The Paramount Center is a mixed use, state-of-the-art performance and production complex enlivening one of the oldest American theatrical sites at the heart of downtown Boston. Boston Globe architecture correspondent Robert Campbell calls it, “…one of the triumphs of recent Boston architecture and urbanism, the perfect marriage of the right client and the right place. This is what makes good cities: the juxtaposition of new and old in one place, so you feel connected to history while you look forward to the future. Paramount Center embodies the wonderful urban paradox in which memory meets invention, the old and new converse with each other. The Paramount interior looks all the more 1930s because of its contrast with the neighboring architecture of 2010.” (Boston Globe, March 7, 2010)
Historicity is a “built in” feature, not a programming emphasis or an add-on. Emerson College put interpretation of the unique place, with integration to the future, among its top priorities in the Paramount Center. The granite façade was preserved and augmented with a glass extension that subtly displays the many names of the site over the centuries. Its arched windows incorporate an LED wall capable of 10-million-color visual art events that enliven the street for blocks around. The original Paramount marquee and neon blade sign were restored and reenergize the streetscape, but the 8,000 hand-dipped lamps are now look-alike LEDs, the chasers electronic, and the reader boards are digital. Visitors find historic fabric incorporated in all areas.
Interpretive displays abound, including the door of Keith’s safe that admonishes, “in case of fire close this door – ANYONE.” Of the memory murals, Robert Campbell noted, “My favorite is a vast wall of names, looking a little like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, of thousands of performers who worked here once, mostly in vaudeville. Some weren’t yet famous. Next to the name of Broadway composer Jerome Kern, for example, is the note ‘accompanist,’ which is all he was when he performed here.”
The Paramount auditorium was reconfigured from a 1,500-seat movie palace into a 590-seat proscenium theater. Instead of 15 feet, the stage and orchestra pit now occupy 46 feet of the same footprint. The décor was demolished in the 1970s, and reconfiguration required gutting the interior and replacing structure and finishes. he Art Deco murals and detail, carpet, seating colors, proscenium ornamentation and sunburst were replicated from various sources and adapted to the reconfigured space. Cutting edge tools were used in the decoration. Cutting edge speaker systems were embedded in the walls, and cutting edge technical systems such as motorized fly gear and fiber-optic video recording and distribution channels were incorporated throughout.
But guests perceive the auditorium to be a faithful restoration of the 1932 auditorium. Even workers from the original theater have expressed surprise that it is new construction with a different overall shape.
Preservation has been featured to create a sense of unique place in the heart of a great middle-sized American city, making the Boston Historic Theatre District a destination for visitors and residents alike.
For Emerson College, the Paramount Center houses students, provides classroom and faculty office space, and enhances its vital connections to its community. For the world of artists, it provides a production and performance center that unites the future and the history of the field. For the greater Boston community, it connects and educates theater lovers about the world of art today, tomorrow and throughout Boston history while revitalizing a long-neglected critical connector in the fabric of downtown life.
As Robert Campbell says, “Some stories have a happy ending.”