Building Description Paramount Theatre Baton Rouge Louisiana

A special section of the State Advocate Times dated September 2, 1920, pp. 7-8, 12-13, on the Columbia Theatre provides a good description of the theater. Excerpts are given below:

Detailed Description of Handsome Structure Now Nearing Completion. Most Complete Temple for Silent Drama to Be Found in the Southern States. Distinct Credit to Capital City.

The new Columbia was constructed along original lines by the gifted architect, W.E. Stephens, of the firm of Prather and Stephens, who has supervised every step of the construction work, as well as preparing the plans and specifications for that which has proven to be the most thoroughly equipped and scientifically built motion picture play house in the South.

In preparing the plans for the new Columbia, Manager Higginbotham always held first in mind the essential feature of Safety....The plans and specifications for the structure were submitted for critical comment to one of the most eminent structural engineers in the United States, Ole K. Olsen, of New Orleans, who, after careful study and analysis, pronounced the safety of the structure far in excess of the standard engineering practices adopted by the Engineers of this country.

The Columbia Theatre is a thoroughly fireproof building. In addition, it is equipped with twelve fire or panic exits. It is also an important fact that all the main exits are in axial alignment with the aisles.

The Columbia is the first theatre in the country to have floor lights for use in the aisles. These lights were especially made for the Columbia theatre and are an innovative and a strictly original idea of Mr. Stephens.

The Columbia is equipped with three six feet typhoon twin-fans, which can be operated as blowers or exhaust, which enables the management to change every cubic inch of air in the entire house every 35 minutes, equal to changing 238,000 cubic feet of air at the rate of 6,800 cubic feet per minute.

In addition to the fans, additional exhaust registers are placed in the rear of the balcony. The vent shafts are equipped with aspirating coils for use during the winter.

The bull ding is equipped with overhead "Honeywell" hot-water system affording automatic temperature control.

The lighting equipment is one of the most flexible known enabling the brilliant illumination of the house at a flash. There is a special arrangement of automatic dimmer-bank controls, the second of its kind in the United States.

The design of the building is appropriate to its purpose, the motif being a Doric Temple. The group of figures in the tympanum being the three Graces at play, with the interpretation of the drama on one side and comedy on the other representing the sorrow and joy of life. The tympanum is floodlighted by a special arrangement.

The entire front of the building is made of cast-stone. The lobby dome represents an inverted shell cone ent rating indirect lighting, thereby flooding the street in front with light. The dome and columns are finished in caen stone. The ticket offfice is made of scaggiola (note - printer's error - should be scagliola) in conformity with the design, being the reproduction of an old Doric entrance, as engraved on a drinking cup found in the ruins of Pompeii. The wainscoting and floor of the lobby are covered with mottled tapestry tile of ancient design.

Along the wall boxes we find in halfrelief representation of the Naeriades completing the theme of the proscenium painting, which is an interpretation of the awakening of Spring in Calydon. The decorating is in a variety of creams, which are most restful and pleasing to the eye.

The sounding board over the proscenium arch is equipped with ornamental lattice construction opening to the expression chambers of the great Robert Morton organ.

While the house is principally a motion picture house, it has full stage equipment with foot and border lights of the latest design, permitting of the staging of vaudeville. The stage floor is fireproof, as is the balance of the house and the dressing rooms behind the stage.

The entire orchestra floor is without a post, doing away with the old time methods of obstructing vision. The seating capacity of this floor is over 600.

The mezzanine floor is extended on both sides of the wall with spacious wall boxes, providing approximately 200 box seats. The mezzanine floor can be approached by four distinct sets of fireproof stairways. The boxes are furnished with large individual upholstered wicker chairs.

The maximum seating capacity of the balcony is 200, bringing the total seating capacity of the house to the 1,100 mark.

One of the most sanitary and novel conveniences in the building are the drinking fountains, which are located on each side of the foyer. These fountains have a water spout extending to the end of a lion's mouth. To cause a flow of water, it is necessary to press a pedal valve. This does away with the old-fashioned faucets manipulated by hand, and are absolutely sanitary for that reason.

Appreciating the anxiety of the picture lovers of Baton Rouge to once again wend their way to their old favorite place of amusement, the Columbia, Mr. Higginbotham has never, at any time, permitted the item of cost to figure in the completion of the building in record time. Notwithstanding the great scarcity of building material and labor, or car shortage and a multitude of other drawbacks, in the brief space of say, seven months' time, the doors of the Columbia are now ready to be thrown open to the amusement loving public of Baton Rouge.

It is a noteworthy fact that every inch of building material used in the new Columbia theatre, whenever possible, was purchased from Baton Rouge dealers, thus showing the appreciation of the management for the splendid local support. Even the ornamental and plaster work were made here in Baton Rouge in the shops of Prather and Stephens.

In 1923, a brick fly-gallery was added to the rear of theater. The exits to the stage were fitted with automatic fire shutters and automatic grid iron ventilators. At the same time, automatic sprinklers were installed throughout the entire building. "From wall to wall the stage is 6 2 feet wide; it is 40 feet deep from the curtain to the back wall. The proscenium opening is 32 feet, six inches. The new stage has a grid iron height of 75 feet." (State Times Advocate, "New Stage of the Columbia Modern in All Aspects", April 5, 1923, p. 1.) The contractor was the Stewart McGehee Construction Company.

The construction and installation of the wedge-shaped marquee with the Paramount sign started in November, 1937. "The new marquee of the Paramount Theatre will be made of porcelain enamel with shadow-type letters - illuminated in colors of orange, black, blue and green."

The wide cinema scope screen was installed in 1953. For better viewing, three boxes were removed from either side of the proscenium, and the ceiling was cut out for projection. In 1965, the concessions stand was moved from the outer vestibule to where the rail at the back of the theater used to be.