In my travels through the city, I’ve driven down the northern end of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn roughly eight billion times…
…and I have never once given a second thought to the nondescript office building at Dekalb, part of the Long Island University campus.
And I don’t think I ever would have if I hadn’t received this letter from a reader named Bernard.
Hey Scout, love your site. Listen, when I was younger, much younger, I went to college at L.I.U. downtown in Brooklyn. I’m talking in the 50’s. So nearby was the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. At that time it was one of the huge movie emporiums, sort of like the Paramount in Manhattan or the Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx. This might give you an idea of about how old I am.
Anyway, L.I.U. bought the Brooklyn Paramount and converted it into their gym. You should check it out, it might have lots of old stuff on the walls and ceilings.
Below is a picture of the Paramount in 1928, the year it was built. The movie palace also had a grand lobby and multiple lounge areas. Part of it had been preserved during its conversion into the university’s gym, but how much?
I had to see for myself.
Upon passing through the doors, I immediately came across remnants from the old theater: a ramped floor following the path of the original aisles, along with ornate molding on the walls. I figured this was a good start…
Then I came to the gym.
You know, I’ve been doing Scouting NY for five years, and have worked as a location scout for eight…
…and yet New York City never, ever ceases to surprise and amaze me.
For comparison, here’s the photograph again from 1928:
Built in 1928 by Paramount Pictures (with a sister theater in Times Square), the Paramount was the largest movie theater in Brooklyn and the second largest in New York City at the time.
A movie palace in the fullest sense, the Paramount had seating for a whopping 4,400 viewers. Designed in the roccoco-style, the walls and ceilings are an explosion of decorative flourishes, thankfully preserved when the space became a gym in 1962.
Originally, the ceiling above the lattice work was painted to resemble a sky with clouds and would have been lit from within, giving a touch of the Atmospheric movie palace style (simulating the ambiance of being in an outdoor setting).
Looking at the two sidewalls…
…it seems as though this would have once had a balcony, either for decoration or actual use.
A little further back are a pair of fountains, which would have been backed by walls painted to resemble an outdoor garden.
A close-up of the fountain:
Originally, the theater seating was laid out in three levels:
Today, that has been removed to accommodate the bleachers:
However, portions of the original mezzanines are still in place. Here’s one of the side aisles to the first tier…
I love the whimsical animals decorating the columns:
The upper tiers are now closed, but I’d love to know if any further pieces from the original seating still exist. Note the backdrop to the arches offering the illusion of a garden setting.
And of course, the ceiling:
I think it’s safe to say that no one will ever again put this much effort into a movie theater ceiling.
Another detail. Note the small bust in the alcove:
Finally, here’s the best shot I could get of the elaborate proscenium arch over the main stage. From historical pictures, it looks as though all of this would have been backlit from the bottom of the clamshell:
Details carved into the edges of the theater:
Over the years, the Brooklyn Paramount was used not just for movies but as a performance venue for jazz and rock’n’roll concerts. Among the acts that played the Paramount: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Platters, Buddy Holly, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis.
Amazingly, the backstage area still exists just past the inner bleachers, and feels like an archetypal New York City backstage in every way: exposed brick walls, towering ceilings, girders poking out…
But the Paramount was more than just its main theater space, and I was very curious to see if anything else had survived the renovation. I headed back up one of the side aisles…
On the wall, an ornate frame around a fire hose:
Heading out the exits…
Note the EXIT sign that must be as old as the building, along with a few more designs:
I found myself back in the main hallway outside the theater, lined on the opposite side by windows which would have once looked into the Paramount’s grand lobby. I could see people eating inside and figured they must have gutted it to make a cafeteria.
Nope – the lobby is still here!
What an incredible space. From the description in a 1929 issue of Motion Picture News: “The main lobby is a spacious hall with a high vaulted ceiling supported by marble columns. A marble floor, wrought iron grilles of exceptional design, and rich draperies present an imposing scene.”
Below, the lobby in 1928 with draperies in place:
Today, students eat under the same marble alcoves that theater goers once sat in over 80 years ago.
A look at the ceiling (the lighting fixtures are modern additions):
A grand staircase leads up to the mezzanine…
Above, wrought iron balconies backed by mirrored panels line the walls:
Here’s the mezzanine level:
A detail of the iron balcony…
..and a view across to the opposite wall:
Throughout the building, Long Island University has lined the walls with posters of the classic movies that once played at the Paramount, a fantastic addition.
At the end of the mezzanine, I came to a room with a large chandelier…
…and found myself in what I think would have been a salon of some kind, overlooking the lobby below.
The ceiling – note the faces:
The view from the balcony offers a pretty great perspective on the lobby. Really isn’t hard to picture it packed with literally thousands of theater-goers.
I headed up to the third floor, passing through a stairwell door which clearly harkens back to its theatrical days.
This would have been the highest public level in the theater, and would’ve taken patrons to the nosebleeds. Lining the walls are a series of crests…
A neat wall flourish featuring two birds:
At the end of the hall, I came to this room, which seems unremarkable…
…until you notice the remains of two elevators on the far wall, now sealed. Patrons would have walked through this room to get to their seats, and I imagine it was once more lavish…
Then something caught my eye: why would they have allowed theatergoers down to the Paramount’s basement…unless there was something there to see?
Doubting there’d be much to find, I headed downstairs to the basement (note the grid pattern on the right)…
…and right away, came upon a relic from the Paramount…
…an archway containing a statue:
I headed through a door opposite into a larger room…
…with yet another figure set into the wall…
Then, turning to the left, I found myself in what was once the lounge for the theater, today a student common area.
Here’s a photograph taken in 1928 (Motion Picture News notes that the cabinet on the left was from a castle in Florence and contained a shrine surrounded by carved ivory panels).
While the cabinet may be gone, the decorative statuary still remains.
I love the small stage in one corner – perhaps where a singer might have performed during intermissions?
The detailed ceiling:
A close-up of an arch:
One of the very neat original hanging lanterns:
The next lounge over is done in a completely different style, described by Motion Pictures News in 1929 as a “modernistic interior.”
Here’s the room in 1928:
The mirrors feature the faded overlay of birds and plantlife:
I love the lighting fixtures:
As you head toward the bathrooms…
…another neat mirror design overhead:
Finally, this room is just outside the bathrooms.
Heading back up to the lobby via the main staircase, note the chandelier…
…along with this interesting tile piece set into the wall.
Perhaps there was once a fountain here?
Long Island University has set up an informative display on the main floor detailing some of the Paramount’s history…
…including an original usher jacket…
…and the projectionist’s logbook.
The Brooklyn Paramount is one of the most fascinating and beautiful places I’ve come across in my travels scouting. While you could look at it as sad that a once grand movie palace has been changed into a gym, I’m thrilled that so much was preserved while giving the entire space a new function – especially when all of it could have easily been gutted or torn down.
I’ll leave you with one final scene from the old Paramount: this odd staircase leading…nowhere.
Back in the day, this would have led to mezzanine seating.
While the wall now cuts us off from that area, I like to think of the ghosts of the Paramount passing up the stairway and through the wall with ease, dressed in their best for a night out at the movies.
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