The Paramount Theater

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It was 1929, and Toledo was (still) riding high on its postwar boom. Its population would jump from 168,497 in 1910 to 290,718 by 1930. Its factories were booming. Downtown was the center of the city’s business, financial, civic and cultural life. So naturally it was time to build the biggest, best-looking theater Toledo ever had: the Paramount.

(The shabbiest was The Esquire – bonus photo of The Esquire at the end – on Superior, between Jefferson and Madison, where the buses used to line up. It survived for much longer than it should have.)

From the Toledo News-Bee, Feb. 16, 1929.

The Paramount, built for the studio’s Publix exhibition chain, was on the northeast corner of Adams and Huron streets, right across the street from LaSalle’s. It was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp, which designed over 400 theaters – many of which survive, such as the Paramount in Denver (which opened in 1930). Like many others, Toledo’s Paramount handled both movies and live stage shows (vaudeville being not quite dead yet).

An ad in The News-Bee the day before stoked the excitement.

Whatever you’re doing tomorrow, put it off! Make a date for the time of your life! Follow the crowds to the new Toledo Paramount Theater. All Toledo will be there.

Great motion pictures, the cream of America’s foremost producers, Paramount singing and talking pictures, for example. Dazzling Publix Stage Shows, exactly as presented at the Paramount Theater in New York, devised by master song and dance craftsmen; packed with scintilating talent. Three great musical personalities: Paul Spor, Prince of Pep, and his red-hot stage band; Wilye Stahl and the symphonic orchestra; Dwight Brown, the Organ Ace.

But that’s not all! Wait until you see the theater! You’ll talk about nothing else for weeks – beautiful, luxurious, intimate, friendly – but what use are words? See for yourself as soon as possible. Go tomorrow!

The News-Bee reported that Toledo did, indeed, show up:

Having been informed thru the press and other sources of the magnificence of the new $3,000,000 Toledo Paramount theater and the excellence of the programs to be presented therein, a goodly share of the population of the city – or so it appeared – set out Saturday and Sunday to get some first-hand information. As a result, there are several thousand Toledoans who will testify enthusiastically that when Publix officials take up the task of establishing a new amusement center, they give little thought either to the expense of building the theater or in booking programs for it. At noon Saturday, a long line of prospective patrons had lined up, waiting for the doors to open. And until the last show, the house played to capacity.

Sunday, a similar situation existed. All passed out with praise for the marvelous interior of the theater and the diverse and swiftly-moving program presented.

Redskin, a talkie partially filmed in Technicolor, was the opening movie.

The marquee of the Paramount in 1931. Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.
The Paramount in 1935 (approximately), since Bordertown is playing. Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.
The marquee of the Paramount in 1959. (Adams Street had been converted into a pedestrian mall.) Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.
A 1948 view of the Paramount. This is Huron Street, looking south between Adams Street and Madison Avenue in Downtown Toledo. Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.
A view of the interior of the Paramount. Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.

There are many more photos of the interior, and the hand-painted oil on canvas murals painted by Louis Grell, at the Louis Grell Foundation website. It’s worth a long look.

The story of “what happened” is an old one. The city spread out. Retail fled downtown and it fell into decline, taking the theaters with it. Showcase Cinemas on Secor Road opened in 1964. Theaters downtown closed en masse in the 1960s. Only the Valentine survives today.

According to cinematreasures.org, the Paramount closed as a regular movie theater on November 5, 1960 and was converted into a Cinerama theater. It closed on November 3, 1963 with How the West Was Won.

Demolition started in September, 1965, when I was two, so I never saw it but wish I had (unlike the Earle Hotel, for example). I had never heard of the Paramount until I started doing this site. Then I came across this 2015 article in which The Blade let a surprise (to me, anyway) slip about the Paramount in an article, Poor decisions accelerated decline of Toledo’s once-bustling downtown. The story quotes former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andrew Douglas, a councilman from 1961-80, who recalled that it was Paul Block Jr., co-publisher of The Blade at the time, who played a role in the events that led to the Paramount’s demolition, since he wanted the land for parking (and how many people work at The Blade now, I said, without a hint of irony).

Think what a valuable asset to downtown The Paramount would be today.

Former city councilman Peter Ujvagi: “It was one of the most beautiful buildings … and the wrecking ball was knocking it to pieces,” he told The Blade. “The Valentine is very important but it doesn’t hold a candle to what the Paramount was.”

The Paramount’s Wurlitzer organ survives, however: it is at the Berkeley Community Theatre in Berkeley, California.

The Paramount Theater is demolished in September, 1965. Photos courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.
From the Herral Long (a Blade photographer for many years) Collection, a September, 1965 interior view of the Paramount Theater in Downtown Toledo as it was being demolished. Entitled End of An Era, this is one of Mr. Long’s most famous photographs. It was included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fifth annual international exhibition. Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/.

It will surprise no one that the site of the Paramount is a parking lot today, which was what Mr. Block wanted.

Ewww, The Esquire, circa 1968. How did you get in here? Photo courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org

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