Paramount Theater, Aurora Illinois
The Paramount Arts Centre is significant for its role in the history and evolution of the entertainment industry and in the architecture of the structures that surrounded the various entertainment forms. The theatres built in the early part of this century were constructed with live entertainment in mind, and the three dimensional ornamentation of those "atmospheric" houses added to the fantasy of the moment. When silent movies with theatre organs to accompany came along, a new dimension was added to the entertainment provided at the theatres, but still the vaudeville style reigned supreme. The growing movie industry realized at least in part the monumental impact that talking film would have and Paramount Pictures proceeded to build theatres suitable for this new medium. To this then new generation of movie palaces belongs the Paramount in Aurora. The theatre was streamlined in audience accommodations and in visual design compared to its predecessors, the dimensions and acoustics of the house were determined by then current film technology rather than traditional live theatre arts requirements. The opulence of European Opera houses was not the design theme in this new breed, it was only implied. The emphasis was on the reality of the photo images with music and voices on the big screen. Vaudeville was seen mostly on the weekends and did not carry star billing.
This theatre, with a construction cost of $1,000,000 in 1931, and the few others of the same breed were built over a very short time frame at the beginning of the depression which brought plans to build a multitude like them, to a screeching halt. The Paramount opened in September of 1931 to a celebration unlike anything Aurora had seen before as flowers and telegrams from Paramount film stars lined the orchestra pit rail.
The Paramount Arts Centre is a structural terra cotta, concrete and steel structure with exterior covering of face brick. The exterior brick walls along the riverside promenade and facing Galena Blvd. are detailed with darker brick lines arranged in large arches and, an ornamented terra-cotta coping at the top of the walls. The theatre auditorium seats 1885 people; (reduced in 1977 from 2125 seats due to an aisle re-arrangement for contemporary fire code conformity). The stage area contains dressing rooms, storage, orchestra pit and fly loft above the stage floor area; and, the lobby area has the public facilities, HVAC mechanical plumbing systems and stairs to the balcony lobby and seating.
The theatre's functional design was based on the requirements of the then new entertainment medium of "talking film", building, a large projection booth and minimal live performance accommodations.
The theatre was purchased in 1976 and renovation began in January of 1977. That project was completed in April of 1978 at a cost of $2.5 million. The auditorium walls were restored to their original visual brilliance, by accenting faded colors, redoing stencil patterns and restoring brass-framed, opaque glass, lighting fixtures at the top of the columns and on side and back walls. The original seats were rebuilt from existing metal frames. The lobbys with original movie poster cases, and stairs were left intact with new colors tied to the deep earth red, gold and silver pallet of the auditorium. Remakes of the original vertical sign and marquee complete with cascading light patterns, were installed at the street face of the theatre, on the octagonal shaped, five storey entrance tower. This tower, unlike the rest of the building exterior is resplendent with terra-cotta bas-relief ornamentation set in vertical panels surrounded by brick on each of the eight faces and topped with a slightly slanted mediterranean tile roof. A building with additional dressing rooms was added to the area south of the backstage; the stage floor was extended about 10 feet into the auditorium; and the orchestra pit enlarged, contemporary lighting, sound, and HVAC systems equipment was installed. The most visible changes are: the slot cut into the ceiling for additional theatrical lighting; the enlarged proscenium-curtain area to include the added thrust of the stage; and, new brick paving surface, pedestrian lighting and hand railing on the promenade along the easterly outside wall of the theatre.
In essence the auditorium is a stylized abstract in two planes, of an outdoor gilded, colonnaded performance space. The painted fabric murals imply vistas in the distance beyond, the painted plaster medallion and its central frosted-glass, petal chandelier are set in a deep blue sky accented with stylized silver rays extending from the center. The style of the columns, capital lighting, lobby columns, ceiling medallion and chandelier is drawn from art-deco designs.
From the opening in 1931 to 1976 the theatre went basically unchanged except for gradual deterioration due to lack of maintenance and attempts to "modernize" the lobbys and marquee. Due to the 1977 renovation work, the theatre is in excellent condition.