The Paramount Theatre, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of just 300 movie palaces left in the United States according to a story in USA Today. Built in the architecturally extravagant 1920’s, the theatre annually hosts concerts, fundraisers, corporate meetings, dance recitals and a Broadway Series. The Theatre is home to Orchestra Iowa, the region’s premier symphony orchestra.
Cedar Rapids is extremely fortunate to have the Paramount Theatre as a performing arts center. In November 1926, a conference was held discussing plans to build the theatre. By April 1927, work was well underway on the foundation of the building, and by September 1, 1928, the theatre opened as the Capitol Theatre. For one year the Capitol provided a live stage show with a full range of comedians, singers, dancers, acrobats, along with an audience sing-along, the Wurlitzer organ and a film. When the theatre was built, they wanted to make it like a palace, with everything being high class.
The theatre was bought by Paramount Studios and renamed the Paramount Theatre in 1929. It was then gifted to the City of Cedar Rapids in December 1975. At that time, a fifteen-member Commission was named and it was decided the theatre should be restored to its original state. No tax money was spent on the restoration. Instead, a fund drive conducted by the Commission raised over $400,000 in pledges and donations from industry, businesses, and individuals.
In 2001, a committee, Friends of the Paramount, formed to discuss plans and begin fundraising for a second renovation. In 2003, the Paramount Theatre underwent a $7.8 million dollar renovation. Updates included: a 57’ wing space addition, new HVAC system, new restrooms, existing restrooms renovation, new carpet, new seat coverings, plaster work repair, electrical and fire system updates and the Guaranty Bank Reception Hall addition. A key funding source of the renovation came from the Culture’s Alive project, the State of Iowa Cultural Attraction and Tourism (CAT) grant. Along with the CAT grant many businesses and individuals also showed their support of the Paramount Theatre renovation by donating money.
In June 2008, the Paramount Theatre was severely damaged by the worst flood in Cedar Rapids history. At the crest of the flood, the building was inundated by approximately eight feet of water on the main level. The basement and sub-basement were completely flooded causing over $16 million in damage to the historic theatre. A dedicated team of professionals rebuilt, restored and enhanced the Theatre and its’ amenities. As destructive as the flood was to the interior of the Theatre, the structure itself remained solid. This provided the opportunity to restore the Theatre’s historic features and create the upgrades and improvements today’s performers and patrons expect when attending events. The goals of the restoration project were to:
- Restore the facility to an operational condition
- Minimize the impact of future floods
- Enhance the stagehouse function for all users
- Enhance the patron experience with improved seating comfort, lively acoustics and expanded gathering spaces
- Promote operational and production efficiency
- Respect the Theatre’s historic integrity
- Incorporate sustainable design strategies
- Find synergy between the Paramount Theatre and Orchestra Iowa building.
The Paramount Theatre reopened in November of 2012. While retaining its historical appearance, the marquee on Third Avenue has been updated to an electronic display. Entering through the Hall of Mirrors, patrons experience the historic Theatre as they remember it with all its’ opulence. Extensive efforts were undertaken to ensure the restoration was executed in a historically sensitive manner. An analysis of the color and composition of historic paint and plaster finishes determined the original color scheme as well as the painting and plaster techniques. A small piece of the original carpet was discovered. This remnant was used to inspire the design of the new carpet in the color and pattern of the original. Every surface of the main Theatre has been restored to its original grandeur.
The 2003 addition has been redesigned to further enhance the patron experience. A modern lounge area, concession space, restrooms and gathering spaces welcome you to linger and mingle before shows and at intermission. The lower level provides an additional lounge with bar service and restrooms, all intended to enhance your event experience.