Austin Rocks: The Paramount Theatre

Paramount Theatre Austin TX (courtesy Earl McGehee on Flickr CC)

Paramount Theatre Austin TX (courtesy Earl McGehee on Flickr CC)

(Part of the Austin Rocks series of posts by a local about things to do and see in Austin, Texas)
Even the smallest town usually has a theater; while it may not be Broadway, it’s often it’s the fanciest place downtown, decked out with the best fixtures and features that money could buy in 1923 or 1939 or 1954 or whenever it was built.

If you’re lucky, committees of (mostly) little old ladies have stubbornly worked for decades to keep the place open, keep the “they-don’t-make-that-part-anymore” gear running, keep people wanting to come through the doors. Sadly, not many of the grand dames survive – much less thrive – unless they’ve been very fortunate, which we have in the Austin area with the 1915 Paramount Theatre on Congress Avenue.

I never walk through the Paramount lobby without thinking of 2 things….

**  How I used to work right next door at the 1935 State Theater, now called “Stateside at the Paramount” because together they are a theater nonprofit. When I slung popcorn and filled soda cups in the early 1980’s, the State featured second-run movies and was a bit down at the heels, but it was a fun place to work during college and if the concession stand was quiet, I could sneak in to see a few minutes of intellectual stimulation like Mad Max 2.

**  How my Dad, an Austin native, remembers when the Paramount was called the Majestic, and the day he saw Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man there as a young boy – “It scared the hell out of me!” I’m sure Lon Chaney, Jr. and Bela Lugosi together in one movie could do that.

The Paramount schedule now is a mixture of touring companies, musical performances (especially by Texas musicians,) serving as a music and film venue during SXSW (South by Southwest,) arts programs for young people, the Moontower Comedy Festival, and the marvelously-named Break-A-Leg 5K road race every February which finishes right in front of the theater marquee.

My family’s favorite, though, is the Paramount Summer Classic Film series, always well-curated and a great way to escape the blistering Texas summer heat. We usually go to see Casablanca, of course – the Paramount is one of the few theaters still around that also premiered the movie when it was first released. There’s nothing like Lawrence of Arabia or the Texas epic Giant on the big screen, and this year my teenage son was introduced to “Build it and he will come” with Field of Dreams.

There’s big hoopla coming up December 15, 2014 with a screening of Gone With The Wind in conjunction with a special exhibit of the making of the 1939 movie. The University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center a few miles to the north is the repository for the David O. Selznick Collection with hundreds of artifacts from the film including Scarlett’s famous dress made from those curtains.

When the lights go down at the Paramount and they cue the music, I know I’m in Austin.

More Perceptive Travel posts about Austin.

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