Whenever I drive down Bay Street in Staten Island…
…I always wonder about the boarded-up movie theater between Union and Prospect.
Shuttered for over 25 years, this was once the art deco Paramount Theatre, one of Staten Island’s grandest movie theaters. Built on the site of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s childhood farmhouse, the Paramount opened in October, 1930, with seating for up to 2,300.
Like most of New York’s once great movie palaces, The Paramount eventually succumbed to changing times and closed in 1977. It later reopened as a nightclub, and then an entertainment venue. Among the bands that played the former Paramount were The Ramones, Metallica (opening for Venom), the Dead Kennedys, and the B-52s. The Paramount finally closed for good in the late 1980s, and has been locked up ever since.
For the longest time, I’ve wondered if anything remains of the former theater inside. Then, completely by chance, I happened to get in touch with the owner, and he agreed to a rare tour. Last weekend, I drove out to Staten Island to visit the Paramount.
There are a ton of great details on the exterior – I love the marquee lettering, along with the flourishes, which almost feel nautical (note the lion hidden on the right):
These panels border the entrance:
I also love the classic art deco facade…
…which has great little accents right up to the top:
More bits can be found around the side…
…set into the brickwork:
We headed through the doors…
…and I was thrilled to see that the Paramount’s former lobby was still very much intact, complete with a grand staircase wrapping around to the mezzanine level.
Here’s the reverse looking toward the entrance (the bar on the right is a later addition):
The wall moulding is in particularly great shape:
A closer look at the stairs:
The decorative balcony over the entranceway:
A very unusual lighting fixture overhead:
But what about the theater? From the lobby, we headed through the doors, passing under the mezzanine balcony…
…and into the remains of the Paramount Theatre:
Despite the disrepair and what I presume are numerous alterations made during its time as a concert venue/nightclub, quite a lot of the original theater has managed to survive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a single picture of the 1930s interior, so it’s hard to know exactly what is original.
Upon entering, your eyes are immediately drawn to the enormous purple and gold ceiling overhead, featuring a flock of gilded birds flying in a circle:
Toward the stage is this inset of hieroglyphics. Also, note the blue framing detail around it. I’d love to know how much of this was original.
Here’s a look at the main stage area:
Flanking the stage are two exit doors surrounded by gorgeous detailing…
I love the art deco duck/serpent things sipping from the urn. Also note the face below:
Its twin on the other side is currently being restored:
Close-up of the face – note the surrounding sunbursts.
On either side of the door are additional flourishes…
…with beautiful depictions of people frolicking:
Along the sides of the theater…
…you can see a lot of the original designwork still remaining on the walls…
Theatergoers would have passed these decorative emblems while walking down the aisles to their seats:
Above the aisles are hanging lights…
…which seem appropriate to the theater design:
Finally, here’s a look at the mezzanine with seats removed:
The balcony curves out to the two exit doors on either side:
From the main theater, we headed to a side staircase…
…with much of the original moulding in place:
From there, we stepped onto the roof of the theater, which has a great view of the Verrazzano on one side…
…and the city on the other.
We made one final stop on our tour to the old ventilator room:
Long out of commission, this enormous fan would have circulated air through the theater.
So the Paramount still remains – but will it someday reopen? The owner is actively trying to restore the theater and open it as a functioning venue, but as you can see, there’s a lot of work ahead. He’s certainly willing to entertain any serious offers (read: with a budget!) for film or photoshoots, and if you’re interested, you can get in touch via his website here.
And if you ever went to the Staten Island Paramount for a movie or concert, I’d love to hear your memories in the comments!
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