The Paramount Theatre is a live theatre/movie theater in downtown Austin, Texas. The classical revival style structure was completed around 1915. On June 23, 1976, the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Throughout its 100-year history, the Paramount has hosted a diverse range of acts, including vaudeville, musicals, legitimate theater, and movies, including premieres of films such as 1966’s Batman.
Ernest Nalle commissioned architect John Eberson to design the four-story theater in January 1915. On October 11, 1915, the theater debuted under the name “The Majestic” and housed a variety of vaudeville entertainers, including the Marx Brothers. In 1930, the theater was purchased by Karl Hoblitzelle, who renamed it to the “Paramount Theatre” and added carpeting, upholstered seating, and the insertion of a gigantic lighted blade sign saying “Paramount”. The Margaret Reed Estate bought the theater in 1941. The front of the building was renovated in November 1963. The iconic blade sign was removed and reprogrammed during the refurbishment. However, the sign was never reinstalled, and its destiny was never revealed.
By the 1970s, the popularity of television and suburban movie theaters had led to a fall in theater attendance. In 1975, proprietors John M. Bernardoni, Charles Eckerman, and Stephen L. Scott organized a nonprofit group to rebuild the crumbling structure. Local philanthropist Roberta Crenshaw, who had a 50% share in the building through her late husband’s estate, donated her half of the trust to the nonprofit, while the other half of the trust offered a 99-year lease. The theater was included to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, making it eligible for government restoration assistance. Renovations began in September 1977, thanks to a $1.85 million federal grant, which was also utilized to stimulate commercial development in Downtown Austin.
The Great Revival
The hard work of the previous six years had paid off, and the Paramount was once again the standard-bearer for the Austin arts community. The theatre saw a range of performers perform on its stage, from big-name talent and film premieres to in-house productions and incredible tours, providing firm basis on which to develop a new reputation.
Texas’s Finest Little Whorehouse
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas film premieres at the Paramount in 1982, featuring movie stars Burt Reynolds, Dolly Parton, and Charles Derning, as well as a parade along Congress Avenue.
The Paramount made a bold step forward by producing its own touring performances in-house, including the first national tour ever produced by a regional theatre. Beginning with the November 1982 performance of Deathtrap with Leslie Nielsen, the theatre produced a run of well-received shows starring renowned actors such as E. G. Marshall in Mass Appeal and Martin Landau in Dracula.
A Homegrown Hit
Greater Tuna, a satirical look at many people from small-town Texas (all played by Jaston Williams and Joe Sears), was the Paramount’s biggest triumph on stage in 1982. Tuna’s success led to sequels and a strong local fanbase, outselling all other non-sporting entertainment in town.
For the first time in years, the Paramount was handling numerous entertainment genres at the same time, drawing top-tier events such as charity screenings of EDtv starring Matthew McConaughey and Legal Eagles starring Robert Redford. Other iconic 1980s artists include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gallagher, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, George Carlin, Sarah Vaughan, and Lyle Lovett.
Christmas with Tuna
Tuna Christmas, starring Jaston Williams and Joe Sears, made its Texas stage premiere at the Paramount in 1990 and lasted for five weeks.
The Paramount launched merger talks with its neighbor, the State Theatre, in the late 1990s.
Many memorable shows were performed on the Paramount stage, including Tom Waits, Tom Jones, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, John Cale, Ray Charles, Joan Baez, Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Randy Newman, Gregory Hines, AMT (Austin Musical Theatre) shows like Peter Pan and STOMP, and a wide range of classic films and national film premieres.
Austin Theatre Alliance
The horse surged into the new millennium on the back of decades of positive growth. The Paramount united with the State Theatre, its neighbor for 65 years, to form the Austin Theatre Alliance under joint management in 2000. The theater’s schedule was once again as diversified as it had been during its vaudeville days.
A formal youth education department called “Paramount Academy for the Arts” was established in 2008. Literacy to Life / Story Wranglers began in one third grade classroom at Matthews Elementary, teaching the basics of creative writing through arts-integrated education and bringing kids’ unique stories from page to stage in a live production.
Dr. Maya Angelou, John Prine, David Byrne, Don Rickles, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Burt Bacharach, and Ravi Shankar all performed on the Paramount stage.
Moontower Comedy Festival
The Austin Theatre Alliance created and launches the nationally acclaimed annual Moontower Comedy Festival in 2012, featuring headliners Wanda Sykes, Steven Wright, Seth Meyers, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Marc Maron, Ari Shaffir, Big Jay Oakerson, JB Smoove, and Jeff Ross.
The President of the United States takes the stage
On July 10, 2014, President Obama became the first sitting president to appear at a theater. He began by praising the theatre, saying, “It’s amazing to play at the Paramount. I believe I have finally arrived. “I’ve finally arrived.” In a more than 40-minute economic sermon, a riled-up Obama emphasized the importance of protecting the country’s middle class and covered the economy, immigration, and executive measures. The president charmed the audience with anecdotes both political and personal, and even dealt with some hecklers with grace.
Centennial Celebration & New Blade
A new historically authentic 75-foot blade sign for the Paramount’s front was built in 2015, using old images and recordings of the original blade as reference. The Paramount honored its 100th anniversary with a blade relighting ceremony and a Patty Griffin concert.
Ten years of education
In 2018, Paramount Academy for the Arts became Paramount Education, celebrating ten years of growth and serving 20,000+ students annually in their classrooms and in student matinees in our theatres.
The Paramount continues to draw legends to the stage, including Gary Clark Jr., Dave Chappelle, Mavis Staples, Earth Wind & Fire, k.d. Lang, Ryan Bingham, Gladys Knight, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Tweedy, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Charley Pride.
Next Point of Interest: Austin Aquarium