Tag Archives: paramount theater

The Paramount Theatre ~ an Art Deco dream

paramount theatre oakland, art deco murals

The Paramount Theater was conceived around the same time as the Fox Oakland Theater, during the heyday of grand movie palaces. I wrote about this era in my post on the Fox, so I won’t repeat it all here. But I will say that the Paramount followed the Fox’s opening in 1928 by a couple of years, in which our country seemingly turned upside-down in the blink of an eye.

On Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929 the Great Stock Market Crash of Wall Street occurred, thrusting the previously ebullient nation into a decade-long economic downturn. There are various theories about the relationship of the Crash to the subsequent Great Depression, but one thing is certain… the amount of investment capital available for large expensive projects basically dried up. At that time, plans for the Paramount were already well underway… investors were in place, including the large studio company Paramount Publix (in those days, the individual studio film companies owned their own theaters to show their own films), and the renowned Art Deco architect they had hired, Timothy Pflueger, had completed his design plans.

Then “The Crash” occurred, literally wiping out $14 billion in one day. Stocks continued to slide in the following days, bringing losses for the week to over $30 billion (and keep in mind, these are 1930 dollars!) Ahhhh… those clever traders on Wall Street. What would we do without them?!

Fortunately, the investors behind the new theater were not heavily staked in Wall Street. They had the cash to complete the project and decided to move forward, gambling that they would never again have access to such cheap materials and labor. Talk about foresight. The Paramount Theatre was built in one year and five days for approximately $1 million. Amazing!

The theater’s grand opening was held on December 16, 1931 and, despite the depressed economy, thousands thronged to the opening, including Hollywood’s elite stars who travelled by train from Los Angeles.  Below is the opening night poster (left) and a representation of the scene on opening night from a local newspaper which reads “Another Oakland Milestone” (right).

paramount theatre posters, art deco poster

When the Paramount first opened, a night at the Theatre included more than just a movie… it was a full evening of vaudeville entertainment including dancing by the Sunkist Beauties (the West’s answer to New York City’s Rockettes), symphony performances, songs played on the theater’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ, and film shorts. Unfortunately, in subsequent months ticket sales were too low to keep the theater profitable, and just six months after it opened, the Paramount closed its doors.

It reopened the following year in 1933, but with a no-frills sensibility, devoid of the live entertainment (no dancers, no symphony), and without all of the decorative lighting that makes the space so incredibly beautiful (the electricity was too expensive). To give you an idea of what some of the decorative lighting actually looked like (now fully restored to its original appearance), just take a look at this lobby…

art deco lighting, art deco redwood forest, paramount oakland lobby

What does it look like to you? Perhaps a redwood forest? Because that’s exactly what Pflueger intended. The green light in the ceiling, reflected through an intricate pattern of metalwork (a form that he patented called “silver-fin” though it was made of steel) represents the leaf canopy; the panels of gold, left and right, with their signature Deco zig-zag motifs represent sunlight streaming through the trees; the terra-cotta colored columns are the tree trunks; and the focal piece of it all is the enormous “Fountain of Light,” made of etched glass in a similarly quintessential Deco arrangement.

Ok… there’s much more to tell, and many more photos, but that’s all I’ve got time for today. Please check back tomorrow…

Zoolights! & Willy Wonka

My girlfriend and I took her 6 year old to Zoolights the other night… I’d been reading lots about it and people really seem to love this holiday light display and show. It consistently gets ranked in local editors’ picks for holiday to-do’s and gets 4 stars on Yelp. As someone who’s never even been to the Oakland Zoo (and I hear it’s quite lovely for the small zoo that it is), I was pretty excited to see this show too. And for the most part, I’d say it didn’t disappoint… just check out these lights!

oakland zoo, zoolights entrance

oakland zoo, zoolights

oakland zoo, zoolights, tunnel of light

oakland zoo, zoolights giraffes

From an artistic standpoint, these animal representations are pretty darned impressive. And the kids love ’em! If you have young children, or the maturity of a kindergartner yourself, you should definitely check this out.

Though not free, it’s for a good cause as all proceeds go towards The Oakland Zoo, a non-profit organization that depends on your support. A regional treasure for over 80 years, the Oakland Zoo’s mission is to inspire respect for and stewardship of the natural world while providing a quality visitor experience. The Zoo is open daily 10:00am – 4:00pm. And the Zoolights holiday shows run evenings through January 4th…

5:30pm – 9:00pm (Monday – Thursday)
5:30pm – 9:30pm (Friday – Sunday)

*Note that Zoo animal residents will be nestled all snug in their beds, with visions of fresh fish and steak, dancing in their heads.

And just in case you were worried, you don’t have to feel guilty about indulging in the electric spectacle, because PG&E has collaborated with the Oakland Zoo to make the lighting display extremely energy efficient through the use of LEDs (which use about 1/10th of the electricity of regular xmas lights).

Shown below is the Holiday Light Show Safari that’s set up in the zoo’s meadow. It’s a light show sychronized to a musical/theatrical soundtrack, and if I were to be totally honest (which I am), I would have to say that this was somewhat disappointing, at least for grown-ups. The lights were great, but the medley soundtrack was an awful disjointed mismash of stuff that might appeal to the sensibilities of a 2 year old, but frankly, was just plain bad. It could have been way cooler. Sorry.

Pretty blue tree.

You still with me? I hope so, ’cause we’re just getting to the really cool stuff. Below is the entrance to Candyland, which is where the carnival rides are: merry-go-round-where-you-can-ride-a-tiger, airplane spinny rides, little racecars, and of course, the launching point for the mini-steam train, the Snowball Express.

This is the view of the bay from our train ride… and yes, you have to pay extra for this. But aren’t you used to the whoosh of cash flowing through your hands these days? And remember, it’s for a good cause. This, truly, was my favorite part of the night. Do ride the train, but do dress warm!

oakland zoo train, view from train ride

The ultimate experience was travelling through the tunnel of light… it totally reminded me of that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory…the psychedelic boat trip…

“there’s no earthly way of knowing
which direction we are going
there’s no knowing where we’re rowing
or which way the river’s flowing…”

Watch it here. It’s AWESOME.

tunnel of light, oakland zoolights train

Which reminds me: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, this Friday night 8pm (doors at 7), at the aptly named Paramount Theatre in Oakland. Part of their wonderful classic movie series… pay five bucks to see a great work of art, in a great work of art, with pre-film entertainment to boot. This is one of the best deals in town. I love the Paramount. More on it during Art Deco Days…

First Friday Frolic! ~ ART MURMUR

Ok… so I’m going to try something a little different for my post today. Instead of just focusing on one piece of art, we’re going to revisit all of the fun & fantastic happenings I experienced on my “first friday” last night… I’ll do this once a month and call it “First Friday Frolic!”

For starters, my girlfriend and I met at Flora for a drink. Flora is located in a gorgeous art deco building with stunning tile & faux-metal work, just across the street from the equally impressive Fox Theater (more on this in future posts…) Flora is, hands down, one of the (if not the) best restaurants in Oakland, and boy can they make cocktails! I had something called a Salt and Pepper which was a fantastic grapefruity concoction, rimmed with salt & pepper. YUM! My girlfriend had two cocktails (she is a lush) and was equally enthusiastic about both of hers. The bartenders are true artisans and it was educational and entertaining to watch as they shaked, stirred, strained, and dripped their delicious & beautiful elixers. We also had some small plate delectable snacks at the bar… and all I can say is, you simply must go.
I had to duck out of Flora 1/2 way through my drink to ply my parking meter with quarters. Oakland meters are now functional until 8pm! Yes, you read that right, 8pm folks. It’s a drag, but hey… we need the cash. Don’t forget to feed those meters… I saw several tickets on cars last night.

On my way I walked past a slew of murals hung around a development site… they seem to be projects from various Art & Soul Festivals from years past. Really great stuff…


I also made my way past the Great Western Power Company building which, I just learned, was converted into a rock climbing gym in early 2008. The building originates to the 1920’s and was a steam-powered generation plant into the 1930’s until it was bought out and decommissioned by rival PG&E.  Touchstone Climbing did a lovely job renovating the building, which adds to the growing list of historic revival buildings downtown.  The painted figures on the old smokestack are a relatively new addition… very cool! Didn’t I tell you Oakland was cool?

Next it was on to the murmur… Art Murmur that is. Art Murmur as most folks know by now, is Oakland’s answer to San Francisco’s First Thursdays. First Fridays are way cooler…

We made our first stop into Mercury 20… highlights for me were the watery underworld abstracts upstairs (can’t find artist’s name), Mary V. Marsh‘s ink drawings on remants of old library cards, pieces of newsprint, etc., and finally the quirky and comical workings of Julie Alvarado… how can you not love a T-Rex playing the accordian? The music was quite good too… lovely stringed duo playing live.
After that, we strolled on up to the clusterf&*! around Johansson Projects and Rock, Paper, Scissors. This is hipster central, where the real party is, though I’m not sure that’s the real draw of Art Murmur for me. There are a lot of talented artist’s in Oakland and I want to see what they’re doing. Of course, it’s fun to have cocktails at Flora first!

The alley between the two was full of artists plying their wares… some pretty cool stuff. But I have to say it was kind of hard to see stuff (or maybe I’m just old)… I think they need to string the alley with lights like on Belden Lane in San Francisco… give it that Euro-feel. It would be pretty!

I loved the work of artist Terri Saul. She had a little table of funky and beautiful paintings for really reasonable prices. If I hadn’t spent all my cash at Flora, I would have bought something. I will find her again…

We blasted through Mama Buzz and then passed this adorable little Art Cart on our way back to the car. They do art on the spot and have all kinds of supplies and little tables and chairs… it’s so cute! I feel a little guilty telling you that we did not stop and spontaneously make art. We should have. But we are old and we were tired.


Oh.. I almost forgot to mention Luka’s. Luka’s is a staple. One of the first to brave the neighborhood which really didn’t exist a few years ago… there was just the Paramount and that was it. In fact, I remember the old Hofbrau that Luka’s is now housed in. Their food was terrible. I didn’t like it when my mom made corned beef, and I can’t say I like it when anyone else does either. But you went to the Hofbrau for the large cheap beers before shows at the Paramount. Now we are blessed to be able to get better beers, and much better food. Thank you Luka’s!