paramount theater exterior

Photo: lostpear/Instagram

The venue that is now the Paramount Theater at 9th Avenue and Pine Street in downtown Seattle began in 1928 as the Seattle Theater. The decadent space was originally built to showcase films and vaudeville performances. Today, the Paramount is an all-inclusive performing arts venue that hosts Broadway musicals, jazz, comedy and dance performances, and silent films and concerts.

paramount theater sign 1

Photo: John Henderson/Flickr

Designed by Chicago architecture firm Rapp & Rapp, the Paramount was inspired by a New York theater that had opened only a short time earlier. Benjamin Marcus Priteca, a nationally known movie palace architect based in Seattle, was brought in to help design the nine stories of the building above the theater.

paramount theater windows

Photo: Seattle Public Library

According to HistoryLink, the floors above the theater were originally intended for residential and commercial use. The designers envisioned sculptors, poets and dentists living and working there.

paramount theater details

Photo: Seattle Public Library

The theater’s Beaux Arts-style interior was designed to look like an Italian Palace of Versailles. The walls of the four-tiered lobby were built with ornate plaster moldings and spectacular $5,000 chandeliers that illuminate elaborate ironwork and wall medallions encrusted with gold leaf. These beautiful adornments still decorate the Paramount today.

paramount theater interior 1

Photo: Nathantain/Flickr

When it was first built, the theater had an official seating capacity of 3,054, but its designers wanted patrons to have space for intimate meetings. As a result, separate lobby areas with little alcoves break up the openness of the grand lobby and broad staircases.

paramount theater interior 3

Photo: lindseyc73/Instagram

During the Great Depression, people didn’t have money to go see shows at the Paramount, and the theater was only open intermittently between 1931 and 1932. Organist Gaylord B. Carter kept the theater alive during that time with his exciting compositions. Carter went on to compose music for the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland.

paramount theater organ

Photo: Nathantain/Flickr

From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Paramount mostly showed films and very rarely held live performances. But in the 1970s, the venue started hosting rock concerts and bringing in larger crowds. The crazy rock and rollers took a toll on the old historic movie theater — by 1981, Seattle fans of Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen and The Kinks had escalated the deterioration of the space.

paramount theater sign 2

Photo: Seattle Public Library

Even so, a huge number of acts continued to pass through. The Paramount was the first stop on Madonna’s “Virgin” tour in the 1980s. Comedians Lily Tomlin, George Carlin and Robin Williams came through, and other musical acts included Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, The Grateful Dead and The Beach Boys. The theater was even a backdrop for a “Star Trek” convention and a talk by Oprah Winfrey. But it wasn’t to last. 

paramount theater interior 2

Photo: Nathantain/Flickr

By the 1990s, the Paramount was in serious financial trouble, and the owners had to sell off some of the original furniture to make ends meet. Just when all seemed lost, former Microsoft executive Ida Cole swooped in to save the day. She bought the Paramount and hired architecture firm NBBJ to redesign the building. NBBJ refurbished the interior and installed an electric seating system that allows seating to be rearranged for different events.

paramount theater exterior 2

Photo: jacinetta/Instagram

Cole eventually transferred ownership of the Paramount to the Seattle Theater Group, paying off $6 million of the theater’s mortgage in the process. The Paramount continues to be a mainstay of Seattle’s arts and culture scene today.

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