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culture shock

culture shock

By Allyson Marrs

It's not just steeped in Seattle history, the Paramount is Seattle history.

This grand Seattle theater opened in 1928 in the heart of downtown, originally named just that—the Seattle Theatre. But it later took the namesake of its financial backers, Paramount Pictures. It was a time of vaudeville, silent pictures and the celebration of splendor.

If you walk in to the Paramount Theatre today, you can feel the opulence that existed during those years, and the sheer thrill of an evening out at the theater.

Draped in deep reds and golds, with brilliant chandeliers, vintage-style bars and a grand staircase that leads you to some of the nation's most-popular traveling productions, it's significant in not only its cultural offerings but also its architectural history.

culture shock photo"At one time, there were over 30 grand movie palaces in Seattle. Of those that once stood, only the Paramount, the Moore and the 5th Avenue remain in their original form today," said Vivian Phillips, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Paramount.

"In a city as young as Seattle, much of our older architecture is gone, having made way for newer construction. The Paramount holds the history of a time when elegance in design was very common."  

At the Paramount, this is easily seen in the cherub water fountains, zodiac chandeliers and gold-leaf trims. "They all point to a time when artisans from all over the world contributed to distinct architectural styles that were lasting in their beauty and splendor. This also points to a cultural legacy that employed design styles from other parts of the world and helped us to appreciate and explore global culture," Vivian said.

But since that time, the Paramount has been restored to better serve the arts community. In 1994, the stage size increased, the back-of-the-house amenities were improved and the convertible floor system was installed.

This convertible system means the main floor can change from raked-theater seating to a flat-floor standing area for concerts.

These changes were made in an effort to increase the diversity of shows, from Broadway hits such as "Wicked" and "War Horse," to current concerts from bands like Fun. Stand-up comedians also make the rounds here, as do nods to the past with silent movie nights.

While the theater began as a graceful home to Hollywood's pictures, it's since grown into the city's home for countless artistic mediums.

The 1994 restoration also focused on preserving the historical elements of the theater, so future generations could still enjoy the elegance that's been around for more than 80 years.

"The Paramount has always been a place where popular culture has been presented and celebrated. From early vaudeville to current concerts, this has been a place known as 'the People's Theatre,' intended to attract people from all walks of life and interests," Vivian said.

Stories of the Paramount's splendors are cosmic, and only growing the longer it stands. You can hear about both the architectural and the historical elements that built the Paramount during free tours the first Saturday of every month.

Two theater historians lead the tours, and Vivian says they have spent thousands of hours researching the Paramount's performance history and the building's legacy.

The tours run from 10-11:30 a.m. For more information about the Paramount, or to see its upcoming productions and concerts, visit

Entertainment may be continuously evolving, but the greats will always be celebrated.


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