Loew's Paradise Theatre
2413 Grand Concourse,
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Loew’s Paradise Theatre opened on September 7, 1929 with Warner Oland in “The Mysterious Dr. Fu-Manchu” on the screen, plus a Chester Hale stage presentation “Cameos” and British organist Harold Ramsay playing the 4 manual, 23 ranks Robert Morton ‘Wonder Organ’.
The 23rd largest movie theatre ever to be built in the USA was commissioned by the Paramount/Publix chain and was to be named the Venetian Theatre. Paramount/Publix withdrew from the project shortly before construction began and it was taken over by New York’s largest movie theatre chain, Loew’s Inc. The design was adapted to become one of the five ‘Wonder Theatres’, named after the Robert Morton ‘Wonder Organ’ which was installed in each of them.
The first ‘Wonder Theatre’ had opened in January 1929, the Loew’s Valencia Theatre, in Jamaica, Queens. The Loew’s Paradise Theatre in the Bronx was joint-second to open, on the same day with Loew’s Kings Theatre, Brooklyn. These were followed by the Loew’s Jersey Theatre, Jersey City, NJ and finally the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre in Washington Heights, Manhattan.
The Loew’s Paradise Theatre was one of the last ‘Atmospheric’ style theatres built towards the end of the movie palace building boom. John Eberson, the architect who designed this $4,000,000 deluxe picture palace, was famed for his ‘Atmospheric’ theatres and the Bronx Paradise, is perhaps the greatest example of his work to survive since the demolition of the Paradise Theatre in Chicago (1928-1956).
Here on the Grand Concourse, where local ordinance forbids the use of large vertical signs, the façade is restrained and dignified. On top of the frontage, over the entrance, is the space originally occupied by a mechanical Seth Thomas clock, where hourly St. George slayed a fire-breathing dragon. As the Bronx Paradise fell foul to vandals in later years, the figure of St. George was stolen. A similar device, now renovated, was also installed at the Loew’s Jersey Theatre, Jersey City, NJ.
The main lobby, reached through a set of bronze doors from the outer lobby, features three domes in the ceiling containing painted murals depicting ‘Sound, Story and Film’. In the center of the north wall, beneath a statue of ‘Winged Victory’, was a large Carrara marble fountain featuring the figure of a child on a dolphin. At the base of the Grand Stair hung an oil painting of ‘Marie Antoinette as Patron of the Arts’ and a copy of artist Holbein’s ‘Anne of Cleves’.
The auditorium was designed to represent a 16th century Italian Baroque garden, bathed in Mediterranean moonlight, with stars twinkling in the ceiling as clouds passed by. Hanging vines, cypress trees, stuffed birds and Classical statues and busts lined the walls. The safety curtain was painted with a gated Venetian garden scene, which continued the garden effect around the auditorium when it was lowered.
After the Great Depression, live acts were dropped from the program schedule and the Paradise became a regular first run movie theatre. In the late 1940’s a concrete slab was installed over the orchestra pit to create four extra rows of seats. It covered the orchestra pit and organ console. The slab was lifted only once, in the 1960’s, to enable the removal of the organ console, which with the rest of the organ pipes has now been installed at the Loew’s Jersey Theatre, Jersey City, NJ. which had its original organ removed in 1949 (and that is now installed in the Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA)
Over the years, many features and fittings in the Paradise ‘disappeared’ and by the late-1960’s it was on the market for redevelopment, opening only for evening performances. The theatre was twinned on December 19, 1973, then in 1975 it was triplexed and in 1981 was divided into four screens, hiding practically all the original auditorium interior behind drop ceilings and panel walls.
The Paradise Theatre closed in January 1994 and lay empty for six years. By November 2000, work had begun on removing the four-screens and a restoration, but this was halted due to an ownership rights dispute with the restorer. A new owner took control and completed the renovation, re-opening in October 2005 as a live theatre and special events venue named Utopia’s Paradise Theater. In November 2012 it was leased to a church.
The theater is a New York City Registered Landmark building, for both the façade and the interior. Listed on 16th April 1997.
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