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 656 comments)

DaveM on February 10, 2015 at 7:35 pm

I don’t know how the theater was quadded — I do recall the triplex which preceded it, which was quite tastefully done. They dropped a wall toward the front of the balcony and left the entire orchestra section, including the dome and stars in front of the wall, intact as theater 1. Unless you were sitting right up front and craned your head back, you didn’t see the wall, and the atmospheric effect was intact. The balcony was split right down the middle for theaters 2 and 3. I can’t remember if they dropped a false ceiling or used the original ceiling in theaters 2 and 3. So I would usually pick whatever was playing in theater 1. Loews took pretty good care of the place in the 70s.

markp on February 11, 2015 at 5:32 am

DaveM, thats different than the way they did the Jersey in Jersey City. There, they dropped the wall down from the balcony cutting off the front part of the orchestra. They split the area under the balcony for cinema 2 & 3, and the balcony became cinema 1. All the seats in the front orchestra were removed.

movieguy on February 11, 2015 at 6:47 am

I think it’s a terrible shame and waste that the Lowe’s paradise is sitting unused. It was so beautifully restored. There had been some questionable management running the place and stories of them keeping money, That was owed to the performers and making off with money. But it’s a real shame is there’s a restaurant right next door and there could be a lot of good acts that would appeal to a wide range of people. Now he just sits and from what people posted here, the people who have it now are very unfriendly and unwilling to let people look around inside.

theatrefan on February 11, 2015 at 8:52 am

DaveM & Markp, If the balcony was walled off at that point, I wonder how they projected the films on the orchestra screen. Did they have to add another projection room downstairs like the Jersey did? When they finally created a quad, they must have split the lower level into two, I wonder if it was only the section of seats directly underneath the balcony section like had been done at the Jersey. Multiplexing these two Wonder theatres did help them survive a bit longer than the other three, which never had been cut up. I believe the Paradise was closed by Loews in January of 1994, a few months before they changed the name to Sony Theatres.

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.

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