Take a walk with us back in time to September 5, 1931. We are standing in line for opening night of the new movie house, the Paramount Theatre. After three years of planning and construction, the Paramount has the entire Ohio Valley alive with excitement! The theatre was originally designed to show silent films, made exclusively by Paramount Studios. However, during the early stages of planning, “talkies” arrived. A quick glance to either side of the stage will reveal the organ grills that were installed but never used. Ironically, the first film ever shown in the theatre was entitled “Silent," yet it was a talking film.
The Paramount was one of the first transitional theatres built for “talking pictures” and was to be a model theatre for others around the country to showcase films produced by Paramount Studios. The Depression, however, soon changed the course of events for this wonderful lady. Paramount wanted to scrap the project altogether. The plans were picked up by an Ashland-based company with Paramount craftsmen providing the interior furnishings – and the building was then leased to Paramount Publix Corporation. Because of the change in plans, the original design was scaled back by one third. Had the depression not caused a redesign, the Paramount would actually be three times as large! In 2001, Mike Myers of Ashland reported that the original general contractor was Wade Gates of Ashland. Gates’ secretary, Marie Duncan, provided this information.
The resulting product was a prime example of the Art Deco style then in vogue. Artistic design of the theatre was the choice of master/consummate Theater Designers, Rapp and Rapp, who also designed the great Chicago Theater. This particular design was featured at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1932. The Ashland Paramount provided seating for 1309 people and served the Ohio Valley area for several years as its one and only talking movie theatre.
Paramount Publix Corporation had original plans to build one “perfect movie house” in every state of the union. Fortunately, our theatre, as well as a few others were completed by Paramount before the Depression altered this plan. In addition to Ashland, Kentucky, there are Paramount theaters in Denver, Colorado; Aurora, Illinois; Oakland, California; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Abilene, Texas; Bristol, Tennessee; Seattle, Washington; Charlottesville, Virginia; Anderson, Indiana; Austin, Texas; and Springfield, Massachusetts. The Paramount in Hollywood was fully restored in 1991 and renamed El Capitan. As of early 2002, we know there is also a Paramount Theatre which still stands but is not in operation in Boston, MA.
The Paramount Theatre has been preserved and restored with many of its original fixtures and furnishings, so that as you walk through the brass entrance doors today, it would be as much the same as if you were there that September night in 1931. Renamed the Paramount Arts Center in 1972, our historic theatre now operates as a not-for-profit organization that provides quality arts and cultural experiences for children and families from central Appalachia and all across the U.S.
Paramount Arts Center Mission & Vision
Our mission is to inspire, educate and entertain with outstanding performing arts and diverse cultural experiences while preserving a unique historic landmark.
Our vision is to create a cultural environment that reaffirms the area's Appalachian traditions while broadening the region's aesthetic parameters. We accomplish this vision by presenting several interdisciplinary series of arts and humanities-based programming – both in our historic venue and in identified outreach areas. The vast majority – 89 percent – of Paramount sponsored events focus on educational opportunities for the youth in our tri-state area.
Operating as a non-profit organization since 1972, the Paramount Arts Center prides itself on presenting the best programming available to us. The theater has seating for 1417 people and an average of 120 performances per year. Approximately 250,000 individuals attend these events with an economic impact to the community that exceeds $6 million annually!