Friday, August 15, 2008

Lights, Camera, Theater

The beautiful Paramount Theater is on the south side of State Street in Bristol—which means the theater is in Tennessee. It would have been in Virginia had the theater been on the other side of the State Street, the state line between Virginia and Tennessee. So you may see Bristol identified as Bristol, VA/TN.

The marquee is a replica of the original which had deteriorated beyond repair.

Built in 1931, the Paramount played host to vaudeville acts and both silent and talkies for almost 50 years. In 1979, the theater closed. “I can remember when there were bales of straw stacked up to the windows. This was a warehouse,” recalled Executive Director Merle Dickert. The lobby itself (shown here) was an enticing entrance to the theater. Merle provided some background information for us and then pointed out some of the theater’s features as she guided us on a tour of the theater.

The women's lounge entrance was just off the lobby.

Restoration was completed in 1996, and the theater as it stands today is essentially how it looked when it was completed. Since the theater could not be extended behind the existing stage, four rows of seats were removed to allow the proscenium to be moved forward to enlarge the stage area.

Merle showed us original murals that had been painted on plaster. One of the originals is shown here.

The silk reproduction of the plaster orginal above is shown on the left.

The original Mighty Wurlitzer organ was dismantled in the 1950s during remodeling work to accommodate CinemaScope and a stereo sound system. The pipes went to an amusement park in Alabama, and the console went to King College and has since disappeared. The present organ belongs to The Piedmont Theater Organ Society. The pipes are behind the red "doors" on each side of the stage (right).

We had the opportunity to take as many photographs as we wanted. The photo on the left is a close-up of the decorations around the doors to the pipes.

The decorative artwork on the right is around the proscenium.

This photo was taken of the ceiling while lying on my back in the aisle.

In order to take photographs of the interior, I had to provide the public relations staff with copies of the photos. So, if you see these photos in any publication, look for my name on the credits.

After an extended conversation with Merle and her staff, we had a better appreciation for the restoration efforts, a lead to some area restaurants, and a beauty salon recommendation.

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