The restored Paramount Mainstage includes many nods to the building's history.
Boston has always been an international city. Its safe harbors welcomed immigrants from around the world. It has the oldest Chinatown in the U.S. Even today, suburban Lowell boasts the largest population of Cambodians outside Asia. So it is not surprising that Emerson College, with campuses in Boston, the Netherlands, and Los Angeles, chooses to embrace an international community of artists and express Emerson College’s values with ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage in a theatrical location dating to the American Revolution.
The location is unique. It is adjacent to the original Haymarket, at the northern end of the isthmus connecting Boston to the mainland, where farmers came to sell and trade and stay overnight before returning home. The Paramount Center embraces two buildings connected by their entertainment use as far back as 1738. The northern building’s Romanesque revival granite façade was added to the 1836 Lion Tavern/Lion Theatre in 1860, uniting it with the 1846 Adams House Hotel to the south. For the next 90 years, the Lions site held as many as three simultaneously operating theaters and served as the home base of the 400-theater Keith-Albee vaudeville empire. Showman Benjamin Franklin Keith celebrated cultural newness in his vaudeville cards, while creating temples for educating and assimilating immigrants into American culture.
On the Adams site, the Paramount Theater replaced the hotel in 1932. Adjoining to the north is the Opera House, built in 1928 as the B. F. Keith Memorial Theatre to replace the 1854 Boston Theatre. The Paramount was abandoned in 1976, the Lion-site theaters were demolished in 1960 leaving “the Arcade” front building, and the Opera House was closed from 1991 until 2004. But at its heyday, the block contained six of the neighborhood’s 28 venues. Theater is at the heart of the neighborhood’s revival.
The Paramount Center project represents the latest in a series of town-gown partnerships between Emerson and the city of Boston and marks the completion of the College’s downtown campus. Emerson College acquired the Lion-site properties in 2005, broke ground in 2007, and completed the 180,000-square-foot mixed-use development in December 2009.