Scouting The Remains of Brooklyn’s Incredible Paramount Movie Theatre

In my travels through the city, I’ve driven down the northern end of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn roughly eight billion times…

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…and I have never once given a second thought to the nondescript office building at Dekalb, part of the Long Island University campus.

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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.

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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?

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I had to see for myself.

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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…

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Then I came to the gym.

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You know, I’ve been doing Scouting NY for five years, and have worked as a location scout for eight…

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…and yet New York City never, ever ceases to surprise and amaze me.

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For comparison, here’s the photograph again from 1928:

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Looking at the two sidewalls…

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…it seems as though this would have once had a balcony, either for decoration or actual use.

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A little further back are a pair of fountains, which would have been backed by walls painted to resemble an outdoor garden.

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A close-up of the fountain:

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Originally, the theater seating was laid out in three levels:

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Today, that has been removed to accommodate the bleachers:

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However, portions of the original mezzanines are still in place. Here’s one of the side aisles to the first tier…

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I love the whimsical animals decorating the columns:

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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.

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And of course, the ceiling:

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I think it’s safe to say that no one will ever again put this much effort into a movie theater ceiling.

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Another detail. Note the small bust in the alcove:

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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:

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Details carved into the edges of the theater:

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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.

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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…

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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…

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On the wall, an ornate frame around a fire hose:

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Heading out the exits…

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Note the EXIT sign that must be as old as the building, along with a few more designs:

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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.

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Nope – the lobby is still here!

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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.”

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Below, the lobby in 1928 with draperies in place:

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Today, students eat under the same marble alcoves that theater goers once sat in over 80 years ago.

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A look at the ceiling (the lighting fixtures are modern additions):

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A grand staircase leads up to the mezzanine…

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Above, wrought iron balconies backed by mirrored panels line the walls:

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Here’s the mezzanine level:

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A detail of the iron balcony…

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..and a view across to the opposite wall:

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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.

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At the end of the mezzanine, I came to a room with a large chandelier…

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…and found myself in what I think would have been a salon of some kind, overlooking the lobby below.

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The ceiling – note the faces:

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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.

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I headed up to the third floor, passing through a stairwell door which clearly harkens back to its theatrical days.

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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…

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Close-up:

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A neat wall flourish featuring two birds:

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At the end of the hall, I came to this room, which seems unremarkable…

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…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…

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Then something caught my eye: why would they have allowed theatergoers down to the Paramount’s basement…unless there was something there to see?

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Doubting there’d be much to find, I headed downstairs to the basement (note the grid pattern on the right)…

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…and right away, came upon a relic from the Paramount…

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…an archway containing a statue:

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I headed through a door opposite into a larger room…

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…with yet another figure set into the wall…

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Then, turning to the left, I found myself in what was once the lounge for the theater, today a student common area.

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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).

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While the cabinet may be gone, the decorative statuary still remains.

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I love the small stage in one corner – perhaps where a singer might have performed during intermissions?

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The detailed ceiling:

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A close-up of an arch:

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One of the very neat original hanging lanterns:

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The next lounge over is done in a completely different style, described by Motion Pictures News in 1929 as a “modernistic interior.”

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Here’s the room in 1928:

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The mirrors feature the faded overlay of birds and plantlife:

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I love the lighting fixtures:

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As you head toward the bathrooms…

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…another neat mirror design overhead:

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Finally, this room is just outside the bathrooms.

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Heading back up to the lobby via the main staircase, note the chandelier…

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…along with this interesting tile piece set into the wall.

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Perhaps there was once a fountain here?

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Long Island University has set up an informative display on the main floor detailing some of the Paramount’s history…

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…including an original usher jacket…

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…and the projectionist’s logbook.

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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.

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I’ll leave you with one final scene from the old Paramount: this odd staircase leading…nowhere.

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Back in the day, this would have led to mezzanine seating.

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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.

-SCOUT

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77 comments

  1. Hoooooooooooooly cow. Wow.

    One of your best posts. Just incredible.

  2. This should definitely go under the “favorites” tab. I actually love the space as a gym rather than an old theater no one got to see. Cool to see the new mixed with the old. Thanks Scout

  3. Interesting tile piece there. The two circular tiles are some kind of imperial crest, but I can not say with certainty which one exactly. From the appearance of the tiles below it migh be of spanish or portuguese inspiration. Maybe even an original brought from Europe.

  4. A lovely tribute to a beautiful old theater. If you haven’t done it yet … would love you to scout the remains of Lowes Kings theater in Brooklyn.

  5. Just wanted to share that I’ve been following your blog for about a year, and this is my favorite post. The remaining detail here is amazing. Great point about being “thrilled that so much was preserved.”

  6. Well, that was just fantastic.

  7. In the 60’s every doowop and early British Invasion bands played their at Murray the K’s famous Brooklyn Paramount shows.

  8. Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow!

  9. Wonderful. A very sympathetic re-use of a classic theater. Much better than tearing it down. I love that the university has thought to display the history so well.

  10. Yes, your best find ever — an astounding time capsule.

  11. There may have been organ pipes behind those curtains on the side (maybe they’re still there?). That’s how it is in the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville, which has a very similar layout to the Paramount in every way, just a bit smaller.

    • The organ is in deed still there… I was a Soccer player at LIU and spent many an early morning practicing in the Paramount gym when the weather was too bad to go out on the field. From time to time the Organ would be played. Walking from one class to the next or even at practice the sound of the organ would always be fascinating.

  12. I love that this was saved and adapted for a new use! No, it’s not as grand as in the past, but it’s still here. So many places around the country just sit there until they collapse.

  13. One of your best finds ever! I was born blocks away from the Brooklyn Paramount, but, alas, never set foot in the place. I have seen televised LIU basketball games and realized the uniqueness of the setting. But, until now, I had no idea how much else was there to be preserved. It seems that LIU has done an excellent job along those lines. of course, there were a number of other great movie palaces in the NYC area, and you have shown some of those to us. I was fortunate to have seen a number of films at the great — and ornate — Valencia Theater in Jamaica, Queens. And I appreciate the wonderful photos from that place as much as the ones which make up this article. Thanks!

  14. Back in the 80s, LIU Brooklyn was a highly ranked journalism school, and they offered me a full-tuition scholarship. When I visited the campus for open house, the tour revealed a campus that was dingy, dirty and run-down. I was so turned off by the atmosphere of the student areas, I turned them down and went elsewhere, even though I had to pay tuition at the other college. If they had shown us the gym that day (and maybe maintained some of the other spaces slightly better), my whole college experience and later career might have been very different.

    Thanks for checking this out, Scout. It’s good to know that my hometown has retained some of its classic landmarks in one form or other.

  15. Amazing. Just amazing.

  16. Wow. I just became a fan of LIU.

    That’s nearly tear-inducing (the good kind).

  17. Gotham Girls Roller Derby used to run their bouts there a few years ago. How’s that for a visual?

  18. And if you wandered 3 blocks up Dekalb avenue to Brooklyn Tech’s auditorium, which seats 3000, you would find a 1930’s take on auditorium building.

  19. One of your very best posts. Thanks so much for taking us back to a part of the past

  20. Great photos. I’m associated with the New York Theatre Organ Society (NYTOS)whose members maintain at this theatre the original Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ with crew headed by Joe Amato and Tom Stehle. Major concert planned for 3:00 PM, Sunday, May 18, 2014, featuring international organist from England, Richard Hills.
    We are also working on the Brooklyn Kings Theatre expected to reopen in mid 2015 after an extensive $94 M restoration/renovation. We own the original Wonder Morton Theatre Pipe organ console and hope to arrange to have this instrument professional installed in the theatre by 2016.
    Again, wonderful photos. Will have to revisit some of those locations upon my next visit to LIU’s Schwartz Athletic Center, formerly the Brooklyn Paramount.

    • I can’t BELIEVE the author, so thorough in so many ways, neglected to discover the original Mighty Wurlitzer organ still happily living in this former theatre. Thanks, John, for the back story. I enjoy several recordings that were made on the LIU Wurlitzer, and wish I could be there for Richard’s program next May!

    • John,

      Can you give me more information on the upcoming concert in May and how to get tickets?

      Also inspiring is the news that the Lowe’s Kings is to be renovated. I barely missed the heyday of the Paramount, but grew up going to the Kings on Friday and Saturday nights. The first movie I remember seeing there was Dr. No.

      Thanks a lot.

  21. Best thing I’ve seen all day. Thank you for all your meticulous work.

  22. When we scouted those locations for a period NYU Grad School student film in the late 1970s, the men’s rooms were also pretty much intact as they were–and lavish.

  23. Please makel your way out to Staten Island to see the St. George Theatre. Built in 1929 it is a 3 minute walk from the ferry. Live shows are now at the theatre and it too is stunning.

    Jean

  24. John…you must know Don Hanson? He’s past president of the Garden StatenTheatre Organ Society.
    He’s a friend of mine.

  25. Holy…I could not believe my eyes. LIU has a new fan. Any idea who signed off on the plan to preserve as much of this building as possible as opposed to gutting it and turning it into another sterile boring place? Whoever or whomever needs some major props for the guts to do this. Great post, one of your best.

  26. absolutely unbelievable. unreal!

  27. Have a look at this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PygQbt2ios&feature

    A tour of the pipe organ that is still installed and occasionally used.

  28. All could say was wow! ooh! Oh my! ah!

  29. Oh wow. Wow. This is seriously my favorite find of yours so far, and I read your blog all the time.

  30. Just wonderful! This is the most detailed blog you have put up in a while. Thank you, so much, for this peek into our past.

  31. I was a member of the LIU gymnastic team starting from 1980, we worked out in the back stage area of the theater and the building is just amazing, being in the gym or theater gave me access to areas that you did not see, so much of this theater is still intact including the original wurlitzer organ that comes out of the floor i remember the man that would do repairs on the organ and pipes and play the organ….just amazing!!!! thanks

  32. “I had to see for myself.” That, in a sentence, is why we all treasure this blog.

  33. Ive been reading your blog for years, this was your best post ever. Truly amazing.

  34. This is an awesome post. That building is incredible and so many of the original features have been preserved in some way or another. It really does make me wish that we would put the detail into creating spaces that we used to. Everything back then was so ornate and beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  35. Scout, you never cease to amaze with your incredible finds. LIU deserves kudos for NOT destroying the interior and reusing the space. In a city that digs out its past treasures and then systematically destroys them, this is indeed a hidden gem!

  36. I happened upon your site about a year ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. I live in Kentucky, but I find Scouting NY to be fascinating. I agree with the rest – this post is one of your best. It makes me want to make a trip to NY just to see the place.

  37. Wow! What a treasure! I’m glad to see so much of it still intact.

  38. I imagine this is one of those “Why didn’t anyone tell me about this sooner?” moments.

  39. As a wee tyke, my cousin took me to an Alan Freed Rock and roll show at the paramount in the mid-50’s. I remember standing and clapping. I am sure therewasmore than one such concert.

    Having see what happened to other palaces, I am delighted that this has been preserved. Thank you, LIU!

    Great post!

  40. I’d love to see someone document all the remaining Paramount movie palaces around the country (or what remains of them). The one in Oakland, CA is on the national historic landmark registry, and is truly a masterpiece of architecture. I am sure there are more in other cities that are tucked away like this one!

  41. Following you for a year now. Ever since moving here to NYC. Your blog is one of the best I’ve seen on the town. And this post in particular? The BEST so far. Amazing.

  42. I, for one, would like to give Bernard a big round of APPLAUSE for sending Scouting NY this tip.

  43. Love! Amazing place, amazing post! Thanks Scout!

  44. I’m the one who suggested to Scout to look at the old Paramount theater. I’m happy to see that Scout does pay attention to his readers. That is good and a thank you to John E. for sending me APPLAUSE. That’s good too.

  45. Thank you for this! Just amazing.

  46. Excellent! But there is even more. You should come by when we are working on the organ or and have it playing for an event or concert. Check the YouTube link on http://www.nytos.org (NY Theatre Organ Society website)

  47. As always, great discovery! The theatre reminded me of something I saw in the news. It had the same design, style and construction era. I finally found it…The Stanley Theatre in Jersey. Magnificent architecture and restauration. I’m unaware if they would allow visitors or filming but it sure is a beauty. I can imagine if every building would be kept this clean.

    Here’s a video found from the owners. I believe other article can be found but this is good.

    http://www.jw.org/finder?locale=en&docid=702013117

    Keep it up!

    James 

  48. Thank you for this fabulous post. My grandmother saw Frank Sinatra perform here, probably in the early 40s, and it’s wonderful to see little pieces of what she must have experienced.

  49. Those all really nice locations and perfect for shooting film. I love studio9 for photography. It is nicely discover location, Thanks for share.

  50. This is the best thing I have seen in ages. As an ‘older’ person, it pains me to see what has been lost, and continues to be taken, still. It has made me a fanatical collector of smaller, manageable items, and yet, unable to explain why. Thank you so very much for this wonderful tour!

  51. Thank you so much for sharing these amazing photographs of such a wonderful old space. As difficult as it is to see such a beautiful place turned into a gym, it does look like they made a good attempt to hold on to the grandeur and craftsmanship that this building exudes. So much better to have remnants than only having the old photos.

  52. Nice piece on a great place. Back in the day when I was a sportswriter, I covered several basketball games there (not to mention a boxing card) and always marveled at the venue.

    I understand LIU has moved its men’s and women’s basketball teams to a newly-built facility not far from the old Paramount, and that the university hopes to renovate the theater into some sort of performing arts center; I’m guessing the economic woes of the past few years has put such plans on hold for now.

    Some years ago, I wrote an entry on the Paramount (which my parents, both native Brooklynites, regularly attended during the ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s) for my classic film site: http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/43015.html

  53. Another brilliant layout, thank you for sharing a piece of history.

  54. Bernard knew what he was doing when he pointed you in the direction of the Paramount. I know of no other blogger who could have done such a thorough, informative piece on this amazing place. I agree that it is among your best, and that’s really saying something. Thank you.

  55. Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

  56. I love that the university was far sighted enough to find a way to preserve history while making space for modern activities. What an amazing place – thanks for taking us on a tour! Another reason why I love your site!

  57. Best. Post. EVER.

  58. Unfortunately you missed the original magnificent Mighty WurliTzer pipe organ on it’s original elevator. It rises from what was the orchestra pit of this incredible theatre.

  59. That’s amazing. I walk past that building every day, and I had no idea.

  60. Hey! It seems you didn’t actually talk to anybody at LIU about this? The powers that be don’t really care about the Paramount, and the limited conversion had more to do with saving money than preserving anything. But there are many who do care; including its curator. In reference to the above comment on the possible organ pipes, I can inform you that The Paramount still has its original Wurlitzer organ, fully functional, with a connected upright piano and drum kit, etc, in the pipe room. It is the same installation as those at Radio City, but there they changed the space, so theirs sound different. But in the 70’s, LIU actually contemplated ripping it out to ship it to LIU Post’s, and the only reason they didn’t was that it would have been too costly. You should receive an e-mail from Janet at LIU shortly.

  61. That was great! I went to that school Jan 1967 to Jan 1970, but I payed so little attention to the architecture of it, tho I did hear that it was once the Paramount theater.

  62. My mom used to see concerts at the Paramount (Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, etc.) and the old Fox Theatre. I have to show her this post. Great stuff.

  63. This is one of my favorite work from this blog. I have attended classes at a quite old college myself, and I can totally imagine the feeling you get going to school there every day. Great work, keep it up Nick! Thank you for making your site mobile friendly!

  64. Have you ever been there when they raise the organ (or it’s called something else) out of the floor under the basketball court? I went once for a friend of my father’s 90th birthday party and they hired a guy to play it for him (especially, “Someone To Watch Over Me” which was his favorite song!)

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  66. We just shot in the gym there, I was in awe when we showed up. Epic space and the coordinators from LIU were accommodating to typical annoying producer requests. Great space.

  67. outstanding…been working across the street from this place for a year…had no fucking idea

  68. I remember that gym/theater well. I played basketball for the LIU Blackbirds back in the mid 1970’s. Looks like LIU has opened up more of that beautiful theater for the public to see and the students to use. Beautiful!

  69. What a fantastic blog re: the Paramount. Below is an entry I wrote in 2009 to another blog, that of a gentleman by the name of Warren Harris, about the Brooklyn Paramount. I believe Mr. Harris is an expert on the place.

    JimConnah on April 4, 2009 at 11:48 am
    My mother was a Broadway dancer, who performed in the show “Cheerio” at the Brooklyn Paramount on January 12, 1929 as she neared her 20th birthday. Here is an excerpt from her diary:

    “Brooklyn Paramount … new theatre. only open six weeks. Beautiful. Paul Ash and his marvelous orchestra was there. He is a most wonderful m. of c.”

    Lit Whitlock was the daughter of a prominent North Carolina attorney. His older daughter went to Sweet Briar College and he wished his younger daughter to further her education, as well. My mother wanted to become a dancer, instead, so she overcame her father’s objections of heading to New York at age 18 by convincing him she could become a dance teacher (which she never did). She married an advertising executive, moved to Atlanta, where they reared five children and then restarted her career in her 60s, eventually appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson almost 50 years after this diary entry. She performed the grandmother’s song/dance routine from “Pippin,” a role originally performed on Broadway by her close friend from the early days, Irene Ryan, of Beverly Hillbillies’ fame.

    Lit Whitlock Connah died five years ago in 2004 at age 95. She was a lively spirit and a wonderful human being.

    James Cameron Connah (Jim)
    Sandy Springs, GA

  70. I went to LIU as a student in 1980 and worked there from 1998-2004 and it was sad to see that some of the areas were converted into lunch and dining spaces. I took potential students to see some of the aspects of the Paramount that were still visible. It must have been and still is a spectacular space and it would be great if LIU would convert it back to a theater.

  71. Attended LIU in the late 60s. They divided the upper balconies and made several lecture halls. Interesting to see all of the artistry close-up to the theater ceiling, brightly lit. Also, they converted the projection booth into the school’s radio station. Finally in a brilliant work of engineering, offices were suspended in the cavernous area of the theater. The elevators went from the 5th or 6th floor to the 3rd floor. Below was the basketball court.

  72. Wow. Fantastic work. I look at the marquee pictures from the epic rock and roll shows and i know i was born too young. Can’t wait to visit this place.

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