The mission of The Paramount Theater of Charlottesville, Inc., is to operate the newly-restored and adapted historic Paramount Theater, located in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, for the artistic, educational, and charitable benefit of its community, including the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle and surrounding counties, and the entire Central Virginia region.
To accomplish this mission, and assist in the continued revitalization of the downtown area, The Paramount will:
- offer its community a wide range of arts, education, and entertainment events with the goal of reaching diverse audiences
- present educational programs at the theater and in schools for school-age children, teens, college students, and the community at large
- make its facilities and resources available for use by charitable, arts, community, and other organizations and individuals for presentation of their performances and events
For most of the middle of the 20th century, Charlottesville’s Paramount Theater had taken a leading role in the community. Created by Chicago architectural firm Rapp & Rapp, architects of The Paramount-Publix chain and its flagship theater in New York City’s Times Square, Charlottesville’s Paramount was part of the golden age of cinema.
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With its Greek Revival-influenced façade, The Paramount’s exterior evokes an earlier time in Virginia’s history. With its octagonal auditorium chamber, delicate detailing, and neoclassical grandeur, the theater honors Charlottesville’s most famous son, Thomas Jefferson. Through details like painted tapestries, exquisite plaster moldings, and brass chandeliers, C.W. and George Rapp created a theater unlike any other they would design – one truly reflective of the community it would call home.
Following its Thanksgiving Eve 1931 opening, The Paramount became a landmark overnight. Even though the theater came along during the decline of the American movie palace, and two years after the stock market crash of 1929, The Paramount thrived.
As with most Southern theaters of the era, The Paramount operated for many years as a segregated building. The Third Street Entrance, originally intended for use by African-American patrons, is another feature setting the theater apart. With a level of decoration and elegance sized for the smaller scale, but not completely removed (as was often the case), the design of the Third Street Entrance is complimentary to – not divorced from – that of the building as a whole.
One of Charlottesville’s premiere destinations, The Paramount made movie-going a special experience. Audiences numbering in the thousands each week would come as much to escape into opulent surroundings as to watch a show. For four decades, the grand movie palace hosted scores of films, war bond drives, fashion shows, cartoons for kids, and popular rock and roll artists, entertaining multiple generations of area families.
The Paramount remained Charlottesville’s crown jewel until 1974 when its doors closed for good. Even as the lights dimmed on the marquee, the theater was not forgotten. Almost from that moment, efforts were launched to save the theater from real and constant threats of demolition.
In 1992, the non-profit Paramount Theater, Inc. purchased the building. With a grant from the City of Charlottesville, the work began. The initial project – restoring the Main Street marquee – was selected for maximum visibility. After the marquee’s structure and finishes were examined, microanalysis of the paint determined original colors. At midnight on that New Year’s Eve, the marquee’s lights shone brightly on Main Street for the first time in a decade. The Paramount seemed ready to begin life anew.
Progress continued with the hiring of Washington architectural firm Martinez & Johnson Architecture, in partnership with Charlottesville firm Bushman Dreyfus Architects. The 16.2 million dollar project includes not only the meticulous restoration of the theater, but also the creation of new facilities enabling The Paramount to step into its new role as a regional performing arts center – a modified fly loft, backstage areas, orchestra pit, and a three-story annex building with computerized box office, ballroom and meeting spaces, and a community rehearsal room.
Restored to its former glory, The Paramount Theater opened its doors to the public once more on December 15, 2004 – more than thirty years after it had closed. The theater is again a gathering place for Charlottesville and the region. Because of the efforts of so many – the architects, engineers, contractors, contributors, staff, volunteers, and of course the wonderful community who has shown such enduring support – The Paramount is not only a place to remember the past, but to celebrate the future.