|When the Paramount Theatre closed at the end of June, it brought to an end a half century long chapter in movie going under the Famous Players banner. The theatre at 10233 Jasper Avenue has been sold to an Edmonton owner and is being envisioned as a multi-use arts facility.|
With its sophisticated International modern style, expensive materials and expressionistic elements, the Paramount is unique among surviving Edmonton theatres. Designed by the local architectural firm of Stanley and Stanley, it opened its doors July 1st, 1952, and was hailed for its rich appointments and its size which, at more than 1,500 seats, made it the largest theatre devoted to film in the city.
As the Famous Players flagship property in Edmonton, it showed only first-run, top-of-the-line movies. Located on the south side of Jasper Avenue, directly across from the downtown Hudsons Bay Company store, the Paramount boasted one of the best locations in the rapidly growing city.
In the boom days after the Second World War and just before the advent of television, movies were doing a booming business and, in response, Famous Players Canadian Corporation was adding new theatres at a frantic pace. In 1950 and 1961, the chain added properties in Moncton, New Brunswick, Prince Rupert. B.C., St, Johns, Newfoundland and Lindsay, Ontario.
A story in the November 21st, 1950 edition of the Edmonton Journal reported on the start of site work here. The general contract for construction of the theatre, which will be known as the Paramount, has been awarded to C.H. Whitham Ltd., Edmonton contracting firm, the story said. John Ferguson of Winnipeg, general maintenance manager and buildings supervisor for Famous Players, will arrive Thursday to discuss construction plans with Walter P. Wilson, manager of the Capitol theatre, and other officials.
The story went on to note that the new theatre was being built on a frontage of 90 feet on Jasper Avenue and a depth of 150 feet and that construction was expected to take about one year to complete. But steel for the superstructure was delayed by a production shortage and, even though concrete footings were poured in January 1951, the frame of the building didnt take shape until late 1951.
With a budget of $500,000, the project was able to afford some of the best in building materials. By Christmas of that year, work was underway installing many of the expensive materials including Tyndall limestone from Manitoba, granite from British Columbia and marble and travertine from Italy.
It was those materials and the style itself that set the Paramount apart, says Edmonton architect David Murray, who has extensively studied the citys mid-century architecture. The Paramount is one of my favourites because it is very sophisticated design and it contains some very strong International influences.
Those influences included strong horizontal and vertical lines, brought to life through such elements as the angled canopy topped by a strong vertical element the marquee. Examples of stylistic devices popular in the 1950s include asymmetrical composition and zigzag entrance planning.
Murray notes that the Paramount was part of a new era in design when, after decades of hiding the structure behind walls and facades, designers were finding ways to reveal the structural elements, like columns and ladders. He points to the three marble columns exposed near the entrance and the clever use of exposed ladders on the marquee.
While the Paramount quickly gained renown for its first run movie features, Premier Ernest Manning also broadcast his regular Sunday morning Back to the Bible Hour radio show from its auditorium. The theatre prospered through the 1960s and 1970s, but as home video broke through in the early 1980s, attendance began to suffer and a revitalization was launched.
It was closed for a month of renovations in the spring of 1985 and, after $250,000 was invested, re-opened with new interior design and materials. The newly -renovated Paramount Theatre will be the Rolls-Royce of theatres in Canada, setting a new high in comfort standards for audiences, promised an advertising feature in the Edmonton Journal.
To make room for all that comfort, every second row of seats was removed. Six-inch-thick cushioned easy chair style seats with padded arm rests were installed atop plush carpet. Tivoli lighting was added on the stairs, reducing glare and giving an added touch of class and improved wayfinding for patrons heeding the call of nature or the call of snacks at the concession. The grand re-opening featured Cocoon, projected in 70 mm images and sound.
But nothing lasts forever, least of all in the rapidly changing entertainment industry. Andrew Sherbin, manager of corporate affairs for Famous Players, says changing times just caught up with the big old theatre building.
It has been underperforming for a long time. Single screen theatres are really tough and, with the size of the Paramount, it had become impossible to make the numbers work. The trend now is to new multi-screen theatres, with stadium style seating and good access to parking.
The new Edmonton owner, who doesnt want to be named, envisions the theatre as a downtown arts centre. Id like to see live music, theatre, festivals and films and make it a real showcase of local talent and energy. This building is a big part of the culture of downtown Edmonton and I want to see it remain that way.
If youd like to inquire about the Paramount, contact Lance Frazier at (780) 421 1488.
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