Inside the Paramount Theatre, Shuttered For Over 25 Years

Whenever I drive down Bay Street in Staten Island…

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…I always wonder about the boarded-up movie theater between Union and Prospect.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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):

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These panels border the entrance:

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I also love the classic art deco facade…

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…which has great little accents right up to the top:

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More bits can be found around the side…

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…set into the brickwork:

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We headed through the doors…

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…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.

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Here’s the reverse looking toward the entrance (the bar on the right is a later addition):

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The wall moulding is in particularly great shape:

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A closer look at the stairs:

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The decorative balcony over the entranceway:

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A very unusual lighting fixture overhead:

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But what about the theater? From the lobby, we headed through the doors, passing under the mezzanine balcony…

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…and into the remains of the Paramount Theatre:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Here’s a look at the main stage area:

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Flanking the stage are two exit doors surrounded by gorgeous detailing…

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I love the art deco duck/serpent things sipping from the urn. Also note the face below:

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Its twin on the other side is currently being restored:

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Close-up of the face – note the surrounding sunbursts.

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On either side of the door are additional flourishes…

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…with beautiful depictions of people frolicking:

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Along the sides of the theater…

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…you can see a lot of the original designwork still remaining on the walls…

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Theatergoers would have passed these decorative emblems while walking down the aisles to their seats:

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The centerpiece:

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Above the aisles are hanging lights…

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…which seem appropriate to the theater design:

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Finally, here’s a look at the mezzanine with seats removed:

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The balcony curves out to the two exit doors on either side:

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From the main theater, we headed to a side staircase…

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…with much of the original moulding in place:

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From there, we stepped onto the roof of the theater, which has a great view of the Verrazzano on one side…

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…and the city on the other.

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We made one final stop on our tour to the old ventilator room:

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Long out of commission, this enormous fan would have circulated air through the theater.

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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!

-SCOUT

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66 comments

  1. Excellent post. I loved this! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Comme d’habitude, fantastic.

    Thank you.

    MS

  3. If the Homeport on the other side of the SIR is ever redeveloped like they’ve been saying for the last 20 years, it may have a chance. Unfortunately, the theatre is also close to some rather high-crime housing projects.

    • Yes and no. The projects are rather high-crime, but they aren’t exactly across the street from the Paramount. It’s a good half-mile or so away. I’ve had dinner at the Asian restaurant on the corner of the old Paramount (see Mongolian BBQ awning) and I’ve never had any problem with the neighborhood. I eat there, walk around, park my car, and haven’t had any trouble. Not saying it doesn’t exist, but the area isn’t Dodge City by any means.

      • Ex-Staten Islander

        I grew up in the Stapleton Houses in the 1960s and 1970s. Although they have become more dangerous from the period when I lived there they several blocks away and I doubt they pose a threat. The Paramount was our neighborhood theater, though. If you didn’t have a car, it was the only theater within walking distance. The next most popular theater was the somewhat grander St. George Theater.

  4. My pal Lindley Farley says:

    Kevin J. Walsh, Nick Carr is wrong about hospital scene in THE GODFATHER. It was filmed in four separate locations – not one (Lincoln Hospital). The exterior night shots were done at Bellevue Hospital (29th St. entrance), the interiors were filmed at Manhattan Eye & Ear Hospital on 13th St. and 2nd Ave. Close up exteriors were shot on the Paramount lot in L.A. Only the scene of the Don’s ambulance departure from the hospital was filmed at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.

  5. Awesome! What a beautiful theater, hope it gets the renovation it deserves.

  6. During the mid-1960’s I performed on stage at the Paramount Theater…Mrs. Rosemary’s Dance Studio used to have her recitals there…I was only 5 or 6 years old but I remember being awed by the place…perhaps you could find early photos of the the recitals in her studio archives…Good Luck 🙂

    • lisa kowaleskiburgerqueen524@yahoo.comlisa kowaleski

      Lisa kowaleskiI also performed there with mrs Rosemary’s. It would be nice to see old pictures My sister and i also performed there with mre Rosemary’s. It would be nice to see old pictures as to i dont remember much being so young at the time

  7. Minnie Van Driver, IAL

    I remember it’s brief life as a music venue in the early 80’s. I saw The Specials there!
    It also used to beautiful cobalt glass all over its facade…. all stolen!
    Sad!

  8. My best friend Carol and I would spend hours upon hours there on Saturdays watching the Beatles movies Hard Day’s Night and Help when they came out. We had to sit through a second movie to get to rewatch the Beatles movie. I remember one was a Nancy Kwan movie about a boys prep school. I couldn’t count the hours we spent there. We both also graduated from JHS 49 there. Memories.

  9. My parents often talk about going on a date at the Paramount in 1960 to see “King of Kings” and how my mother got upset and refused to watch Salome’s sexy dance scene and walked out of the movie. She though my father was a bit TOO interested in that scene, and my dad swears Salome was totally not his type. He stayed for the remainder of the movie nonetheless. That being said, my folks got married later that year, and have been together ever since. They still live on Bay Street about one mile south of the Paramount.

  10. Thanks Nick! It took me a long time to find out where Commodore Vanderbilt’s childhood home was located in Stapleton (he lived there when young, but was born in Port Richmond). Then I found an old Staten Island history book which stated his home was located on the site of the “new” Paramount Theatre, so I checked some maps/atlases and voila, there it was. If you go on the maps.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/ website you can see an aerial view of Bay St/Union Pl from 1924 and see the house located behind some older commercial structures that were torn down when the Paramount was built.

  11. No one has mentioned Steckmans which was there for so many years, there use to be a soda fountain and then it was only a sporting goods store. My husband bought the store in the 1970’s and then we bought the theatre. The rest is history . It really was a grand old theatre , I remember going there as a child, there use to be stage shows. The theatre had a moving stage,I remember it was always a problem to my husband.

  12. Thanks so much for the wonderful photos, really fascinating! I went there a few times as a teenager in the 80’s when they had new wave dances, but I don’t remember seeing any bands there. I got tickets to BowWowWow but never went. I wish I had been mature enough at the time to admire the beautiful interior so I am very appreciative that you got to document this. I hope the theater opens again!

  13. What a opportunity! It’s great to see behind the facade, and to hear it is in good shape after all these years makes it even better.

  14. I saw so many amazing shows there: B52’s, Talking Heads, Southside Johnny, (my first rock concert ever!), The Tubes, Ian Hunter and lots more!

  15. The Paramount Theater was visible from passing SIRT trains in the 1960s (near the Stapleton station, I think). The exterior was intriguing and I always meant to go see a movie there, but it never happened, so unfortunately I have no knowledge of the interior as it was at the time. Thanks for the virtual tour!

  16. I also performed on the Paramout stage as part of a childhood dance recital in the 70s. Then I loved it as a punk/new wave nightclub in the 80s. Saw the B52s, Scandal and the Divinyls there! I was so sad when it closed, and it was my dream to reopen the club. Thanks for sharing the photos and I truly hope it can be preserved, restored and reopened. We shouldn’t let architectural treasures such as this go to waste!!

  17. they should start a kickstarter campaign. there are many people all over the world that would want to see it restored!

  18. What a great story . Brought back many memories . Had a dance recital as a child there .
    Then later years with the best of friends dancing and partying till the 4am closing time

  19. In 1966 I sat on that stage as I graduated from New Dorp High School. Of course, as a teenager I would also ride the SIRT from Dongan Hills to Stapelton to see many great movies there.

  20. My granduncle was the projectionist at the Paramount for many years. I remember seeing many films there. And then the Talking Heads concert in 1982. Still one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen!

  21. Georges Montalba

    And the SI Paramount’s famous 3/19 twin console Wurlitzer lives on as a single console behemoth in Salt lake City. Still doing a fine job entertaining folks today.

    http://theatreorgans.com/utah/loft/

  22. Check this out:

    http://www.heightstheater.com

    Two guys brought this back to life. It is splendid– especially when the old WCCO Wurlitzer starts coming up from below!!

  23. Thanks for sharing, the pictures and the article. I too went to many a dance recital there as my sister was performing in them with Mrs. Rosemary’s, and also when it was a concert venue. I would love to see it restored to it’s original glory. I remember as a child, my Dad took mt and a friend to see “The Towering Inferno” there, there was even an intermission in the movie too.

  24. I was one of the people who did the renovation on The Paramount to turn it into a nightclub in the late 70s and after it opened remained on as the head of the Stage Crew and worked back stage at most all of the concerts that everybody else here mentioned. I installed ‘X’-shaped lighting grid on the back wall of the stage, the cables coming down through the ‘Macedonian Hieroglyphic’ part of the ceiling and pretty much everything else that had to do with the stage area.

    Here are a few more facts about the building:

    They Paramount Studios started building it in the mid-late 20’s but halfway though construction they got hit with an anti-trust suit and were forced to sell off their theaters. So they halted construction on the offices and storefronts in front (they’re part of the same super-structure as the theater) and capped the building off at two stories instead of the originally-planned six.

    The Orchestra Pit went up and down and was in three separate sections – an 8′ circle on either end and a 35′ section in the middle and all could be operated independently. One circle held a grand piano and the other had the keyboard for the pipe organ mentioned above. Remember those ‘art deco duck/serpent things’ in the photo above? The pipes for the organ were located in the rooms behind them. We never did get the pit elevators to operate because…

    The Paramount was built over an underground spring that runs down from Grymes Hill behind it to (presumably) the bay. When we started renovation we discovered the trap room (that’s the room below the stage and how you get to the orchestra pit when its lowered) was filled with 8′ of water and the motors for the pit had been submerged for a few years and were destroyed. Every time it rained water would leak out of a crack in the front wall of the pit. After a heavy rain water would squirt out more than a foot from the wall.

    When James Brown played there he fell in love with the place and told us he wished he could take the theater on the road with him and play every gig he did in it.

    I could go on like this for days but I’ll spare you. Thanks for bringing back some very fond memories.

    • Georges Montalba

      The circular Peter Clark elevators on either side of the orchestra pit at the SI Paramount each held a Wurlitzer console. Left console was the main console and the right side console was a “slave” (looked the same but not as many features). Piano was on the central orchestra elevator. Nice photo of duo organists posing at the left side console here.

      Priscilla Holbrook on the left and Betty Gould on the right. Other duo organists who played the SI Paramount were Don Baker and Elsie Thompson.

      Additional NYC theatres with duel Wurlitzer consoles included the Brooklyn Paramount, Times Square Paramount and Radio City Music Hall. The Roxy had three Kimball organ consoles in the pit, each on its own Peter Clark elevator.

      Sad to hear about the water reported in the previous post.

      • Georges Montalba

        SI Paramount Wurlitzer organ photo link:

        http://www.nycago.org/Organs/SI/html/ParamountTheatre.html

      • Sorry for the mistake about the piano, that was information that was told to us by either the Steckman Bros. (who owned the building at the time) or a stagehand who had done work there in the 40’s, I can’t remember which (these are 35-year-old memories after all, lol)

        One more thing I remembered about those circles the keyboards were on – there was a mechanism on them that made them slowly rotate, they would spin one way for half a rotation then reverse and spin back half a rotation. It must have been quite the spectacle at the time.

  25. Oh what wonderful memories. I dated an usher at the old Paramount Theatre and I saw West Side Story there probably a million times. I remember the Lane, the St. George, the old Ritz in Port Richmond but the Paramount was special. Thank you for the visit.

  26. I can remember my sister and I spending many Saturdays watching movies at the Paramount in the early 60’s. These pictures bring back many memories of great times. I remember waiting in line to get in to the theater, looking at the fishing gear in the window of Steckmans Sporting Goods (I think that was the name of the place). Back then, $.75 got us in the theater, a box of popcorn to share and a coke! Those were the days. My JHS49 class had our Graduation Ceremony there as well. It is so sad to see it in such disrepair. I left NY in ’72 to join the US Navy and never returned, but the Paramount will always be one of my cherished memories. Thanks for this amazing post.

  27. Check out an episode of ” Mysteries at the Museum: Asylum Poisoning; Naked Joe; The Mad Bomber” This Theater is mentioned as part of “The Mad Bomber” so some of the interior must have been repaired for that.

  28. When it was a ‘New Wave’ club back in the early ’80’s, I spent many Friday and/or Saturday nights at The Paramount. A lot of my friends either went there (and a few worked there too, including my friend Paul Gerardi who managed the stage and had a lot to do with renovating the place to make it what it was). It was (at the time) the best nightclub on Staten Island. Everybody came dressed up to look the part and make the scene the place you wanted to be in. It was like a local version of Studio 54, but no Disco: the music was all early Blondie, U2, B-52’s, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Gary Newman, David Bowie, etc. plus some local bands like Dirty Looks. ‘Wave Street’ across the street took over after that, but after a while everybody kind of realized it just wasn’t happening anymore. I miss those days, with my sharkskin suits and my English boots. Yes, I was a New Wave poser. Sue me. I had my fun.

  29. What a view! I hope someone turns this into a restaurant/bar/music venue.

  30. With all the coming development on the North Shore- the Wheel, Empire Outlets, Lighthouse Point, the National Lighthouse Museum, and the residential/commercial development by Ironstate- almost walking distance to the old theater, I have to believe something good should happen here.

    Ideally, the city will step in and help get a total rebuild/renovation of the old Paramount similar to what is happening with the old Loews’ Kings Theater in Brooklyn. (see http://www.nycedc.com/project/loews-kings-theatre).

    I remember having my junior high school graduation at the Paramount (from IS 51 in 1976). The walk across that stage seemed endless..lol.

  31. I went to many, many movies there in the late ’50s-early 60s. Much smooching and smoking in the balcony.

    Then… In the early ’70s we opened the Blue Unicorn Gallery in the storefront to the left of the entrance. It didn’t last all that long but featured many SI artists that have had great careers. The only citation I could find on Google is re: the one-person show we gave Courtenay Milnes. http://www.noblemaritime.org/2013artists/Courtenay_Milnes.html

    Good old times!

  32. Ty to get into the RKO Keith’s in Flushing. It is beautiful. You won’t be disappointed. There are back stage dressings rooms, as well, to explore. A lot of big time vaudeville stars played there. (Main Street and Northern Blvd)

  33. Every balcony should have an exercise bike!

  34. Saw the Ramones there for the very first time, in, I think, 1980. Got myself thrown out of a Plasmatics show there sometime after that.

  35. Wow, what unbelievable memories flooding thru me, Myself, Friends, Girls maybe 30 of us mostly from Brooklyn and Manhattan yes NYC would descend on the Paramount every Saturday Nite to Drink Dance , drink and Dance some more , all Nite , Best times of our Lives just gearing up for the Great Music, Great New Wave , Punk and Alternitive Bands and Great Friendships with Old and New aquaintances. I remember one incredible New Years Eve Party there with The Hottest trendiest Music inside and a Blizzard outside but it didn’t stop anybody from going and having a Blast. This went on for more than 3 years until the scene and this Great Venue waivered and drifted into oblivion , But these times are burnt into our Core of deep memories that will last for the rest of our lives.Thank you for this superlative Post , it really hit home , I have already e-mailed it to the old Pack of 30 that ruled this joint every weekend for what we considered Eternity. God bless you and good luck with your endeavors……..

  36. …As I understand it, renovation was started on the Paramount Theater, then stalled because of lack of funding. The space needs investors willing to take it on full throttle, just to bring it up to building codes is an enormous undertaking. I was inside it and walked through the whole building during the initial renovation. The structure has taken on a lot of damage and rot, water and otherwise over the quarter-century or so that it has been closed.
    This is a very expensive restoration project, and if it is to be done correctly, it’s going to take millions, not a paltry “kickatarter” campaign.

  37. Today is my 64th birthday, I am a lifelong Staten Islander. I remember what Staten Island was like before the bridge, that changed everthing. We had a lot to be proud of, the Paramount Theater was certainly one of those things along with the Ritz in Port Richmont, and the Saint George Theater as well. Many smaller theaters are gone the Victory, the Empire, the Lane and more. Everything changes, the huge companys took over the movie business with mulitiplex theaters not necessarly for the better. I mis the simpler times when Staten Island was full of farms, the airport, the drive in movie theater, the two lane roads wich were never crowded with cars. The Paramount was something special, I don’t remember which movies I watched there but I was part of that era. I hope something is done with the building before it goes to waste like everything else here has. I don’t ever expect it to open as a movie theater but to loose it would be quite a shame.

  38. I remember going to the movies at the Paramount. In the 1970s we could actually go across the island in a group that was supervised by a 14 year old (imagine that!). If there’s any hope, it’s that the St. George Theater was restored and is again in use. I saw the restoration of the Loews in Jersey City, and now there’s the theater in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn that is being renovated. Glad to see the Paramount is in relatively good condition.

  39. In about 1967 or thereabouts, my ballet class had their recital at the Paramount. I was about 7 or 8 years old. Imagine my delight to fast forward to about 1977 or so and the Paramount had a stint as a disco and I had the pleasure of dancing on that stage again in my late teens.

    It would be amazing to see this treasure restored someday. Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos!!

  40. I spent many hours there in my youth seeing double features. The decor was taken for granted back then but much appreciated now. Saw many ’70s flicks like Busting, Doc, Breakout, White Lightning, Across 110th Street and The Outlaw Josey Wales.

  41. Diedre Codrington Droughn

    I graduated from New Dorp High School 1966 we had our graduation there. Also spent many Sundays at the movies.

  42. I lived around the corner from the Paramont Theatre it was gorgeous. I remember seeing a Jerry Lewis movie there with my cousins on a weekend during summer vacation. The theatre was so grand, the brass railings, the gorgeous fixtures, the place was amazing back in the 1960’s. The sad part is that nobody cared in the late 1970’s about workmanship on these theatre’s, just like the St. George which is just as grand if not grander then the Paramont. So nice to see that someone is interested in that place. I hope that one day the Paramont will re-open and be as wonderful as it was way back when!

  43. Maureen gontarek

    What memories!!! Almost every weekend my girlfriends and I used to go to the movies either at the St. George or the Paramont … such elegant theaters. I had my introduction to opera at the Paramont … my entire class was taken there to see the movie version of Aida starring Sophia Loren. This was back in the late 50’s. I hope they can find the money to restore it.

  44. I have so many great memories of the Paramount when it was a club back in early 80’s. I was still in HS and my friends and I would go there nearly every weekend. I saw the Ramone’s, Joan Jett, The Plasmatics(worst concert ever), David Johansen, B’52’s, Squeeze etc. Whenver I hear Billy Idol sing “Dancing with Myself” it reminds me of dancing at the Paramount! I feel lucky to have been around to enjoy that beautiful theatre and those bands. I hope they can get the money to restore The Paramount back to it’s original beauty. It really should be given landmark status.

  45. Ex-Staten Islander

    I remember one New Year’s Eve when my mother and we kids saw M*A*S*H*. I’m sorry to say that many of the glories of the theater were lost on me at the time, but I was only 10 or 11.

    Thanks for the post.

  46. I remember going to the Paramount with my friends. We lived over on Park Hill and ran thru Bailey Seton Hospital as a short cut. At the time, ( we were 9or 10 or 11ish) we thought it was an institution filled with mass murderers, and all of us kids ran through the grounds like the hounds of hell were on our heels, but it was worth it. We spent many a Saturday at the theater (the late 60’s very early 70’s) watching the current movie over and over. Great times indeed!!

  47. I grew up in Stapleton 1960-1988. I have spent many hours in that theater. Great place back then. I also graduated from Dreyfus JHS 49 there in 1975. Towards the end of its demise as a Movie Theater in the later 70s it showed a lot of Pornography. The local business community was in an uproar (understandably so) and had it ceased. After that it was taken oven and made into a club for music venues etc. I’m fortunate enough to say I have experienced the Paramount as it was back in its glory days as a Movie Theater. Stapleton was one of the greatest neighborhoods on Staten Island and has a ton of History as far as Staten Island is concerned. Stapleton will always be HOME for Me, no matter where I end up. Just up Bay Street is Lombardi’s Motorcycle Shop, they used to sell Bicycles too they have been in business in that neighborhood for many decades, B&A Jewelers was also close by just south of the Paramount, also still thriving in New Dorp.

  48. We spent untold hours at the Paramount in the 1960’s, watching movies. I also had my high school graduation there in 1968, and remember running up those stairs in the lobby. There was beautiful murals and dark wood on the walls in the lobbies, what a crime that they have been painted over!

  49. As a child, then teen, my movie life alternated between the Paramount and the St George. My earliest recollection had to be when I was 5 or 7. My father was a longshoreman and he’d go to “shape up”. If there were no jobs, he’d be home before I left for school. Had a few good hookey days going to movies with him….then of course, later days, sneaking to balcony to smoke.
    Loved the paramount! I’d take the train from Grasmere to Stapleton many Saturdays .
    I wish someone would take it in hand and give her the respect she deserves! Thanks for the article!

  50. Thank You for the trip down memory lane,went to the theatre at least once a week growing up on SI.Was only 50 cents to get in and with another 50 cents you could buy popcorn ,soda and candy.The theatre was beautiful we loved to sit up in the balcony,thank you again for wonderful memories,Patti

  51. I can’t believe how great it still looks inside awesome photos thanks for sharing it still has the 1930’s feeling inside. Why doesn’t anyone buy the old theater and do what they did to the Middletown NY Paramount theater and renovated it and bring it back to its glory. The Middletown NY Paramount theater is located in the old city section of town they show old movies and silent movies of only 7 dollars a movie and all the money is donated. They also have concerts there through out the year its really a great place to go to and see an old movie or a concert like going back in time when you are seating there. So please someone try to bring back old Staten Island to this theater is really well worth it.

  52. Loved the Paramount as well as the St George and all the others a kid. Last time I was there for a concert with the Talking Heads. Place was great. Knew the owner saw the concert from the projection booth. Underground air circulator was working and kept the whole theater cool. Told it was taking air from an underground spring.

  53. I grew up on Staten Island. I went to The St. George Theatre, The Ritz, The Paramount, The Lane. I left in 1985.
    It was great to see that the theatre is still there. Thanks for making it possible to relive a wonderful time in my youth.

  54. Glory days! I worked back stage security for a Dickie Betts & Richie Furay concert there. Not to mention attending several shows. Great deco. Nice work Nick. I’m a Director of Photography.. so I’ll keep you in mind when looking for locations.

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