Our History

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.


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.

The Paramount Theater operated as a segregated building from its 1931 opening until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. During that time, The Paramount’s balcony was reserved for African American patrons with a separate Box Office and Entrance on Third Street, a small lobby and staircase to access the balcony, and separate restrooms, concessions, and fire exits.

3rd Street Box Office: 1964 vs. Present

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. But, one final piece was missing.

Due to the enormity of the restoration, the return of the vertical blade sign could not be completed during the original restoration. As The Paramount approached its tenth anniversary of reopening, the campaign to restore the vertical blade sign was revived. A fitting conclusion to the 16-month tenth anniversary celebration, the illumination of the blade sign took place on December 15, 2015. The blade sign was dedicated to the children of Charlottesville – past, present, and future generations.

Since its re-opening in 2004, The Paramount has continued to grow and thrive as a performing arts center with the spirit of its original mission in mind to “educate, enchant, enrich, and enlighten”, hosting acclaimed artists and live performances of a wide range of genres and styles, presenting classic films and live broadcasts, working with local artists and non-profits, and welcoming thousands of students and educators to its educational programming each year.

Photo Credit: Rob Garland Photographers

The greater Charlottesville community continues to recognize The Paramount Theater’s cultural and economic significance, awarding it the 2016 Tourism Achievement Award by the Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau; the 2016 Best of C-Ville Award for Best Theatre (Live), Best Place to Watch a Movie, and Best Music Venue; and the 2015 Charlottesville Family Reader Favorite Award for Favorite Movie Theater.

In July of 2017, the Theater received international recognition when it was awarded the Outstanding Historic Theatre Award by the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT). This award recognizes a theater that demonstrates excellence through its community impact, quality of programs and services, and quality of the restoration or rehabilitation of its historic structure.

In 2019, The Paramount worked in partnership with local documentarian and filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson on his film entitled: 3rd Street: Best Seats in the House which features first-hand oral histories from local Charlottesville residents who experienced the times of racial segregation in our country and at The Paramount, sharing their own personal accounts of using the segregated Third Street Entrance and Box Office and sitting in the balcony in accordance with the law.

In 2020, as a global pandemic upended the world, the Theater was forced to close for a brief period. Upon re-opening with a limited event calendar and thoughtful health and safety protocols, the community once again rallied to support the Theater in the form of donations, patronage, and optimism.

Thanks to the generous individuals who have guided the Theater through the decades, The Paramount continues to be a gathering place for Charlottesville and the region. Because of the efforts of so many – the architects, engineers, contractors, sponsors, donors, board of directors, staff, volunteers, and of course the wonderful community around us, year after year, who has shown such enduring support – The Paramount Theater is not only a place to remember the past, but to celebrate the future.

In 2024, The Paramount will recognize two significant milestones in its history: the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 20th anniversary of the Theater’s 2004 reopening.

Share your Memories

Educate, Enchant, Enrich, & Enlighten Turns 20

It’s a matter of fact that The Paramount first opened in Charlottesville on November 25, 1931, and it’s a matter of immense pride that The Paramount re-opened on December 10, 2004.

Paramount memories have been made regularly ever since, and in honor and celebration of our milestone, we invite you to share yours with us. Click below!