The Paramount Theatre:
"Show Divine at 9th and Pine"

By Nena Peltin

Since 1928, Washington residents and visitors have been entertained at Seattle’s magnificent Paramount Theatre. Millions have delighted in The Theatre’s architectural majesty, viewed countless films, and enjoyed thousands of performers from all corners of the globe. Yet the story of The Theatre itself offers drama as compelling as any presented on its stage or screen.

Seattle’s Most Opulent Movie Palace

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 booklet also lauded The Theatre itself with unrestrained hyperbole:

From the Clay . . . Down through the ages it has come — man’s most divine heritage, the spirit of artistry. Ever inspiring, breaking the ties that bind, it has plotted the course of the centuries, marking the years with monuments of faith and beauty. Born in the heart of the earth, tempered by the travail of time—out from the clay of the beginning, it burst forth today in splendor and grandeur – a symbol of the world’s newest art – The Seattle Theatre.

No theatre in America excels The Seattle Theatre in soundness of construction, in beauty of design, in decorative loveliness and in spaciousness. It is rightly termed . . . the largest and most beautiful theatre west of Chicago. It is remarkable in the impressive grandeur of its colonnaded foyer and the artistic opulence of its four tiers of grand lobbies, one above the other.

The designers have created an atmosphere of intimacy, of luxurious comfort, of warmth in this imposing interior. It is a theatre in which you will feel at ease, welcome, at home.

The house lights dimmed, and the Seattle Grand Concert Orchestra began to play selections from Faust. Then customers watched Memories, a silent film the program touted as a “Technicolor novelty.”  They viewed a newsreel, then enjoyed listening to Renaldo Baggot and Don Moore, “Ron and Don, The Organ Duo,” perform “brilliant organ interludes” from the giant “thousand throated,” custom-built Wurlitzer, “an instrument of enchantment” that could simulate many orchestral instruments, “now reverberating in harmonious thunder, now whispering in gentle melody.” The Wurlitzer performance was followed by “A Merry Widow Review,” a nationally acclaimed stage show from The Paramount Theatre in New York City, accompanied by Jules Buffano and The Seattle Theatre Stage Band. The show featured “catchy songs, tantalizing melody, and snappy and graceful dance steps by a bevy of girls.”

Finally, the audience watched Feel My Pulse, a silent comedy about Prohibition rumrunners.  The movie featured the lovely and versatile Bebe Daniels, appearing opposite Richard Arlen and William Powell, and was accompanied by organ music.

The program booklet explained that the stage show was made possible by an elaborate backstage area, which was equipped with “electric elevators, ample windows, and telephones,” and the “last word” in lighting and “advanced stage inventions and appliances” to produce “startling and beautiful stage effects, almost without limitation.”  These effects could include clouds, stars, rainbows and snow.

The booklet also assured satisfied customers, who typically spent four hours at the theatre, that they could look forward each week to new entertainment in a similar format, including stage shows and movies. The first few motion pictures would feature Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, and Clara Bow.

The Seattle Theatre offered its first “talkie,” Varsity, in early December of 1928, and Seattle customers responded to the innovation with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the country. The movie industry produced almost no silent films after that time.

The Paramount Theatre Survives the Depression

On March 14, 1930, The Seattle Theatre changed its name to The Seattle Paramount Theatre, reflecting its connection to The Paramount Theatre chain. Vaudeville acts seen at The Seattle Paramount Theatre originated in New York and appeared at Paramount theatres in many other cities.

Performances at The Paramount followed the format of opening night, offering several shows and movies each day. However, as the Depression deepened, fewer patrons could afford theatre. Beset with financial woes, The Paramount temporarily closed in June 1931, and reopened on October 29, 1932.

Upon reopening, The Paramount hired Gaylord B. Carter as its chief organist. Carter’s performances brought him national acclaim, aided in large part by The Paramount’s outstanding organ. It was the biggest and most impressive orchestra-unit organ built in 1928, and included an entire grand piano and drum set built into the side panels of the auditorium, together with hundreds of pipes, bells, chimes, whistles, and horns. It cost over $100,000 to install (it would cost over $1 million today) – a good investment considering that it was used daily for years.

Washingtonians who could afford to attend performances at The Paramount in the 1930s reveled in the experience. One patron attended shows with her grandparents every New Year’s Eve, then went to a café on Capitol Hill for hot cocoa. (Food was not served in theatres until the 1940s.) The family dressed up for their annual outing, which she describes as a good cure for the bleakness of those days. “I have such warm and loving memories of The Theatre with my grandparents, who have been gone for a long time.”

Another customer tells of a Saturday in May 1935

I was eleven, residing at our farm in Bellingham. My sister, Evelyn, sixteen, was to graduate from high school in June. In celebration, my parents, my sister and I came to Seattle in our new 1935 Dodge to shop for her outfit. After a successful shopping spree at Frederick & Nelson and dinner at Ben Paris, a classy downtown Seattle restaurant with salt water tanks for fresh fish, we climaxed our celebration with a movie at The Paramount Theatre.

Sometime between 1935 and 1937, the Fox Evergreen Corporation purchased The Paramount and continued to present first-run, full-length films. Theatergoer Rosanne Nelson also recalls seeing serial stories that required her to return every Saturday morning for eight weeks. She paid only ten cents for admission, which entitled her to see full-length movies, cartoons, newsreels and vaudeville shows.

Live performances included singing groups, some with charming names: “1,000 Pounds of Harmony,” “The Three Musketeers,” “The 8 Sirens of Syncopation,” and “The High Hatters of Rhythm.”  Small musical bands, choruses, magicians, tumblers, jugglers, and comedians also appeared. More unusual acts involved Swedish bell ringers, illusionists “burning a woman alive,” horseshoe pitching, a lecture on the Gold Rush Days, one-legged bicyclists, a Three Little Pigs animal act, thirty trained cockatoos, “a big game archer explaining his picture,” radio personality mimics, singers famous from radio performances, ventriloquists, clairvoyants, a burlesque mind-reader and contortionists. Dancers performed “eccentric” pieces, tap, soft shoe, and “acrobatic waltzes.”  The Theatre presented children and adult roller skaters, “Girls in Cellophane” (from Atlanta), aerialists, whistling choruses, clowns and one-man circuses.

During one memorable week in April 1935, the Marx Brothers performed their stage version of “A Night at the Opera,” testing jokes on Seattle’s audiences for possible use in the movie, released later that year. Tickets for the Marx Brothers show, which The Paramount presented three times a day, cost 25 to 55 cents. “It was the most delightful thing I ever saw,” says Seattle resident Ben Emerson.

The Paramount presented vaudeville shows less frequently as the decade progressed. Patron Mary Bassetti reports that by 1937, customers did not know whether a live show would contribute to an “afternoon of glorious make-believe.” She tells of a visit to The Paramount one Saturday:

The movies finished, the light came up, and my pal Leona and I started to gather our things for the long trolley ride back to West Seattle.

Suddenly, the lights dimmed, a spotlight exploded center stage, and a flamboyant master of ceremonies announced a vaudeville show!  Oh, delicious surprise! We experienced a moment of unmitigated joy to realize we didn’t have to face reality quite yet. With pokes and giggles, we settled back into the plush seats to be transported by lively tap-dancing, glitzy satin, sappy songs, and high-flying Indian clubs – all dessert to our adolescent sensibilities.

The Paramount Theatre Becomes a Movie House

Although the number of vaudeville performances diminished, The Paramount remained a popular destination for first-run movies. Among them was Spawn of the North, which won an Oscar for special effects in 1938. When The Theatre hosted the film’s world premiere, one of its stars, John Barrymore, and his sister, Ethyl, attended, making a live presentation from the stage.

Seattle resident Gordon Moody fondly reminisces about times spent with friends at the movies late in the Depression and during World War II:

The favorite hangout of "The Three Musketeers" was the front row of The Paramount . On Saturday, Hugo, Bobby and I would sit all day with our feet up on the railings, watching movies continuously, our pockets full of five cent candy bars. Those were wonderful times!  Hugo Scarsheim was later killed in his Navy fighter plane on Christmas Eve during the Korean War. He was 23. Bobby (Robert Joffrey, who established the renowned Joffrey Ballet) died 17 years ago in New York. He was 58. Me?  Whenever I drive by The Paramount, I see us paying our ten cents and entering the theatre of dreams and wish, “Oh God, if only we could do it again . . . just for a day.”

Jennifer H. tells of her grandparents’ first date in 1943:

Walt Strawn, a young man from a small town in Oklahoma, was an MP stationed at Fort Lawton. Irene Lewis was from Brockton, Montana, and was working for the Navy. After a chance meeting, he asked her out on a date to see the latest flick at The Paramount. She watched the movie, but paid more attention to the soldier next to her. Once the movie had ended, they went to the bus stop outside to wait for their respective rides home. Engrossed in conversation, bus after bus came and went, and they continued to talk. After a while, she looked at her watch and realized that they had missed all the buses, talking far past midnight. Instead of panicking, she sat in the shadow of The Paramount and talked with this soldier until the wee hours of the morning, when the buses started running again. She describes that evening as one of the best times in her life.

My grandparents were married in May of 1944, had three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. My grandfather passed away in 1998 after 54 years of marriage. Whenever my grandmother comes to visit my husband and me, she tells us stories about her life with my grandfather. The one I hear most often is . . . about The Paramount, where they began their life together.

Patricia Scott recalls going to The Theatre see Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not on August 14, 1945. When the Japanese surrendered, the house manager stopped the movie to announce that World War II had ended. He distributed passes for everyone to see the show another time, and Ms. Scott joined downtown workers and shoppers as they rejoiced in the streets outside.

Patron Robert Honey remembers attending movies at The Theatre in the 1940s with his dog, Mickey. Robert claims that the family locked up the dog before leaving home, but somehow Mickey always managed to sneak into The Paramount, find the family, and curl up at Robert’s feet as the film rolled.

By 1950, live performances at The Paramount were “something of a white elephant,” according to Seattle actress and former child vaudeville performer Zoaunne Leroy. However, she danced with the Barclay Girls there in 1951 as part of the celebration marking the launch of Seattle’s KING TV.

Seattle resident Kay Bartlett also recalls a live performance at The Theatre around 1950. She attended a piano concert along with many other local high school students. The performer was the brilliant young pianist, William Kapell. Annoyed by teenagers who were talking among themselves, Mr. Kapell suddenly stood up, walked to the apron of the stage, and stared the students down. When The Theatre was silent, he told them, without the aid of a microphone, that he had spent a long time preparing for this concert and deserved a respectful audience. He remained there for a moment to let his words sink in, then returned to the piano and “played his heart out.”  The applause at the end of the concert was deafening. Ms. Bartlett has long forgotten what Kapell played that day, but she remembers his courage in confronting an audience that was not prepared to listen. Tragically, William Kapell died in a plane crash in 1953 at the age of thirty-one.

Some of the rare remaining live acts in the 1950s included familiar names. Danny Kaye performed at The Paramount in 1952. In 1953, The Theatre offered a production of “John Brown’s Body,” starring Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter and Raymond Massey. Betty Hutton appeared at The Theatre later that year. Danny Kaye returned in 1955, and Ella Fitzgerald sang there in 1958. Mickey Rooney starred in a comedy show at The Theatre as late as 1961.

Couples flocked to The Paramount on dates during the 1950s. Nancy Dobrin, then a seventh grader, saw Picnic, starring Kim Novak and William Holden, at The Paramount on March 16, 1956. Nancy had been asked out by a much older gentleman of 14. They held hands all during the movie and became childhood sweethearts, eventually marrying and raising a family.

In contrast, a young patron keenly remembers her adolescent angst in The Paramount ladies’ room, where she discovered during a nervous first date that her slip had been showing all evening. That date, also the couple’s last, ended with a handshake.  Another theatergoer spent hours getting ready for her date at The Paramount, realizing only as she took her seat that she still wore her house slippers. If her escort noticed, he never let on.

Unfortunately for The Paramount, the trend toward building suburban theatres accelerated during the 1950s, and The Theatre’s financial standing slipped. In an effort to make The Paramount’s entertainment more attractive, Fox Evergreen leased The Theatre to the Stanley Warner Cinerama Corporation. The Theatre began showing “Cinerama” films on September 1, 1956. Sixteen hundred seats were removed to accommodate three projection booths at the rear of the main floor, and The Paramount installed a curved, extra-wide screen to show a 1950s version of an IMAX production. By January 26, 1958, The Theatre had discarded the “Cinerama” format, perhaps because the wide screen tended to cut the movie into thirds, separated by shadows.

The Paramount resumed showing traditional full-length films, although by 1960 they were mostly second-run. Nevertheless, The Theatre tried to retain its dignity, continuing to hire ushers (including 20 year-old Bruce Lee, who later became a martial arts cinema star) and showing new releases whenever it could – notably Psycho in 1960 and all the James Bond adventures of the period. The Paramount closed for long periods in the 1960s, including a time in 1965 during which nine magnificent paintings, still in their original gilded frames, were stolen from the lobby. One Friday night in 1967, only 13 people came to see Gone with the Wind — a poignant demonstration of The Theatre’s decline. However, The Paramount limped along as a movie house until 1971.

Paramount Northwest

In 1971, the Clise Corporation purchased The Paramount and began working with Pine Street, Inc., a production company. Pine Street believed that The Theatre’s acoustics would be perfect for rock, soul, and jazz concerts and brought live music back to The Paramount, renaming it Paramount Northwest.

A Seattle resident remembers that point in The Paramount’s history. “The first time I visited The Paramount was also the night of my first rock concert!  I saw The Guess Who there in 1972. Later I bought the record album, The Guess Who Live at The Paramount, and I could see myself in the crowd shot!”

Prices for rock concerts were reasonable – Nina Brave paid $5.00 for her ticket to see Alice Cooper in 1970. Margaret Salvino paid only $3.50 for open seating to see Kiss on January 12, 1975, and still has her ticket stub.

The Paramount was a favorite destination for touring bands and rock fans, but they were not easy on the Theatre. The balconies remained in surprisingly good condition, for they were rarely open. Carpets, chandeliers, draperies, and wall hangings sustained significant damage, as did the main floor seats. “Our rock concert seats were in the last row on the main floor,” one patron recalls. “By the end of the show we were . . . dancing on the armrests. Imagine our thrill when no one made us get down.”

Paramount Northwest’s owners failed to maintain the building, although employees loved their workplace and wanted to protect it. Fran Wlezien, who was employed at The Paramount in the 1970s, remembers tripping over a co-worker one morning as she made her way across the dark stage on an errand. He had slept there to guard The Theatre from burglars. “He didn’t get paid for this; it was just how we felt about the place. It was ‘home’, it was what held us together as an integrated group who felt like family.”

Although The Paramount Northwest retained little of The Theatre’s original luster, the National Park Service and the United States Department of the Interior recognized the building’s architectural and historical significance, placing it on the National Register of Historic Places on October 9, 1974. A plaque attesting to this honor still hangs at the northwest corner of the façade.

In 1976, West Coast Theatres, Inc. began managing The Paramount and continued to offer live music, primarily geared toward the young people of Seattle. The ongoing concert boom in Seattle benefited The Theatre’s owners, but the building remained in disrepair. As Bruce Brown wrote in Argus Magazine in November 1977, “Electric guitars thunder while The Paramount fades.”

A New Era for The Paramount

In mid-1981, Volotin Investment Company bought The Paramount for $1.4 million. The Theatre had become so shabby that The Seattle Times reporter Don Duncan compared it to “a good woman forced to do menial labor for survival.”

With visions of offering Las Vegas-type entertainment, the new owners, Norman Volotin and Eulysses Lewis, decided to brighten The Paramount’s dreary appearance. They closed The Theatre in September 1981, repainting about twenty percent of the facility, cleaning the public areas, installing bright red carpeting, and installing a sound system.

When this work was completed, the community was invited to a free concert on October 11 sponsored by The Theatre’s owners, the Seattle Arts Commission, and the Music Performance Trust Fund. An organist played the Wurlitzer, and the Seattle Concert Band performed.

That first season featured eight acts, including Mitzi Gaynor, Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, and Juliet Prowse. The Theatre received additional publicity later that month when producers of the Jessica Lange film Frances used The Paramount to recreate the 1936 premiere of Come and Get It, starring Seattle native Frances Farmer. Ms. Farmer had worked at The Paramount in the early 1930s as an usherette before moving to Hollywood.

Gradually the Volotin Investment Company broadened the scope of the acts seen at The Paramount, offering many different kinds of music: the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead, the Grand Ole Opry, Duke Ellington, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Frank Sinatra, Fleetwood Mac, Raffi and Bette Midler all came to The Paramount. Comics included Bob Hope, Joan Rivers, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin and Robin Williams. Patrons enjoyed musicals such as “South Pacific,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Les Miserables,” and “Evita.”  The Krasnayarsh Siberian Dancers and The Rockettes were featured, a Poetry Jam was held, Oprah Winfrey spoke, and Mr. Rogers performed for children. The Paramount even hosted a Star Trek Convention, and had the distinction of being Madonna’s first stop on her first world tour in 1985, aptly named “The Virgin Tour.”

A patron who attended that first concert reports

My friend and I were aspiring dancers, and we went to the concert dressed as total Madonna wanna-bees. However, we discovered when we arrived that we were the only ones in costume. We were awarded backstage passes to all three shows. We got to meet the dancers and watch rehearsals. Two months later, Madonna broke all records – her show sold out at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. The streets were literally clogged with thousands of Madonna impersonators, but we were the first and the only at the best theatre, The Paramount!

Donna Rozanski recalls attending a Stevie Ray Vaughn concert in October, 1986, when she was nine months pregnant with her son. The music was loud, and her son kicked the entire time. He now is 19 years old, 6’2” and musically inclined.

The Paramount was busy, but touring companies found its facilities inadequate. In spite of the 1981 updates, the sound system and lighting remained deficient, and dressing rooms were dingy. The Theatre lacked simple amenities, such as an adequate number of restrooms, a functioning air conditioning system, and access for disabled patrons. The dilapidated backstage area was too small for storage and had no elevator for transporting equipment to the stage. Maneuvering props and equipment to the stage was dangerous. Crews had to use the steep “Kamikaze” ramp; heavy loads occasionally careened out of control, forcing crews to scatter. The tiny box office had seating for only two employees, who had the overwhelming job of attending to throngs of demanding people.

The Paramount also needed comprehensive cosmetic work. Within a few years, the carpets installed in 1981 began to show wear, and the ornamental plaster was crumbling. Sticky layers of dust and cigarette residue coated walls and ceilings, and the brick and terra cotta exterior was grimy. The brass and ironwork needed polishing. Gold leaf had flaked away in many places. Paint colors applied in 1928 had faded to a pale yellow, camouflaging the elaborate relief designs of the interior.

The Theatre slid into debt during the 1980s, making repairs impossible. The Volotin Company began selling off The Paramount’s assets. For example, at one auction The Company sold a significant amount of The Theatre’s furniture and equipment, as well as the Knabe Ampico player piano. Dick Schrum, an accomplished musician who had played the Wurlitzer organ for The Paramount in the 1960s, bought the piano.

These fundraising efforts did not solve The Theater’s financial problems. Volotin therefore initiated a search for someone to buy The Paramount. When no buyer materialized, Volotin filed for bankruptcy protection in late 1987.

In early October 1990, a number of investors stepped forward, leaving Volotin with only a small interest in The Paramount. Despite the influx of cash, The Theatre continued to lose money.

Nevertheless, performances at The Theatre continued. A visitor to The Paramount recalls watching the actor Topol perform the title role of the Broadway musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” with her husband, tears of joy in their eyes as they remembered going into labor with their child years before – as they had watched the movie version of Fiddler in the same auditorium.

Edie Bean will never forget one night in 1991, when a performance of “Bye Bye Birdie,” starring Tommy Tune, was interrupted so that he could receive a Tony Award on The Paramount’s stage for his work as best musical director and choreographer for “The Will Rogers Follies.”   Mr. Tune’s acceptance was televised live in New York via satellite.

Ida Cole Leads the Effort to Save the Theatre

Ida Cole, then a Microsoft vice-president, heard of The Paramount’s financial difficulties from her friend Chip Wilson. Deeply impressed by The Theatre’s grandeur and concerned about its future, Ms. Cole established the non-profit Seattle Landmark Association in 1992 to save, restore and operate local historical theatres. In February 1993, she bought The Paramount for $9.6 million. The Landmark Association also arranged to lease The Moore Theatre, which was built in 1906.

Once Ms. Cole owned The Paramount, she and Mr. Wilson, a former promoter and producer, began planning a major overhaul of the facility. By July of 1993, Ms. Cole had hired the international architectural firm of NBBJ to design the project and Sellen Construction of Seattle to implement it. She applied for the necessary city permits and acquired adjoining property to accommodate the expansion of the stage and backstage areas.

Ms. Cole obtained $13 million in bank loans to help finance the restoration. She asked local community leaders to become partners in The Paramount Defined Limited Partnership; together the partners contributed $15 million. The City of Seattle provided another $1.8 million as part of its Landmark Preservation Program. The project received an additional $1 million from the State of Washington Building for the Arts program and $1 million from the Metro-King County Arts Council.

Ida Cole hoped to restore The Paramount to a “kissable” building, one where “everyone was welcome and felt comfortable, the people’s theatre.”  She promised that all work would “be done within the context of protecting the irreplaceable historical aspects of the building,” and she was true to her word.

On June 14, 1994, two hundred people attended a ceremony marking the start of the restoration. After Seattle Mayor Norm Rice announced the commencement of the project, a wrecking ball slammed into the back wall of The Theatre. Construction officially had begun and would take approximately seven months to complete.

After workers removed the entire back wall of The Theatre, they built a new addition to the stage. This renovation expanded the stage from 76' x 29' to 94' x 48', and substantially increased the size of the wings. The resulting space could accommodate the most complex productions. Seven painters and plasterers worked for three months, removing layers of grime from the ornate plaster relief on the walls and ceilings, repainting these surfaces in their original sixteen colors, and meticulously replacing gold leaf to the floral designs. They painted the grand lobby using five glaze colors, six different sponge treatments, six re-created plaster moldings, and 1,500 linear feet of aluminum foil. Long forgotten original designs burst forth. The 1.6 million chandelier beads shimmered once again after workers scrubbed them individually with toothbrushes. Technicians installed state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment, as well as a superior public address system. They added an orchestra pit lift, able to raise scenery or an entire orchestra from the basement to stage level. The electrical capacity of The Paramount was tripled. Architects redesigned the loading dock, which had been small and difficult to negotiate, to allow two trucks to unload simultaneously. A huge elevator, 24’ x 14’, was installed, capable of descending 11’ to deliver ten tons of equipment directly to the stage.

The Paramount reopened on March 16, 1995, launching the new touring production of “Miss Saigon.” Customers were welcomed by the new facility in all its rehabilitated glory, and celebrated the return of Broadway to the Theatre.

In the autumn of 1997, after the rest of the restoration was finished, The Paramount completed a $5 million installation of a fully convertible seating system. This unusual system allows the main floor’s sloped seating to be tucked under a flat ballroom floor, broadening the spectrum of acts that can perform at The Theatre, as well as attracting large private parties and corporate events.

Then, in 2001, as a fitting tribute to The Paramount’s restored grandeur, the family of Dick Schrum agreed to display the Knabe Ampico player piano in its original location in the lounge area just above the foyer. The family still owns the piano, but Ida Cole refurbished and agreed to maintain it so long as it remains at The Theatre.

Beyond the Restoration and into the Future

On Friday, December 20, 2002, Ida Cole transferred ownership of The Paramount Theatre to Seattle Theatre Group (STG), the new name for the Seattle Landmark Association. Ms. Cole told The Seattle Times that she had enjoyed restoring the building but wished to divest herself of the enormous responsibility of owning The Paramount. As a parting gift, she personally reduced the mortgage on the building from $14.5 million to a more manageable $8.5 million, bringing the total amount of money she had invested in The Paramount to $30 million. In recognition of her outstanding contribution, the auditorium was officially named after her at The Theatre’s 75th anniversary celebration on March 1, 2003.

And what of The Paramount now?  The Theatre is thriving, hosting six performance series, including Broadway, Jazz, Silent Movies, Dance, Family and Comedy. In addition, it continues to present a wide variety of concerts that appeal to every appetite. In appreciation of its splendor and diverse offerings, readers of the Seattle Weekly voted The Paramount “Best Mainstage Theatre” in 2001 and 2002.

STG’s vital Arts and Education Outreach Department, now in its seventh year of operation, continues to sponsor programs that involve over 15,000 artists, students, and community members yearly, offering educational programs and performances that celebrate diversity and provide Seattle’s underserved populations with access to the arts. Many of these programs are held at The Paramount and The Moore.

Since The Theatre reopened in March 1995, more than three million people have attended over 1,600 “Shows Divine at 9th and Pine.” They continue to be uplifted by the majesty of the venue and awed by what they see on stage. One theatergoer will never forget having a “Cats” cast member sit on her lap during a performance of the Broadway musical.  Another patron says being chosen to sing, “Can’t Smile Without You,” on stage with Barry Manilow made her feel “like a star” and “changed her forever.”  But Betsy Gutting expresses best the love and gratitude patrons feel for The Paramount:

When Ellen DeGeneres performed on June 29, 2000, she rocked, reeled and healed her audience with her comic brilliance! Spiritual energy buzzed about the comic cathedral, magically transforming me. In I had walked, a former attorney turned stay-at-home mom with a life-changing dream. Out I SOARED, a former attorney turned stay-at-home mom turned STAND-UP COMEDIENNE! October 2001 . . . . I played my first casino gig! Oh, enchanted Paramount, your marquee should read, “THE PARAMOUNT THEATRE:  Where Dreams Sprout Wings . . . and Joy Takes Flight!”


[1] Some of the quotes from this article were taken from entries in a “Favorite Paramount Theatre Memories” contest held jointly by The Seattle Times and The Paramount Theatre in early 2003. Unfortunately, some names were separated from vignettes and could not be included.