1312 26th Avenue,
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The Strand Theatre was opened on Monday November 1, 1920 at 2PM with its first matinee and had its formal opening at 8PM with the mayors from all Gulf Coast cities and guests from New Orleans attending. The Strand Orchestra played for the standing room only crowd. Admission on opening day was 33 cents for the matinee and 50 cents for the evening show. Built by Edgar N. Hirsch who also owned the Dixie Theatre in Gulfport, the building was designed by the local architect firm of Shaw and Woleben. The theatre, according to news articles had the latest in screens, and a first for the south, a concave Clifograph screen.
The opening feature for the new theatre was “Yes and No” with Norma Talmadge and a comedy with Buster Keaton. The theatre’s 1500 or more seats were filled before 8PM and with late comers standing in the back of the house. The theatre’s pipe organ did not arrive in time to be installed for the opening of the Strand and was later installed and used for the first time on New Year’s Day of 1921.
The Strand played the latest and best of the movies of that era and its stage hosted many acts, including John Philip Sousa and his band.
The Strand was acquired by the Saenger Amusement Company of New Orleans on February 20, 1922. During the early to middle 1930’s the name was changed to the Paramount Theatre. The theatre had been operated by Saenger, Paramount-Publix, Paramount-Richards, Paramount-Gulf and ABC Midsouth Theatres.
In the early 1960’s the theatre was completely remodeled. Its concessions were moved from a small cramped space on the north side to the middle of the lobby and greatly enlarged. The recessed exit doors were moved below the steps to street level in the new all glass front. The box office was moved inside the entrance and token turn stiles intalled across from the box office. The seating was respaced to give greater leg room so that you could pass in front of seats without someone having to get up for you to pass. This reduced the seating to 700 on the main floor. The balcony was kept intact but never used. Stairs on each side of the lobby led to the second floor which contained huge restrooms and the theatres office and storage. Additional stairs on the west and south sides of the second floor led to the balcony seating. Its booth contained the original projectors that had been converted for sound and were well maintained by its two projectionest.
ABC Midsouth operated the theatre until about 1970 when it was closed after they opened the new Hardy Court Twin Cinema. Within weeks, it was sold to a local operator who sold it several years later to its last owner. The last movie to play at the Paramount was 1979’s James Bond feature “Moonraker”. Hurricane Frederic that year damaged the building and it was never reopened. It sat for years and when the city started proceedings to have it demolished, a group was formed to try and save the old theatre, but were not successful. It was demolished in the 1990’s and a parking lot now occupies the site of the Paramount.
We lost a grand old theatre, the oldest on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
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