The Paramount Theatre is a 2,807-seat performing arts venue located at 9th Avenue and Pine Street in Seattle, Washington. The theater originally opened March 1, 1928 as the Seattle Theatre with 3,000 seats, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 9, 1974. It is also an official City of Seattle landmark. It is owned and operated by the Seattle Theatre Group, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit performing arts organization, which also runs the 1,419-seat Moore Theatre in Belltown and the Neptune Theatre in the University District. The Paramount was built expressly for showing film and secondarily, vaudeville. As of 2009, the Paramount is operated as a performing arts venue, serving a diverse patron base that attends Broadway theatre, concerts, dance, comedy, family engagements, silent film and jazz. It is considered to be one of the busiest theatres in the region.
During the roaring twenties, particularly before the first “talkies” were invented in 1927, vaudeville and silent movies were the dominant form of national and local entertainment. Seattle alone had more than 50 movie palaces, the finest grouped together on 2nd Avenue. To achieve the broadest possible distribution of its films, Hollywood-based Paramount Pictures constructed a grand movie palace in practically every major city in the country, many erected between 1926 and 1928. In late 1926 or early 1927, Paramount Pictures decided to build in Seattle.
Led by its president, Hungarian-born movie magnate Adolph Zukor, Paramount Pictures invested the nearly $3 million required for construction. It hired Cornelius W. and George L. Rapp, brothers who owned a Chicago-based architectural firm that built theatres around the country, to design the theatre building. Scottish-born Seattle resident Benjamin Marcus “Uncle Benny” Priteca, America’s most celebrated architect of movie palaces in the 1920s, designed the building’s adjacent apartments and office suites.
The Rapp brothers began with a substantial handicap: the land for the new theatre was situated on 9th Avenue, blocks from the center of Seattle’s theatre district, and the land was no more than a ravine with a creek flowing to nearby Lake Union. After filling in the land, Paramount Pictures compensated for its new theatre’s remote location by building the largest, most spectacular, most opulent movie palace Seattle had ever seen. On March 1, 1928, the Seattle Theatre opened. The Seattle Times heralded the occasion with enthusiasm:
Never has such a magnificent cathedral of entertainment been given over to the public. Indescribable beauty! Incomparable art! The stage productions will be of the most lavish design, brilliant in their lighting effects and gorgeous in their settings.
ALL SEATTLE WILL BE THERE! Show divine at 9th and Pine ... an acre of seats in a palace of splendor. It’s yours ... you’ll love it ... Everybody’s welcome, everybody’s wanted ... Every Washingtonian will be proud of its stately magnificence, its gorgeous decorations, its spacious foyers, its wide aisles, its commodious seats, its symphony of lights. See the Mammoth Show! In all the World no place like this!
Eager customers responded on opening night, lining up eight abreast outside The Seattle. After paying the 50 cent admission fee, they entered the grand lobby. There patrons encountered a lavish interior decorated in the Beaux Arts (also called French Renaissance) style of the palace in Versailles. They were awed by the four-tiered lobby, French baroque plaster moldings, gold-leaf encrusted wall medallions, rich paint colors, beaded chandeliers, and lacy ironwork. Their feet sank into hand-loomed French carpeting as they walked past walls adorned with delicate tapestries and original paintings in gilded frames. Heavy, expensive draperies fell at the windows, and hand-carved furniture upholstered in the finest fabrics lined the first-floor lobby.
Before entering the auditorium, customers were entertained by the rare gold and ivory Knabe Ampico grand player piano in the lounge area just above the foyer.
Patrons were escorted to their places in the nearly 4,000 seat auditorium by what the program booklet praised as an “alert, tactful, well trained” corps of ushers who provided “courteous, unostentatious service.” The program promised “no fuss, no senseless genuflections, but . . . welcome, quiet, considerate and alert attention on the part of each of these ushers — in other words, a gracious host making you feel that his home is yours, suavely, expeditiously, sincerely and without affectation.”
The Paramount Theatre is the first venue in the United States to have a convertible floor system, which converts the theater to a ballroom.
The Paramount Theatre has an original installation Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ. The organ is a 4 manual/21 rank Publix 1 style organ and is one of only three remaining original organs of this style. Jim Riggs is the current house organist for the Paramount, accompanying the Trader Joe's Silent Movie Mondays series. The organ is presently maintained by a group of volunteers from the Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society.
It was renamed the Paramount in the 1930s.
As of 2009, the Paramount has a new sign out front. The 1940s Paramount sign originally used 1,970 incandescent bulbs, which were eventually replaced by 11-watt fluorescents. The new sign is a replica of the original iconic sign, but uses LED lights. The Paramount Theatre was also used to hold auditions for the sixth season of America's Got Talent.
Nirvana performed here on October 31, 1991. Several of the songs from this performance have been released on various Nirvana releases including the live compilation video Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!, the live album From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah and their rarities box set With the Lights Out. However the show in its entirety was finally released in 2011 on DVD and Blu-ray as Live at the Paramount.
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