The Paramount Theater

Last Friday, I had the rare and delightful pleasure of attending the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland for a viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant movie The Birds. The Paramount is a classic Deco movie palace that has been lovingly and painstakingly restored to its former splendor. They now open it up for music performances, classic movie nights and back stage tours. I remember seeing Bjork perform here as well as Mariza – both awesome concerts! My favorite events to enjoy at the Paramount are their classic movie nights. They only have about 10 screenings per year, so its a rare and special event. You can find the schedule here!

It's a treat approaching the Paramount with its bank of colorful neon.

"Walk like an Egyptian"

"Always the best show in town"

You can read a detailed history of the Paramount here. In short, construction was started in 1930 at the height of the Art Deco movement’s international reach and when completed, it was one of the largest movie palaces on the west coast of the US. The designer was the well known San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger who was also responsible for the Castro and Alhambra movie palaces in San Francisco, the Bal Tabarin (now Bimbo’s 365 Club on Columbus Ave.) and was one of the architects on the team which designed the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-40).

Quoting from the Paramount website –

Timothy Pflueger was credited by one professional journal as “responsible for the work of more sculptors and mural painters in his buildings than any other western architect .” (Architect and Engineer, June 1941, p. 19) He engaged the most famous muralist of the time, the Mexican Diego Rivera (1886-1957), to paint “The Wealth of California” for the San Francisco Stock Exchange, and Rivera later identified Pflueger’s most original concept as his use of the fine arts in his buildings. “The group he gathered about him achieved a success in expressing their individual vision of American Society in a harmony which included the architectonics of the building.” (Rivera, My Art, My Life) Pflueger and Rivera were boon companions during the latter’s stay in San Francisco from 1930 to 1934, and while Rivera was not directly responsible for the facade mosaic of the Paramount Theatre, his influence may be seen in the majestic monumentality of the two figures in it as well as in its use of earth colors.

[Illustration from a detail of Rivera’s The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City, San Francisco Art Institute. Rivera is seated on the middle of the scafolding with his back to the viewer and the trio below him includes Paramount Theatre architect Timothy Pflueger.]

The sculpted plaster panels lining the interior of the the theater are exquisite

As is the ceiling lighting system of cookie cutter style sheet metal patterns.

To top of all this architectural sumptuousness, there is the MAIN FEATURE!


Before the main feature there’s the mighty Wurlitzer organ, the glamorous game of luck and chance ‘Dec-O-Win’, with fabulous prizes to be won, the Movietone News, and an original Warner Bros. cartoon with the first ever appearance of Tweetie Bird! (a subtle reference to the main feature and perhaps to that other famous blonde ingenue bird Tippi Hedron (Tippi/Tweetie)).

The fabulous Dec-O-Win

But then finally the titles roll……

All you need is popcorn!

"Tippi, look behind you!!!"

What a great Bayarea event – from beleaguered Bodega Bay to glamorous Oakland!

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