Bob Marley & The Wailers, July 8
  • Patti LaBelle with Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, Sept. 9
  • Nancy Wilson, Les McCann, Hubert Laws, Esther Phillips, Stanley Turrentine, "Jelly Roll Jazz Festival", Oct. 3
  • Boz Scaggs "A Night to Remember", Dec. 29


  • Grover Washington, Jr., George Benson, Jan. 16
  • Vladimir Horowitz, Feb. 15
  • Bob Marley and the Wailers, May 29 and 30
  • Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Oct. 2


  • Peter Allen, Dec. 15
  • Al Jarreau with The Crusaders, Dec. 31


  • Oingo Boingo Band, Oct. 31
  • Ronnie Laws, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, Feb 9


  • Ashford & Simpson, Dec. 6


  • Jackson Browne Band, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Nov. 2&3


  • Natalie Cole (Unforgettable Tour)
  • Daryl Hall & John Oates
  • Jean-Luc Ponty


  • Morris Day, Jerome Benton, Edwin Hawkins, David Whitfield
  • En Vogue
  • David Sanborn Band with comedian Jeff Cesario


  • The Canton Spirituals with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Fairfield Four
  • Lyle Lovett
  • Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Illinois Jacquet Big Band, J.J. Johnson Quintet, The "Jazz at the Philharmonic" All-Star Jam with Tommy Flanagan, Benny Carter, Roy Haynes and Al McKibbon


  • Anita Baker
  • Harry Belafonte
  • Jackson Browne
  • "California Blues - Swingtime Tribute" with Johnny Otis, Charles Brown, Jay McShann, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jimmy McCracklin, Lowell Fulson and Earl Brown
  • Fourplay
  • Kirk Franklin and Family
  • Mississippi Mass Choir with Dorothy Norwood, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Choir of Oakland
  • Rachelle Ferrell with Will Downing, Gerald Albright, Jonathan Butler
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Stevie Wonder


  • Tori Amos
  • k.d. lang
  • Tom Waits


  • Ashford & Simpson with Maya Angelou
  • Charles Brown with Ruth Brown, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt
  • Sarah McLachlan with Madeleine Peyroux
  • Maxwell
  • Nicholas Brothers, Count Basie Orchestra, Donald O'Connor, Williams Brothers
  • "Porgy and Bess" concert Joe Henderson sextet with Tommy Flanagan, Dave Holland, Al Foster, Conrad Herwig and Stephan Harris


  • Amy Grant
  • Lyle Lovett
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Lionel Richie


  • Jeff Beck
  • James Brown
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Rubén González with Ibrahim Ferrer
  • Lauryn Hill
  • B. B. King
  • Maxwell (musician)
  • Britney Spears, July 29
  • Tom Waits
  • Neil Young March 20


  • Mary J. Blige
  • James Brown with Tower Of Power
  • D'Angelo
  • Will Downing, Gerald Albright, Chante Moore and Phil Perry
  • Rickie Lee Jones, with Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks
  • Maze with Frankie Beverly
  • Paul Simon


  • Erykah Badu
  • Björk
  • James Brown with Tower Of Power
  • Isaac Hayes and the Oakland East Bay Symphony: Musical tribute to Gordon Parks
  • Alicia Keys
  • Maxwell (musician)
  • Tori Amos


  • Jeff Beck
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Ani DiFranco, Bruce "U. Utah" Phillips, Toshi Reagon
  • Enrique Iglesias
  • Alicia Keys with Glenn Lewis
  • Pat Metheny Group
  • Teddy Pendergrass
  • Prince "One Nite Alone With Prince", U.S. Spring tour
  • Bonnie Raitt


  • Erykah Badu
  • Anita Baker
  • James Brown
  • Earth Wind & Fire
  • Al Green
  • Brian McKnight with Mýa
  • Sigur Rós


  • Natalie Cole
  • Will Downing, with Kem, Kenny Lattimore
  • Josh Groban
  • Enrique Iglesias
  • Taj Mahal
  • Sarah McLachlan
  • The Temptations and the Four Tops
  • Wilco Band


  • Elvis Costello
  • Dead Can Dance
  • Bob Dylan
  • Tom Jones, with Tower of Power
  • Journey
  • Alicia Keys
  • Gerald Levert, Eddie Levert
  • Ricky Martin
  • Brian McKnight
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Jill Scott
  • The Whispers & Howard Hewett


  • James Blunt
  • Toni Braxton
  • Elvis Costello
  • Donald Fagen
  • David Gilmour
  • Al Green with Booker T. Jones
  • R. Kelly
  • B. B. King special guest, Mavis Staples
  • Gladys Knight
  • Madeleine Peyroux with Vienna Teng
  • Robert Plant
  • Tool


  • Pepe Aguilar & His 20-Piece Mariachi Orchestra
  • Tori Amos
  • Benise
  • The Black Crowes
  • Crowded House
  • Earth Wind & Fire
  • Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds
  • Nelly Furtado
  • Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
  • Iron & Wine
  • Dave Koz with Jonathan Butler, Wayman Tisdale and Kimberley Locke
  • Lauryn Hill
  • Diana Ross -- U.S. "I Love You" tour, Produced by Live Nation, Nov. 4
  • Twelve Girls Band
  • Tyrese, with Ginuwine
  • Lucinda Williams
  • Brian Wilson


  • Erykah Badu with The Roots
  • Bowfire
  • Jill Scott
  • 70s Soul Jam with The Stylistics, Bloodstone, Delfonics, The Chi-Lites and Main Ingredient featuring Cuba Gooding, Sr.
  • Donna Summers
  • Keith Sweat, Bell Biv Devoe, Tony! Toni! Toné!
  • The Temptations & The Four Tops
  • The Whispers, Stephanie Mills
  • Dream Theater
  • Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester

Stand-up comedy

  • 1974 George Carlin
  • 1975 Richard Pryor
  • 1975 Lily Tomlin
  • 1997 Bernie Mac
  • 2000, 2001 Jamie Foxx
  • 2004, 2007 George Lopez
  • 2005 Bill Cosby
  • 2006 Lewis Black
  • 2007 Mike Epps
  • 2008 Cedric the Entertainer
  • 2008 Katt Williams
  • Chris Rock (1997, 1999, 2003, 2008)
The 3 sold out performances by Chris Rock in 2003, included a total attendance of 8,883 and a total gross of $448,000.
  • Jerry Seinfeld (1996, 2001, 2004)
In 2004, the 4 sold-out performances of Jerry Seinfeld sale gross of $819,390, 12,001 patrons, is a record since the renovation/re-opening of the Paramount Theatre back in 1973.

Notable events

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.

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

1999 - Actress Halle Berry was at the Paramount for the premiere of Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, an HBO docudrama.

2007 - As former Congressman Ron Dellums was sworn in Monday, January 8, 2007 as Oakland's 48th mayor in a public ceremony at the historic Paramount Theatre. A crowd of 1,900 people gathered for the ceremony.


External links

See also

  • Alameda Theatre (Alameda, California)
  • Fox Oakland Theatre
  • Grand Lake Theater