Guest article by Lindsey Moringy
A walk through the basement of the Paramount Theatre is like a walk through time: its history is literally written on the walls. Over the years, many of the estimated 10,000 visiting artists have left their mark on the famed theatre by signing the walls downstairs, just outside the dressing rooms. Passing through the hallway you’ll notice that performers from BB King to Joan Rivers have left their ‘John Hancocks’ – many with a personalized message or illustration. Admittedly, I laughed aloud upon reading what Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman chose to leave: “Freedom. Meat.”
For a stage that has hosted everyone from The Marx Brothers to President Obama, it’s no surprise Austin will be celebrating the Paramount’s centennial anniversary in a big way. If you live in Austin, you’ve driven past the maroon beauty on Congress Avenue and marveled at its preserved architecture, or read the famous names illuminated on its marquee. Many in Austin have had the unique experience of attending a Paramount event, whether during SXSW, Austin Film Festival, the annual Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival or one of hundreds of other events hosted each year.
The Paramount Theatre held a centennial kick-off celebration in January to announce some of the anniversary year’s programming. Planned events will pay homage to the theatre’s storied history, beginning with an announcement by Harry Houdini himself – a performer who hasn’t visited the theatre since 1916 (unless you believe the ghost stories).
History of The Paramount in Austin
The Paramount Theatre opened as the Majestic Theatre in 1915, at its current location on Congress Avenue. Originally showcasing vaudeville acts, the theatre transitioned to showing mostly films after the motion picture boom of the 1920s.
The theatre hit a slump during the 1960s, but was rescued from possible demolition by a team of Austinites who began programming more successful events, such as the still-running Summer Classic Film Series. In 2000, the Paramount and the State Theater next door joined forces to become the Austin Theatre Alliance, focusing on building Austin’s local arts community.
Anniversary Events Free and Open to the Public
Since then, the theatre has flourished, showcasing a healthy mix of live music, comedy, movies and stage performances every year. The Paramount hosts over 250 events annually and is showing no signs of slowing down.
In honor of its 100th year, the theatre will hold four events that will be free and open to the public. Three have already been announced (see below), with the fourth under wraps for the time being.
- April 1, 2015 – The Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera” 80th Anniversary Celebration
- May 20, 2015 – The 75th Anniversary Screening of The Philadelphia Story
- Date TBD – An Evening and Screening with Robert Rodriguez
100th Anniversary Gala
In addition to the above free events, Paramount’s Anniversary Gala will take place on May 9, 2015, featuring music from host Lyle Lovett, Patty Griffin and friends. Lovett is no stranger to the Paramount, having performed on its stage numerous times.
Attendees will enjoy a catered dinner, open bar, silent auction and unforgettable performances under a giant air conditioned tent on Congress Avenue. All proceeds from the gala benefit the preservation of the theatre, as well as its Education and Outreach programs.
Tickets can be purchased online.
Relighting the Original Paramount Blade Sign
Perhaps one of the most exciting events during this anniversary year will take place in late September. The theatre will illuminate an historically accurate blade, similar to the one installed when Paramount Pictures bought the venue in the 1930s. In a way, this moment will bring the celebration full circle. The installment will be yet another indication of the priority the Paramount’s caretakers place on its preservation.
For a city that prides itself on live entertainment, few other venues compare to the legendary status of the Paramount Theatre, operating for 100 years without interruption. An iconic and important mainstay on Congress Avenue, the locally supported theatre will surely be entertaining audiences for 100 more years to come.
For more information on the Paramount Theatre’s centennial celebrations, visit its official website.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is the most memorable event you’ve attended at the Paramount in the past 100 years?
Lindsey is a native Austinite who loves all things local. In her spare time she enjoys running around Town Lake, eating Tex-Mex, and writing bios about herself.