PARAMOUNT THEATRE. The Paramount Theatre, a music, theater, and film venue built by Ernest Nalle in 1915, is located just south of the Texas State Capitol building at 713 Congress Avenue in Austin. Renowned Chicago architect John Eberson designed the theater in Neoclassical Revival style in January 1915. Eberson built more than 1,200 theaters in his lifetime, although fewer than twenty-five remained by the early twenty-first century. J. F. Johnson won the construction contract, and George Albert Endress, a local architect, was appointed as supervising architect. The original owner, Ernest Nalle, paid $150,000 for the construction on land his family had owned since 1885. Standing four stories tall and encompassing some 500,000 cubic feet, the theater could comfortably seat almost 1,400 patrons. The stage is 34 by 34 feet and is still framed by the original curtains which feature a pastoral scene designed by Tobin of St. Louis.
Originally intended as a vaudeville venue, the theater was named the Majestic and opened on October 11, 1915. It hosted performers such as the Marx Brothers before the vaudeville scene eventually waned. In 1930 showman Karl Hoblitzelle bought the Majestic and renamed it the Paramount Theatre. Hoblitzelle remodeled the facility with carpeting, upholstered chairs, and a new sound system. The theater maintained a stage production and movie schedule. During the 1940s the Interstate Theatre Circuit, owned by Hoblitzelle and headquartered at the theater, committed itself to community service, and the Paramount became an important promoter of war bonds, selling $8.4 million worth from 1942 through 1945. As a result, the Paramount received commendation and awards from the U.S. Treasury War Finance Committee. Army training and recruiting films also ran at the Paramount during this period. In its first thirty years, the theater became a prominent entertainment venue by hosting such performers as Orson Welles, John Philip Sousa, the Metropolitan Opera, Harry Houdini, Mae West, as well as Katherine Hepburn who starred in The Philadelphia Story.
During the 1950s the Paramount continued to show many films, but the advent of television and suburban movie houses brought competition and a subsequent drop in theater attendance. Renovations and management changes in the mid-1970s helped resurrect the Paramount Theatre’s popularity. Its first live performance in years featured jazz legend Dave Brubeck on February 2, 1975. New owners John M. Bernardoni, Charles Eckerman, and Stephen L. Scott began showing classic films as well and changed the atmosphere at the legendary stage.
The three proprietors formed a nonprofit organization, the Austin Theatre Company, to help ensure future funding for the new community arts focus of the Paramount. On May 6, 1977, the Texas Historical Commission dedicated a state historical marker. The building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places also qualified the venue for federal restoration funds. These and other funds were used in major restoration work which began in September of 1977. This series of renovations allowed the Paramount Theatre to rise to the standards of the major touring theater companies. Since this renovation, the Paramount has welcomed more than 1.5 million patrons. Productions since 1980 include My Fair Lady, Evita, and A Chorus Line, as well as events featuring George Carlin, the Texas Opera Theatre, Tibetan monks, Dolly Parton, Kinky Friedman, Mel Tillis, Jim Nabors, and Rodney Dangerfield, among others.
In 2006 the archives of the Paramount Theatre were donated to the University of Texas Fine Arts Library. The archives contain material dating from 1971, including 600 posters, 150 videotapes, and 100 programs and playbills among many other items. Archives from Karl Hoblitzelle’s Interstate Theatre Circuit are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. In the 2010s the Paramount’s regular performance season, which numbered more than 250 shows per year, was highlighted by several nationally-acclaimed film and music events, most notably South by Southwest and the Austin Film Festival, which used the theater as a premier venue, and in 2012 the Paramount launched a new comedy festival, the Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival. The Austin Theatre Alliance was the managing organization of the theater. The Paramount celebrated its centennial in 2015. A highlight of the festivities occurred in September of that year, when a huge theater sign known as the Paramount blade, which had originally graced the building’s façade in 1930, was reinstalled and relighted.
Austin American-Statesman, August 15, 2006. Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. “Paramount Theater May Shut Down,” KXAN Newscast, March 25, 2005 (www.kxan.com/Global/story.asp?S=3126046), accessed February 6, 2007. Paramount Theatre (http://www.austintheatre.org/), accessed August 16, 2015.
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Uploaded on June 3, 2015. Modified on May 31, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.