Loew's Paradise Theatre

2413 Grand Concourse,
Bronx, NY 10468

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Paradise Theater

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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 facade 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 in December 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, now 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 facade and the interior. Listed on 16th April 1997.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 660 comments)

MikeJC on February 11, 2015 at 9:38 am

A Robert Morton organ – OK, 4 manuals – yes, but only 7 ranks? Surely not! I thought all these Robert Morton “Wonder Organs” had 23 ranks? Probably the Midnight Organ Pipe-Removal Company had paid a visit! Although Harold Ramsay (note the spelling, his surname was really Ramsbottom) was born in Great Yarmouth in England, he was actually Canadian as his family had emigrated to Canada when he was three years old and taken citizenship.

DaveM on February 11, 2015 at 9:23 pm

theatrefan — I had the same question as to where the theater 1 booth was. I doubt it was on the orchestra floor. It might have been at the front of the balcony, or the old booth projecting over or maybe even between 2 and 3, if there was a space between the theaters. I just don’t remember.

movieguy — I didn’t find the church people unfriendly at all — maybe just a little surprised anyone wanted to see the building. I would have liked to have seen the balcony, but I’m sure they had their reasons for keeping it off limits, like insurance. Any reluctance I had to wander the orchestra was out of respect for people there for church, not because I was stopped by anyone. I wouldn’t say the theater is “unused”. The church is using the space, which means keeping it heated and keeping the roof intact. Because of this, the theater will survive. We wouldn’t have the 175th Street if it weren’t for the late Rev. Ike.

theatrefan on February 12, 2015 at 5:26 am

DaveM – Usually it’s for insurance purposed they will not let us wander around up there. When the 175th shows films the Loge & Balcony section are closed as well. Seating is on the main orchestra level only. I tried to find the old photo’s of the Paradise as a multiplex that Bway had suggested in the comments section, but I could not locate them unfortunately.

stang119 on February 12, 2015 at 6:37 am

As per my older posts, I grew up at the Paradise. But only went a few times after the initial twinning but only once after the quadding (I almost cried). A new projection booth was built in the rear of the orchestra for the downstairs screens. Obviously some back rows were lost but worse the projection angle made viewing headache inducing.

theatrefan on February 12, 2015 at 7:12 am

stang119 – Do you remember if the two new screens were in the same place at the front of the auditorium? Or did they just drop a new wall down where the edge of the balcony is, like they did at the Loew’s Jersey?

theatrefan on February 12, 2015 at 9:56 am

Auditorium #7 in the Sony/Loews Theatres Lincoln Square complex on New York’s Upper West Side is named in honor of this former Loew’s Motion Picture Palace.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 7, 2015 at 5:21 pm

I know this is late notice, but tonight, April 7th, at 8:30, WNYE-TV channel 25 will be airing an episode of their Blueprint NYC series devoted to the Loew’s Wonder Theaters. If you miss it, you may be able to watch the episode at their website after it has aired.

theatrefan on June 2, 2015 at 3:46 pm

This Loew’s Wonder Theatre seemed to last the longest as an actual regular movie theatre finally being closed by Loews (Sony at the time) in January of 1994. I’m sure being a quad at the time helped extend it’s run.

paktype on June 3, 2015 at 2:30 pm

My mother raved about this theater. She moved to the Bronx in 1958 and saw many movies there.

stang119 on January 1, 2016 at 6:31 am

I was in the area yesterday and I was graciously allowed to go in. All my youth memories came back. What a beautiful restoration. And with lights on you can see all the glory of this beautiful house. No more stars but nonetheless everything else was perfect. I asked if I could take pictures but there was a small service going on but they said maybe another time.

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