Brooklyn Paramount Theatre

385 Flatbush Avenue Extension,
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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Patsy on February 21, 2006 at 4:18 pm

“For the true movie palace buff it is difficult, even today, to refer to the Brooklyn Paramount as the basketball court of Long Island University. There s still enough of the original grandeur visible to see why audiences in 1928 considered it the most beautiful motion picture theatre in the world. It opened on November 23,1928, with Nancy Carroll in Manhattan Cocktail as "Paramount-Publix’s Gift to Brooklyn” and closed its doors to movie-goers on August 21, 1962, with John Wayne in Hatari. The Brooklyn Paramount was the capstone in the career of the noted architects, Rapp & Rapp, and for sheer opulence it outshone anything they ever designed. The great latticed ceiling and arches along the side walls were originally festooned with artificial foliage; the arches concealed the lights of the Wilfred Color Organ, a lighting system that subtly changed the color of the whole theatre to suit the mood of the moment. Chorus girls pranced down the golden staircases from the organ grilles to the stage. The 4,500 seats (making it the second largest theatre in New York when it opened) were upholstered in random tones that ranged from plum to scarlet. Below the stupendous grand drapery of the proscenium arch hung a midnight-blue velvet curtain embroidered with pheasants in polychrome satin.“ This really says it all in regards to this former theatre that, imo, should have stayed a theatre!

Patsy on February 21, 2006 at 4:04 pm

I went to site and tried to find photos of the gym/theatre, but couldn’t though I did find that the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University on the north shore was the former Post estate!

Patsy on February 21, 2006 at 3:46 pm

Ed: Can you direct me to any old photos of the Paramount interior…lobby, proscenium, balcony, etc. as it looked when it was a theatre and NOT a gym?

Patsy on February 21, 2006 at 3:42 pm

But to turn a Rapp and Rapp theatre into a gym is really going over the line, imo. C.W. and George L. would certainly be surprised if they were here to today to see what had become of their theatre!

Patsy on February 21, 2006 at 3:40 pm

Ed: Those photos with the 11/28/05 post were amazing to look at and thanks for bringing them to my attention. Can you tell me anything about the Wurlitzer and how it played into the games? And if the last game was recently played in that space what will happen to the former Paramount Theatre AND Wurlitzer? I can’t imagine going to a game and not looking around to see what once was, but I’m sure there were many who didn’t really give it much thought as they were there to see a basketball game and their team win!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on February 21, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Patsy… if you scroll up a ways there are some images of the current gymnasium configuration posted here (or linked via other websites). Check out SNWEB’s post of Nov 28th 2005 for two links with some interesting photos from immediately after the conversion as well as the present day. You’ll see how with each passing year, more and more of the ornamentation and theatrical features were stripped away. A good deal of the upper walls and ceiling grill and plaster work still remain, but the school’s basketball team has moved on to new facilities, leaving the future of the space currently up in the air.

Patsy on February 21, 2006 at 10:37 am

It’s interesting to note that this theatre is now a gym and that the Wurlitzer is still being used. I can’t imagine how it must look so if anyone can tell us, please do.

BookResearch on February 16, 2006 at 10:54 am

Thanks for the response Jim, I will let you all know how the book is coming.

JimRankin on February 10, 2006 at 4:58 am

The best repository of information is the Theatre Historical Society in the Chicago area; contact their Ex. Dir. via the E-mail address given on their site at: Look on the page there: Archive for details.

Of course you will already have contacted Long Island Univresity, the owner of the former theatre for what they have, but a historic source you may not be aware of is the well illustrated magazine article “Theatre Lighting, Its Tragedies, Its Virtues — The Brooklyn Paramount” by Frank Cambria in The Illuminating Engineering Society’s journal TRANSACTIONS of Nov., 1929 (24:810—907) to be found in larger libraries or the Library of Congress.

Please keep bus up to date on the progress of the book, which I am sure many of us will buy.

BookResearch on February 9, 2006 at 10:28 am

I’m currently working on researching the brooklyn Paramount for a Professor who is writting a book on the theater. if anyone has any relevant information, photos, memorabilia, etc., please e-mail me.

JimRankin on January 19, 2006 at 3:55 am

The theatre and surrounding massive office building are still owned by Long Island University, so one would have to consult them as to the future of the former theatre space, which, one must remember, it has not been since 1961. So don’t expect anyone there to remember it as the Brooklyn Paramount. It is still to them their old gymnasium/classroom space. I suggest a New Yorker approach them in writing to get a preferably written response; but don’t hold your breath waiting for a response, since they are a private business that is NOT responsible to you. No one can demand that they respond, or do this or that with their own property. Gentle, respectful inquiries and encouragement to preserve what is left of the theatre are the best that any outsiders can do.

LuisV on January 18, 2006 at 12:02 pm

Does anyone know if there are any real plans for this theater? There is a lot of cultural development going on just a few blocks away centered on the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Majestic theater and Mark Morris Dance Theater studios. A new library is also scheduled for construction. Could this be included as part of that district?

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 17, 2006 at 1:12 pm

Fascinating. I completely missed this development. I went through the building in the 90’s. Looked to me like the lobby was mostly intact. The removed balcony section could be replaced. When the Sioux City Orpheum was un-twinned they had to replace the front balcony section. I imagine the stage would probably be expanded and re-fitted in a restoration anyway. So loss of the old one not a big deal in my book. Decoration lost around the b-ball court could be recast. Plenty of movie palaces in the process of being restored over the last thirty years have replaced decoration destroyed by water damage or remodeling. I got the impression that those classrooms in the balcony were basically perched up there within the auditorium shell with access from some old passageway. So my guess is that the back of the house hasn’t been destroyed. But I didn’t go up to verify. All of that is to say that restoration doesn’t appear to be a ridiculous notion. The biggest obstacle in my book, at least given the the impression I have of the structural issues, is finding a viable use for the restored auditorium. Does LIU need 4,000 seats for it’s preforming arts functions? I don’t know the answer to that question. There was certainly a large arts complex were I went to school: U. of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. But I don’t know how LIU’s siuation compares.

RobertR on December 16, 2005 at 2:04 pm

“Psycho” with a featurette called “Carnival in Quebec”\
View link

CLAY on December 13, 2005 at 6:30 am

Clay Cole. The Brooklyn Paramount did host THE CLAY COLE CHRISTMAS SHOW WITH MURRAY THE K in 1960, produced by SID BERNSTEIN.
I am writing the book about THE CLAY COLE SHOW – with lots of stories about Brooklyn Paramount – anyone have photos, memories, gossip, trivia, stories, I’d love to hear them. Did I meet you? Even better. You send send any reminisces to
Thanks – and MERRY CHRISTMAS 2005, Clay Cole

uncleal923 on November 30, 2005 at 5:08 pm

Let’s not be crybabies! Someone on this page should be able to something

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 28, 2005 at 4:07 am

What a shame. If you click on the article link, you’ll see in the 3rd photo how much of the original theater remained when the orchestra was first converted to the hardwood court. Sadly, the present day photos reveal how much as been stripped from the room. I wonder what they’ll do with the space now? Will it be completely gutted and converted to office/classroom space?

uncleal923 on November 9, 2005 at 5:48 pm

I think if you read the Cinema Treasures Book they may have moved the organ to another theater outside the state.

However, while I don’t remember the Paramount, I know the effect it had on Brooklyn, especially in Popular music (Thanx Mister Freed), and I think it may be worthwile to get a grass roots effort started to rebuild it. I will take on the idea of rebuilding in any theater from Staten Island to Montauk.

GeoffreyPaterson on November 9, 2005 at 11:49 am

While I agree with Jim Rankin’s comments in general, I must say that my recollection from my days there and from speaking to people connected with the organ in the years since is that the University has always been very supportive of the organ. The New York Chapter of ATOS looked after the organ for decades (see the link posted above by LostMemories on Sept.7, 2004) and, as far as I know, still does. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that profit is LIU’s priority, I can understand their need to be accountable for funds spent and the re-fit appeared to be exactly as Jim suggests – as much alteration as was necessary and no more.

I recall that during my time there, any time the crew wanted to work on the organ with the console up, all we had to do was call the University contact and they would have the plug removed for us – as long as we didn’t conflict with any scheduled use of the gym. (Because the University was a union venue, we were not allowed to remove the plug ourselves. And the console was always brought up to floor level by the same crew, lest some wayward gymnast plummet into the basement.) I recall many evenings and weekends leading up to the 1970 ATOS Convention when I was busy redecorating the console and the crew was up working in the chambers, and there would be a basketball practice or gymnastic workouts going on at the same time. The Chapter was also allowed to hold concerts there on a fairly regular basis.

A comment posted above by PeterApruzzese on Feb 7, 2005 tells of plans to rebuild the organ after extensive water damage. Does anyone know what has happened in the intervening nine months?

ERD on November 9, 2005 at 4:49 am

I agree with Jim, but what a shame that profit should be the major priority of a university. With foresight, intelligence and creative minds the Paramount might have been incorporated into the university in a different way. Other universities have done it. At one time L.I.U. got major donations. Perhaps they could have worked out some plan then.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 9, 2005 at 3:22 am

Excellent point well taken, Jim, however depressing a dose of reality it might be. The TV ads for LIU from the last couple of years contain a wonderful (albeit brief) shot taken from the floor looking straight up at a player attempting to dunk a shot in the basket against the background of that magnificent grilled ceiling. I’ll have to see if I can get in there with my camera one of these weekends. Are they still playing games there? I tried recently to get in one Saturday, but the gym was closed. The security guy told me that the team would be practicing that Monday and I might be able to get in, but of course I had to be at work.

JimRankin on November 9, 2005 at 1:52 am

I don’t think that we should jump to the conclusion that the university was being magnanimous in “preserving” any part of the theatre. I am sure that to them it is and always was a strictly dollars and cents issue: this is a large space that we can buy for much less than building a new facility in 1961, and they determined to remove/rework any area and ornament that might interfere with their use of the space for their purposes, and not to remove anything more simply because such unneeded work would have cost them more. Why remove such as the great grilled ceiling when no basketball or student could reach it? After that, it was at best a case of benign neglect. For these reasons, I highly doubt that they will move the organ to the new building, and if a bid comes along to sell it, I am sure that that is what they will do. They are there to make a profit, not to preserve theatres and organs.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 8, 2005 at 3:03 pm

Geoffrey… Thanks for all that detail. I wish my memory were half as good!!! I need to get down there and take a look around. Last time I was there (many moons ago), I was so impressed with the ceiling and the proscenium arch and that the balcony was still there, I didn’t really take time to look closely at the alterations. What a shame there couldn’t have been more of an effort to preserve the interior while installing the courts, but I suppose the University could have just as easily gutted the entire space and installed a conventional gymnasium and all would have been lost.

So… I guess that means that whatever remains might be ripped out now that a new gymnasium has been built. I wonder if there are plans to somehow move the organ to the new facitlity of will it be sold off to restored theater in the mid-west?

GeoffreyPaterson on November 8, 2005 at 1:30 pm

EdSolero, ERD and R.H – I suspect that the cost of any significant restoration of that magnificent auditorium at this point would be so huge that nobody would want to touch it. I was a member of the New York Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society and was on the organ crew from 1969-71 while I attended Pratt Institute about 15 blocks or so away down DeKalb Avenue.

At that point the original conversion was less than 5 years old. Basically what they had done was to extend a new basketball court floor into the theatre at the level of the original stage until it met the upward slope of the auditorium floor at a point behind the lip of the balcony. From that point to the back wall the room was essentially left untouched on the main floor and the loge (mezzanine), including all the seats and lighting. I remember all of the side pillars separating the side aisles from the seats had curved fronts on the auditorium side that were what appeared to be frosted glass held in by gilded lattice frames. Each of these used to be filled with coloured lamps and was hinged to open so the bulbs could be changed. They were part of the “Wilfred Color Organ” that dazzled the patrons by changing the auditorium’s colour during the shows. The fromt of the balcony and mezzanine were also faced with color-organ lighting, and it was all still there.

From that point forward the walls were torn out from the new floor level to about 10 feet up, along with the choral staircases and ornamental pillars in front of the organ drapes, and replaced with plain facing and padding. The basketball court was set side-to-side with the boards and hoops in the organ arches. The proscenium grand drapery was gone and the stage house had been filled in with offices and classrooms. What had been the stage was stripped bare and filled with retractable bleachers. Classrooms also filled in the top third of the balcony, faced with a cinderblock wall from the balcony floor up to the ceiling. (I was never in those rooms, but I assume the projection booth and all the ornamental walls and ceilings were taken out for this.) The remainder of the balcony, its walls and ceiling were intact but had been stripped of all the loose decoration. Ben Hall told me that the lighting fixtures for the colour organ were all still there but all the bulbs had been removed and, of course, the original board was gone, too. I had never seen it when it was operating as a theatre but it looked as if the original parts of the room still had their original finishes and that the new walls had been finished to roughly match the mottled gold colour. I also remember that at some point in that time all of the remaining original ornamental lighting sconces were removed and replaced with less fragile fixtures.

The original orchestra lift was at that point still intact (they had simply built the new floor out over it), as were the blower room and some other spaces in the basement, but understage was completely modernized. The organ console was on its original lift and a plug had been fitted into the new floor that could be removed so the console could be raised. At its top level, originally stage level, the top of the 6-inch ornamental lip on the lift was just level with the floor so you had to step down into it.

I have not set foot in the place since then, but people who have been there over the years have related sad tales of major structural alterations, and some recent pictures I have seen seem to bear this out. It appears that the entire mezzanine has been torn out to the walls, as has the front third of the balcony, although it looks like the side pillars remain. I may be wrong about this next part, but it looks like the floor has been raised a bit, too. It’s still a magnificent space, and the Wurlitzer sounds even better with the extra flat walls to reflect its might, but to restore it to anything even close to wnat it was would be a VERY expensive undertaking, I think.