Paramount Theater

180 Essex Street,
Salem, MA 01970

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DApril on September 26, 2016 at 1:05 am

Hi Bill,

I saw several of those first-run movies you mentioned at the Paramount. (The Plaza did most of the re-runs, and it seemed that Loew’s Salem Theater ran most of the horror movies.) I remember one evening at the Paramount where the movie was the complete opera “Aida”. Every last seat was sold out! It was fantastic! Yes, those murals on the side walls seemed to be the original ones for sure, given the extra photo you added. There was also quite a sizable group of ushers in uniform in the 1930s. My father, Ernest April, enjoyed working there as an usher when he was a senior at Salem High, and later when he was on breaks from Dartmouth College. I believe that early there were 17 ushers employed there. Being that I was from the next generation, there were typically only two or three in uniform at a time. The advent of TV in the 1950s marked the beginning of smaller attendance in theaters everywhere.

And yes I certainly recall the gentlemen’s smoking room. I only got up to the balcony a couple of times. As I recall the upper floor corridor, it had some nice furniture there too.


Bill L
Bill L on September 25, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Hi Dave: Since I virtually lived in the Paramount as a kid, I couldn’t begin to count the matinees I attended – all the Jerry Lewis pics like “Geisha Boy” (first time I got into the balcony) and “Visit To A Small Planet” and “Nutty Professor”(when Lewis appeared in person). My recall is the ticket price being 35 cents. After all, it WAS the Paramount and not merely the Plaza or E.M.Loew’s Salem whose tickets went for a quarter. I can’t fail to mention all the Disney classics as well. I remember seeing “Darby O' Gill” like it was yesterday – that was 1959, a golden year – and yes, we kids were always exiled to “Aisle 5” where we were kept from bothering the adults who had access to the rest of the house. On your question about the murals, I’ve just posted a better version of that wall photo. If you look closely you’ll see that, although similar, the murals are indeed distinct as I remember them being. Recall the “smoking lounge” that served as an ante room to the men’s rest room, with its glass table, plush couch and floor-standing ash trays? Right to the end, when you went to the Paramount, you were back in the ‘30s. Very little had changed and that was the magic of it.


DApril on September 23, 2016 at 7:15 pm

Hi Bill, on the two larger side walls nearest the stage and front exit doors, there were the two dark red curtained faux opera boxes covering the organ pipes. Then there were the other 8 painted murals on the walls behind the boxes. The last two arches were actually in the balcony—the arches but no boxes there, of course. Now my question: It seemed in my early years that every wall mural was distinct and different. But in the photo, all of the mural paintings look exactly the same. Did I perceive that correctly? David

DApril on September 23, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Hi Bill, Wow! I think I would have seen that but for circumstances. When I was in grade school, Saturday afternoons hosted a Kids Day. The ticket was 25 cents. The seating was all in Aisle 5. There were always one or two ushers on duty. Around 1959 the family left Salem for Danvers. As a teenager I did bring her to the Paramount a few times around 1963. Then I was away in UMass in Amherst for four years. When I returned to Danvers, the Paramount was gone! Probably that’s why I missed that UV light. Sounds like it was quite a device.


Bill L
Bill L on September 23, 2016 at 9:11 am

Dave, you’re really shaking up the memory cells. I certainly recall that Pickering Oil slogan. Do you remember the display board in the lobby, to the right of the central aisle entrance door with those bumper-sticker-shaped signs of upcoming movies illuminated by two blacklight tubes? That was the first time I’d ever seen things glowing with UV light. It was fascinating.


DApril on September 22, 2016 at 11:00 pm

Hi Bill,

That long corridor was unique and amazing. In addition to the pictures of coming attractions wall-mounted in the fancy glass display cabinets, I recall a couple of the display cabinets were rented long-term such as Pickering Oil: “Let the silver fleet deliver your heat”. They had some model delivery trucks there too. The Paramount Theater was great.


Bill L
Bill L on September 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Those are low-resoluton thumbnails of photos in the Essex Institute-Phillips Library collection. Those and one or two others used to be viewable online but I can’t find them now. There was one shot of the long corridor leading from the street to the lobby in which half-sheet posters and lobby cards of coming films were displayed. I spent a lot of my early life in the Paramount (and other local theaters) as my previous posts attest.

Bill L.

DApril on September 22, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Hi jtre123,

Up at the very top of this page click on Photos if you have not already done that. Those are the only ones that I’m aware of that include interior shots. I’m not up on programs like PhotoShop etc. where it might be possible to achieve better clarity of these pics. Dave

jtre123 on September 21, 2016 at 6:34 pm

Does anyone have any additional photos of this place? I love Salem and work there and would love to see some interior photos if there are any available!

DApril on December 8, 2010 at 9:54 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 7:57 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 7:48 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 7:25 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 2:08 pm

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 2:01 pm

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 9:38 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 12, 2007 at 12:03 am

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 26, 2007 at 12:19 am

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 3:37 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 3:15 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 29, 2007 at 12:57 am

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 7:52 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 11:35 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 10:58 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 6:36 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?