Paramount Center for the Arts
518 State Street,
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Paramount Center For The Arts (Official)
Firms: McDonald & Company
Styles: Art Deco
Previous Names: Paramount Theatre
News About This Theater
The Bristol Paramount Theatre opened on February 20, 1931 with Carol Lombard in “It Pays to Advertise”. It is unusual for the fact that it sits right on a state line, on State Street, which is appropriately named, because it divides the states of Tennessee and Virginia.
Seating 765, the Paramount Theatre originally hosted both stage shows and motion pictures, and also contained a Mighty Wurlitzer organ, which was lifted hydraulically from the orchestra pit to stage level, played at the opening by organist Jean Van Arsdale. In April 1932 the Wurlitzer console was destroyed by a fire and it was replaced by a Kimball console. By the early-1940’s it was operated by Paramount Pictures Inc. through their subsidiary Wilby-Kincey.
The Paramount Theatre is decorated in a stunning Art Deco style, with touches of Venetian Renaissance décor inside.
In August 1954, when a CinemaScope screen was installed, the ornate proscenium arch was damaged and the Wurlitzer organ was taken out. The theatre continued to screen movies until 1979, when it was shuttered after decades of being the premier entertainment venue for Bristol.
The Paramount Theatre’s restoration began in the 1980’s, and more than $2 million was spent on returning it to its former splendor, including enlarging the depth of the stage to 36 feet (by knocking out a rear wall), recreating the long-lost marquees, including a two-story tall sign spelling out the theatre’s name which soars over State Street.
The Paramount Theatre now rents a Wurlitzer 3 manual 16 ranks organ from the Piedmont Theatre Organ Society, which is a chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, for $1 a year to replace its own lost Wurlitzer.
For over a decade now, the Paramount Center for the Arts, which it is now officially known as, has hosted everything from Broadway shows like “Annie Get Your Gun” to concerts by Hootie and the Blowfish and Emmylou Harris, and is also the home of several local organizations, including Theatre Bristol, the Piedmont Theatre Organ Society, the Bristol Ballet Company and the Bristol Concert Choir. The Paramount Center for the Arts is also used for civic functions and conferences.
The Paramount Center for the Arts is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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