When Fort Greene’s Paramount Theatre opened as a movie house and performance hall in 1928, the Jazz-age was still in full swing. This cultural movement, coined by F. Scott Fitzgerald, found its epicenter in cities like New York, Chicago and Paris, and the Paramount flourished with legendary music and culture.
At the bustling intersection of DeKalb and Flatbush Avenues, the Paramount was the second largest theatre in Brooklyn at the time. The venue became a mecca for jazz, big band and swing greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and even Frank Sinatra. As rock & roll took over in pop culture, it went on to showcase some of the most legendary rock performers of the 20th century, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry among them.
The historic performers weren’t the only artistry the theatre showcased. The interior rococo style architecture was every bit as momentous, stunningly appointed with walls of tiered fountains and cherubic statues, a lustrous painted dome, proscenium arches, vaulted, chandeliered ceilings and a magnificent Wurlitzer organ. There were ornate grand lobbies, luxurious mezzanines and cushy lounges. The grand opulence of the Paramount provided theatre goers an extravagant experience reminiscent of New York’s gilded age while seeing some of the country’s most important and groundbreaking performers.
Around mid-century however, the artistic value and cultural integrity of New York’s historic buildings took a back seat to urban development, and the ornate musical and architectural relic was turned into a sports complex for Long Island University. For more than half a century, the theatre’s gilded glory was hidden by a drab, nondescript exterior advertising college basketball practice and other sports-related activities. To the school’s credit however, the interior architectural integrity was in large part left intact and posters, photos and display cases filled with historical artifacts are preserved within the sports complex.
And now Fort Greene, and all New York, is getting back this ornate and elaborate piece of its musical, cultural and architectural history. Recently, a Barclay’s affiliate signed a deal with Long Island University to return 1,500 seats to the venue, allowing for a mixed-use space that will showcase, once again, musical arts and culture. The return of the Paramount Theatre will infuse a completely unique energy into Brooklyn’s always vibrant, ever changing artistic culture. The theatre’s unique history differentiates it from BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House and the also newly restored, stunningly opulent Kings Theatre in Flatbush, and will offer an interesting cultural dichotomy to the Barclays Center, its new behemoth neighbor.
The Paramount Theatre’s grand reopening is slated to be happening soon, with performances reportedly lined up for next month. In a city where the old is consistently replaced by the new, it’s exciting for New York to get back such a beautiful, historically significant relic of its jazz-age past.