The Paramount Theater

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

6 Comments

  1. KP OBrien

    I knew Ken Shaw (of Ken Shaw’s Westgate Dinner Theater, among so many other ventures and productions in/around Toledo) from growing up near his family in Old Orchard in the 70s and 80s, and continuing into the 90s and early 2000s after I moved to Chicago at a time while he was managing the Civic Opera House there. In his home he had a framed, autographed print of that stunning Herral Long photograph hung above the actual bust that appears in the lower right corner of the picture itself (the bust was set on a pedestal). It was such a beautiful and poignant way to present the art and that relic of the theater.

  2. Dorothy Fitzpayrick

    I was very fortunate as a child to attend movies at the Paramount. My late brother would take me there often. As a teenager I saw Gond With the Wind. I had moved but was fortunate once again to see “Gunfire at the Oakland Cotral” in lstec60d. My mother would take me there every Good Friday to see a silent movie on Life of Christ which was free to public between noon to 3 o’clock. Photos cannot capture the magnificence of the Paramount. I remember all the balconies. I wish I knew the title of silent movie that was shown free on Good Fridays. Last time I saw it was 1960.

    • Mark Herold

      I too attended movies there as a kid. It was a stunningly beautiful place with box seat balcony type of areas perched on the side of the walls. I was alive when there was a small theater district downtown. I remember the Paramount, the Rivoli, the Palace and probably another or two. The Paramount was by far the most beautiful, the Rivoli specialized in Disney and kids movies, I can’t remember for sure but I think the Palace had more mainstream movies for more mature audiences, (like parents). I remember urban renewal meant to do something positive I guess but it destroyed the theater area and was a big mistake in my opinion. So much history and very wonderful buildings that probably should have been saved. If memory serves the Valentine was the least of these but somehow was the only one spared from the wrecking ball. We used to go to the movies with our parents but more often I remember going downtown on the bus as kids with either older siblings or our friends. What a different time it must have been for parents to routinely allow their kids to ride the bus without parents during the daylight hours to see movies. I remember going downtown with the neighbor lady with her son and a group of us for his birthday party. We saw a double feature with a Roy Rogers movie then a Ma and Pa Kettles film. It was some kind of a special day at the theater because they had a special program part way through where they invited a few lucky kids on stage to play games on stage where they tried to win prizes. Somehow my name got selected and I got selected to try some contest where I got to throw or shoot a gun that shot ping pong balls at a target. I wanted to win a more elaborate thing that shot ping pong balls but I didn’t score well enough and got some consolation prize. I think it might have been one of those paddles with the rubber ball connected by a rubber band or something. I was disappointed but it made a fond memory. I also remember going downtown with my dad and a few of my friends for my 5th birthday. We went to see Bambi and I remember crying my eyes out when Bambi’s mother got killed. However, we ended up seeing it over at least one more time and I was able to keep it together the 2nd time. We moved away in the winter of 1962 when I was 9 years old but I remember seeing lots of movies downtown before that. Truly a golden time for downtown Toledo. We moved back to Toledo 3 years later and things had already changed a lot and continued to do so. One other thing I remember is going to “Woolworths” I believe it was or some other like styled store and would buy candy and other things before or after the movies. There was a restaurant I remember that was downtown that had a display window where you could see live lobsters in a tank when you went by. I’m pretty sure I never was inside but it was another popular sight for us kids. My grandma used to work at the Lion Store which had these gold painted pair of lions out front. As they say, those were the days. I believe there was also a Lamson or LaSalles store downtown too. My parents also took us downtown to buy our clothes, coats, and shoes. I’m pretty sure they bought our Christmas presents down there too. I think that was before you could find much in the way of department stores anywhere else in the area until Parkway Plaza sprung up for people in the south end. I remember it was quite the big to do at the time. It had a Lamson or a LaSalles store as an anchor store at the time. I just know it wasn’t a Lion Store but it was one of the other “L” stores. The 1st time we went there we ran into my Aunt Lucille at the main store at Parkway. It was a major event at the time. We were a multi-generation south end family so everyone was going there after it opened but we still shopped downtown until we moved away.

  3. Anna

    Wish I could have seen this one. I have worked in the Detroit theaters and the first time I entered they took my breath away. I remember picking up items at the Channel 30 Buy In (remember that!??) and seeing the Valentine in such disrepair. The murals on the staircase walls. I am so glad we saved it. Block can be blamed for a whole
    lot of bad decisions in this town. They are either nuts or evil or both.

    • Anna M Carpenter

      You got that right. The latest generation seems to be a drunk who terrorizes his only child. I remember walking into the Valentine to pick up something I bought at the Channel 30 Buy In and stopping dead in my tracks just staring at the beauty. Years later I worked for a production company and we did a concert at the Fillmore in Detroit.
      I couldn’t believe the beauty of that building and wished I could go back in time when people dressed with class
      and attended in black tie. From what I have seen the Fox is 10 times more glorious. It is a shame Toledo has slid into such a place as it is today. Eventually we will be as bad as Detroit. The Blocks and voting democrat will destroy it all.

  4. Charlotte R. Wal

    I also remember the Paramount Theater. Saw “South Pacific” there and numerous other films, plus many stage shows. As a child in the late 1940s, my girl friend’s mother took a group of us friends to a stage show there for her birthday. I don’t remember the name of it but we enjoyed it. The photo of Huron St. which showed LaSalle’s and the pedestrian mall brought back many memories. I remember the Maling Shoe store well. There were lots of shoe stores along Huron & Madison. We shopped every Saturday downtown for clothes etc. This was in the l950s — the good old days!!!! I miss them alot!!!

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