The history of the Paramount Theater in St. Cloud celebrated on its 100th anniversary



ST. CLOUD – Walking into the Paramount Theater is an awe-inspiring experience, even for the most seasoned performers. Swirls of golden details on the ceiling and sky-blue niches provide a backdrop to two glittering chandeliers on either side of the stage.

Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Paramount is fondly remembered for its historic past and its vital role in the artistic community of St. Cloud today. Opened as a venue for showing silent films, the theater has become a community gathering space and creative refuge for artists in central Minnesota.

History of the theater

Paramount opened on December 24, 1921 and was called the Sherman Theater. Mainly featuring silent films and vaudeville acts, musicians, ventriloquists, musical ensembles and a variety of other artists have made their stage debuts, said Derick Segerstrom, director of the visual arts department.

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Throughout its history, the theater has also been the scene of beauty contests, political rallies and fashion shows. The news reels would play before the films and keep the audience informed of the news. During World War II, around $ 80,000 was collected for war bonds, which equates to around $ 1.3 million today.

In 1929, the Paramount Pictures Corporation purchased the space and reopened in 1930 with a major upgrade: a new speaker system that enabled the cinema to play talking movies. In the 1970s and 1980s, the theater aired films like “Star Wars” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.

When a fire broke out in the lobby in 1985, the age of the building began to show. The balcony had already been closed after firefighters deemed it unsafe in the 1960s and the hall fire caused extensive smoke damage. Water started to flow from the roof, bats sometimes flew over the audience and many seats in the theater were broken and uncomfortable, Segerstrom said.

After decades of efforts to preserve the theater, in 1996 St. Cloud City Council passed a resolution to fund $ 6 million in renovations. A state grant of $ 750,000 in 1998 and private contributions of over $ 1.2 million were also generated on behalf of the Paramounts Arts District.

Renovations began in 1997 and the doors to the theater finally reopened in September 1998.

Following: Meet the man behind the scenes at the Paramount Center for the Arts

Today, Paramount looks a lot like it was a century ago. The gilded details of the lobby have returned to their original chandelier, the two chandeliers next to the stage shine as they did in 1921, and the painted curtain still sports the curly “S” of the Sherman Theater logo.

“From the Roaring Twenties, the era of vaudeville, the era of cinema, going from silent to sound then a world war, a polio epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s, a renovation project, a fire before that and now, of course, a global pandemic. I think the fact that he’s still around and in good shape and people want to come back and support him is a statement about the stamina and longevity of the theater, “said the executive director Bob Johnson. “For 100 years, it has been a gathering place.

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Community center

Dennis Whipple first performed on the Paramount stage 35 years ago, starting what would be a long career in the industry as Tiny Tim in a performance of the Christmas Carol.

The founder of the GREAT Theater remembers the “run down but magical space” before the 1998 renovation, despite recalling the bats that once called theater crawl spaces their home and the chipmunks that walked through the locker rooms.

In 2019, he played Scrooge on the same stage, bringing his acting career to the full circle of Paramount.

“It’s hard to imagine a cultural landmark in central Minnesota larger than Paramount,” said Whipple. “Very few communities have a large theater that serves 60,000 people in a city of this size. There is something in the water about the arts and cultural events, because we do it on a very high percentage compared to to many other communities. “

The GREAT Theater performs 13 weeks a year and hosts a theater camp for young people every summer.

Whipple said returning to space after the pandemic was “like coming home.”

Following: Paramount, GREAT Theater are preparing in person, live performances this summer. Here’s what to expect.

For local musician Jeff Vee, who will perform at Paramount three times this year, Paramount is a space that always impresses. Coming back to perform in a place where he grew up always gives him “the edge of his hometown,” he said.

“We’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of theaters. And I’ll tell you one thing – Paramount is just as impressive and high-quality as most of our favorite venues in the world,” said Vee. “It is definitely a gem of central Minnesota and it truly is a real hub for artists in this community.”

Following: Paramount Center for the Arts announces its fall lineup for its 100th anniversary

An artistic space for all

Today, the theater has grown to accommodate almost any art form imaginable. In the basement there are classrooms dedicated to woodworking, textile arts, painting, drawing, pottery, sculpture, glass, printmaking and photography.

And in a typical summer, kids and adults alike flock to the stage, participate in drama camps, and learn to express themselves through various artistic mediums.

“I think the possibility of bringing different types of artists together to think about new ways of making art together or even just seeing a performance by a different artist might inspire another artist to do something new or different, ”said Gretchen Boulka, the Paramount director of performing arts. “All artists, especially performing artists, are so excited to come back to it. I mean it’s not only their livelihood, but it feeds their soul.”

In homage to its origins, on October 24, the theater will present the first film it screened in 1921 – a black-and-white silent film called “Way Down East” that patrons paid 50 cents to see it. This year it will be free to the public, and Johnson said the theater is currently working to find an organist to perform the sheet music.

“I just feel like with the opportunity everyone should come in and hear a little bit about this building,” Johnson said. “You just can’t imagine the thousands of people who’ve had experiences here. Who’ve gone through the full emotional range – sadness, joy, laughter. It’s pretty impressive.”

Becca Most is an urban reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Contact her at 320-241-8213 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @becca_most.

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