By the mid 1920’s, the movie house had become America’s primary social gathering place and amusement center. The “theatres for the common man” entertained millions in the 20’s as much by their own fantastic splendor as by the fantasy presented on their stages and screens. Paramount Theatre was no exception. On August 29, 1930, an estimated crowd of 20,000 gathered in the streets of Denver to celebrate the Grand Opening showing of “Let’s Go Native”, rivaling the attendance and excitement previously generated only by Hollywood premiers. The rave reviews and wide-spread public awe immediately established Paramount Theatre as the foremost movie house in Denver.
The glamorous atmosphere was and is heightened by the original architectural and design elements. The architect, Temple Buell, built several important buildings in the region and is credited for founding the “western style” of architecture. Despite his many successes, Buell was known to claim Paramount as the finest example of his work. The Theatre is an unrivaled testament to Art Deco design and the craftsmanship of the era. The façade, with pre-cast concrete blocks enhanced by glazed terra cotta moldings, offers a striking contrast to the rusticated stone of surrounding buildings. It also reflects a popular design device of the period: terra cotta decorative elements create the illusion of extra height for the three-story building. The ornate details above the windows and on the sills showcase a recurrent interior motif of rosettes, leaves, feathers and fiddle-head ferns. Green-tinged black marble at the street level and above each window give contrast and more drama to the exterior elements.
The interior represents an excellent example of “Zig Zag Art Deco” design, the fanciful and ornamental architectural expression popularized in the Jazz Age. The building was also equipped with luxuries consistent with the golden age of film, such as a splendidly ornamented lobby, indirect lighting, a vaulted sunburst ceiling, cut glass chandeliers, Egyptian lights, Italian marble, and a neon marquee. Exotic and flamboyant decoration – Aztec figures, fern, floral, and leaf motifs, sun rays and the ziggurat form – are consistent inside and outside the building, and are repeated in many minute details including stair railings and radiator grilles.
The colorful and dramatic false gold leafing and copper and bronzing in the auditorium frame silk murals created by renowned artist Vincent Mondo. The murals beautifully depict classic Commedia Dell’arte figures such as Herlequin, Pierrot, Columbine and Pierrette, among others, and were heralded by the Rocky Mountain News as the first silk murals in the Denver area. Similar Commedia Dell’arte murals by Mondo were later repeated in various Publix Theatres across the nation, as Paramount’s interior served as a model for at least three other theaters.
Originally designed for the silent movies of the time, Paramount houses a one of a kind Wurlitzer twin-console organ designed to produce varied sound effects in accompaniment with the picture show. More than 1600 pipes generate sounds of orchestral and percussion instruments as well as special effects such as train whistles, horses’ hooves and pounding surf. Despite the fact that the introduction of sound pictures quickly eliminated the need for musical accompaniment, the organ remains as one of the largest to have ever been installed in the Rocky Mountain area and is joined by its sister in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall as one of only two remaining in the United States.
Paramount Theatre was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and was declared an historic landmark by the City of Denver in 1988. Today, Historic Paramount Theatre remains a vibrant, multi-event facility where Denver Metro residents enjoy a wide variety of entertainment options each year. From rock concerts to dance performances, comedy to lectures and movies to Wurlitzer organ performances, Historic Paramount Theatre remains a top choice in Denver’s entertainment scene.