Paramount Theater

180 Essex Street,
Salem, MA 01970

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DApril on December 8, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Hi Mike

I notice too that when you have to go to a shoebox cinema these days, the movie soundtrack is usually about 90 decibels too high. That’s because the automated projector doesn’t know the difference. The projectionist in former times made sure that the sound track was at a comfortable listening level. Progress!

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 8, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I wish theatres had talented men like Harold Hunt,but if he saw a booth today,he would probably walk out.A so-called projectionist today has never heard of carbon-arcs or a change over!And I don’t think progress is always good.Automation has put a lot of good people out of work.

DApril on December 8, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Hi Bill,

That information on Harold Hunt, the projectionist, is great information. So often the projectionist, who runs the whole show, is, ironically, hidden away and often unknown. This information adds to the history of the theater along with your description of the projection room equipment. In all the movies I saw at the Paramount as a kid or adult, there was never a single projection mishap, so he was obviously a master of his trade. In having to be absent from “the last picture show”, I’ll bet that the Paramount days live all the more vividly in his mind. Yes, I too attended a couple of Frank Simpson’s organ recitals. Those massive contra-bass organ pipes could sure shake the walls of the theater! Evidently, there was another organist there, Thomas Smith, but I never heard him play. The organ chambers were behind the drapes in the arches of the two front opera boxes on the side walls. A classmate of mine told me that he had worked part-time for the organ tuner, and mentioned that there were no doorways or stairs leading up to those boxes. So they had to access the boxes using ladders raised from the orchestra level.

DApril on December 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Hi Bill,

Thanks for commenting on this tread. Back in the 60s came the urban renewal frenzy. Salem lost the Paramount and the castle-like train depot. Everyone who recalls them wishes them back today, but sadly it’s too late. I think you’re right—today those treasures would have been preseved and creative uses would have been found. How well I recall the poster frames you mention. Inside the long lobby there were poster frames and illuminated advertizing displays built into the walls. Pickering
Oil had a display there for years. I recall that on stage there were two curtains, the traveler curtain you mention which opened first, followed by a more sheer curtain that opened next. At the Plaza and E.M. Loew’s Salem, I can’t recall stage curtains there. I believe those screens were exposed from the moment you entered the auditoriums. So the double-curtain setup at the Paramount was unique. Everything at the Paramount was a touch of class, even as the old dame neared her demise.

Bill L
Bill L on November 26, 2010 at 11:08 am

I was apprenticing as a projectionist the last year of the Paramount’s operation. I was trained by Harold Hunt, the last surviving charter member of IATSE Local 245. Harold opened the Paramount and was there for its entire run. He was a real gentleman. Ironically, he didn’t run the last show; he was away for a family funeral. That show of Midnight Cowboy was run by Frank Halloran, over from the GCC Northshore in Peabody. The Paramount had two Simplex XL projectors and Strong arc lamphouses plus a stereopticon machine they’d used for song lyrics during organ performances. I heard the organ as a kid, played by Frank Simpson.

Bill L
Bill L on November 26, 2010 at 11:01 am

Dave, I reply belatedly, what a great photo. Everyone wishes the city had the foresight to preserve the Paramount and create a county arts center, as would have happened today. Facing the sidewalk were two insert poster frames. Facing inward toward the box office were two 40X60 frames. Field’s office was to the left of the candy stand. A new white marquee was installed around 1957. Another irony is that the current CinemaSalem 3-plex stands near where the Paramount’s men’s/smoking room was. The screen was very large and curved with a red traveler curtain.

DApril on March 30, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Here is a link to a photo from March 21, 1940 showing the marquee of the Paramount Theatre in Salem, MA during the premier of “The House of Seven Gables”.

View link

DApril on December 11, 2007 at 9:03 pm

Hi Jon,

Probably the only more fitting movie for the closing would have been “The Last Picture Show”. I was living in Norwood at the time and had no knowledge of the closing. Otherwise, I would have driven to Salem with my wife to see the last movie. As a matter of fact, we had our first date there around 1963. The movie then was the comedy “Bachelor Flat” with Terry Thomas. I just happened to be in Salem shortly after the demolition. Driving down Church Street, I couldn’t believe my eyes! I got out of the car and stood where the theater had been. There was not even a brick left on the ground as a

souvenir. Now it’s just a memory. Speaking of Saturday matinees, where I was 10 or so and went to the Paramount with my friends, tickets for kids under 12 were 25 cents! Yes, I do recall the manager’s office directly across from the lobby exits facing St. Peter Street, and next to the left side grand staircase to the balcony when entering from the foyer. I believe that once James Field left, Phil Bloomberg became the theater manager. In the end, in the name of urban renewal, the Paramount was torn down—all for a parking garage that stood mostly empty for years thereafter. Ironically, the wrecking company went bankrupt trying to take the theater down. They had previously knocked down the much older Federal Theater (a vaudeville house), which dropped like a house of cards I’m told. The Paramount was steel reinforced, which made it a far more difficult project, thus the huge cost overruns.

JonMontgomery on November 25, 2007 at 9:19 pm

Hi Dave1, You are absoulutely correct about “Midnight Cowboy” being the last film ever shown at the Paramount because thats where I saw it. I also remember that there were only a handful of people in the theater at the time. Kind of sad when you think about it. I remember the admission price was very cheap at the time (probably an attempt to entice more patrons but it didnt work). All I could think of was how sad it was that this movie was the theaters swan song as it closed for good after this run. I can remember that night it was raining heavily and there were buckets in a few spots where the ceiling was leaking. We knew James Fields was the manager because if you remember, his office was opposite the candy counter and his name was on the door with a bronze plate. Also, I can remember going to the Paramount on saturdays during the day when they played horror movies. I can remember watching classics like “The Horror of Dracula” with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing or “The Premature Burial” or “Black Sunday”, stuff like that. The 3 theaters in Salem at the time seem to compete for the best horror movies.

DApril on October 29, 2007 at 12:37 pm

Here is the link to an article describing the current installation with picture of the Paramount’s Wurlitzer #2121 in Jerry Gould’s barn studio in Maple Valley, WA. The article also lists the instrument sounds available in this huge theater organ.

View link

DApril on October 29, 2007 at 12:15 pm

If anyone would like to see pictures of the Paramount’s great Wurlitzer organ #2121 (installed in July 1930) and later as installed at the Pizza & Pipes Restaurant in Seattle, WA, after the theater was demolished, here is the link:

View link

The pizza restaurant closed in the 1980s. Today the organ is privately owned and installed in a barn studio.

DApril on October 28, 2007 at 9:57 pm

I’d like to add some information for the Paramount Theater in Salem, MA. The architectural firm was the prestigious Rapp & Rapp of Chicago, IL. I had indicated that it opened in 1928, but it was still under construction then. The actual opening date was April 19, 1930. A few years later Publix sold its interest in the theater to John A. Deery, a Salem realtor. The Paramount was believed to be one of the first theaters designed exclusively for “talkies”. Nevertheless, although the stage depth was only 15 feet, many big name acts appeared at that venue over the years. The last movie exhibited there was “Midnight Cowboy”. I had mentioned 1967 as the year of demolition, but it appears to have been a few years later around 1971. I also neglected to mention that James Field managed the theater for 30 years starting in 1935. After the theater closed, he subsequently worked for the Salem Redevelopment Authority, and, ironically, in that capacity oversaw the theater demolition project.

efswin on December 5, 2006 at 4:52 pm

I grew up in Salem and the Paramount was my place to go on a Saturday afternoon in the early 60’s. In high schoold it was the dating place, especially the balcony. When it was torn down the big photo op failed when the big ball on the crane bounced off the rear of the building, it was that well constructed. Later, a friend and I, in the dead of night, took a small truck and loaded it with the bricks. They are now part of a wakway to a house in Brewster, MA.

bcnett on February 27, 2006 at 8:35 am

I heard the organ from this theatre many times when it was in a pizza parlor in Seattle, Washington. Have not heard what happened to it after the parlor closed.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on February 10, 2006 at 7:58 am

The MGM Theatre Photograph and Report form for the Paramount in Salem has an indistinct photo of the entrance taken in 1941. The Report states that the theatre has been presenting MGM product for 15 years, that it was built in 1927; that it’s in DeLuxe condition; and that it has 1764 seats on the main floor and 423 in the balcony, total: 2187.

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on October 14, 2005 at 3:36 pm

That’s a great history! Thank you for remembering so many details and telling the story. Are there any photos published of the Salem theatres?