|Portland Publix Theatre (1928).|
Photograph: courtesy PDX History website.
Portland’s street numbering changed in 1933.
Originally (1928) (and sometimes still referred to as) the Paramount Theatre, it is also locally nicknamed "The Schnitz". The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall (1928), opened as the Portland Publix Theater before becoming the Paramount after 1930, is a historic theater building and performing arts center in Portland, Oregon, United States.
The architectural firm Rapp and Rapp, famous for its theater buildings, designed the Italian Renaissance-style building. The building was variously described by the newspapers as being of the French Renaissance or Northern Italianate style. The Paramount was considered, at its opening, to be the largest and most lavish theater for a city the size of Portland. Originally opened as the Portland Publix Theatre, a vaudeville venue in March 1928, the name changed to the Paramount Theater in 1930, as the owners had a contract to run Paramount films locally. The building continued to show films until 1972, after which it hosted concerts.
The opening night feature was Feel My Pulse (1928). Organist Ralph Hamilton played in addition to the orchestra at the Portland Publix Theatre on opening night.
Visitors were greeted by a 65-foot (20 m) high "Portland" sign above the Broadway Marquee, which contains approximately 6,000 theatrical lights. The sign read "Paramount" from 1930-1984. The theatre was designed with many foyers and lobbies. The main entrance to the auditorium boasted huge french-paned windows facing east and south, covered with velvet drapes. The walls were covered with mirrors and marble, and the floors were covered with expensive carpets. The furnishings had been purchased from a French museum and private collections. The concessions stand was made of marble and stretched nearly half the length of the main lobby. It was described as the "longest candy counter in the West."
The lobby was lit with huge crystal chandeliers. Nearly $35,000 had been spent on them. The largest had a span of nearly 8 feet (2.4 m), weighing over 1700 pounds and containing 181 lights. Currently, the largest chandelier has 137 candle bulbs, and the smaller ones each have 124 bulbs.
The men's lounge was equipped with fireplaces, telephones, radios, phonographs and attendants. The women's lounge was furnished with dressing tables, mirrors, maids and hairdressers. There was also a Louis XV Ampico-Knabe grand piano in ivory and gold available to the women.
The walls of the auditorium were elaborately decorated with murals and near the front of the stage, small balconies were hung with drapes which hid the pipes from the $46,500 Wurlitzer organ. This organ was stored under the stage and was mounted on a platform that could be raised to the level of the stage at the touch of a button. Two organists could play simultaneously.
During the Great Depression, the theatre hired roving musicians and a "psychic" to entertain in the lobby before movies, in an effort to attract patrons to the theatre. Admission was 50 cents at this point, down 10 cents from opening night.
The stage had an orchestra pit that could be raised and lowered and hold a 30-piece orchestra. There was also a "flying" stage which could be raised or lowered or moved about above the main stage.
By 1936, the theater had been sold to the Evergreen chain, in conjunction with John Hamrick, and between them, they owned eight movie theatres in Portland.
In 1965, the exterior and interior of the building were in a decline, and in September of that year, part of the cast iron balcony which faces Park Avenue (a 150 lb (68 kg) piece of gingerbread), gave way and fell to the pavement below. The break was along an old fracture line caused by a previous earthquake. The iron had rusted over time without proper maintenance.
In August 1970, chunks of the masonry on the corner of Main and Broadway gave way. Two huge blocks, 350 lb (160 kg) each, fell from the facade, one of them crashing into the main marquee below. The masonry blocks were said to have fallen due to the age of the building. The owners did not seem to be putting any money into maintenance. The theatre was offered for sale in December 1970 and was purchased by John Haviland in 1971, who owned the Park-Haviland Hotel. The theatre was leased to Tom Moyer, owner of a chain of movie theaters. The last regular film showing was on August 15, 1972 (Dr. Phibes Rises Again with Vincent Price).
In 1972, a Seattle-based partnership was formed, Paramount Northwest. They leased the theatre for three years, with an option for six more, and promoted live concerts. Heart played there as part of the "Catch a Rising Star" series (which included Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, among others), for the admission price of 92 cents (promoted by local radio station KGON, 92.3 FM). John Haviland still owned it and claimed that the rent was "1/10 of what it should be for such a theatre": $4000 per month. Haviland was trying to drive out the rock-concert promoting tenants and went into a legal dispute with Paramount Northwest over the lease. He felt that the young people targeted by the concerts were not spending enough money and were destroying the theatre. Haviland won a court case preventing Paramount Northwest from renewing their lease option. Haviland intended to renovate the theatre and offer a higher-class type of entertainment, including dinner theatre.
The Paramount Northwest group got the idea to call the Paramount Theatre in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA the "Paramount Northwest". Local residents did not like this idea and still called both venues: Paramount Theatre.
Advertisements for both of these theatres gradually began to phase out the inclusion of "Northwest" in the title. By the early 1980s, the moniker had been dropped altogether. Some folks, probably not Northwest residents, still insist on calling these venues Paramount Northwest Theatre. However, it would be more correct to simply cite both venues as: Paramount Theatre.
What can complicate identification matters is that some posters make it hard for non-residents to tell the difference between Portland and Seattle posters for the "same" venue title. Once you know the names of the ticket outlets, however, it becomes easy to tell the difference. For example, Meier and Frank would be a Portland, OR ticket outlet. Fidelity Lane would be a Seattle, WA ticket outlet.(3)
Later in 1972, the Portland City Council voted to give the building Landmark Status, over the objections of John Haviland, the owner. The landmark status applied only to the exterior of the building. Many people felt that the interior of the building was more valuable architecturally.[16)
In December 1972, Haviland proposed a state-run gambling casino on the property, claiming he was losing more than he could afford on the Paramount.
On March 26, 1975, the original theater organ and statuary were sold off in an auction. During the auction, there was a general outcry from the audience to keep a particular marble statue, called "Surprise" (a nude girl with her hands thrown across her face) in the theater. A hat was passed among the 1200 member audience to take up a collection, and $5,233.97 was raised to purchase the statue and keep it in the theater lobby. The statue has a finger missing from a bullet from a box-office robbery in the 1950s.
The building (as the Paramount Theatre) was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
In August 1976, the Paramount Theatre was sold to Seattle-based West Coast Theatres company. The owner offered to sell the property to the city for 4 million dollars in 1980, but the city council had to decide whether to renovate the Paramount Theatre or build a performing arts center from the ground up.
The City of Portland attempted to buy out the owner in 1982, but talks broke down. The city council finally voted to condemn the building. A condemnation hearing jury determined that the city would have to pay the owner $4.1 million dollars as compensation for the building.
A major renovation began in September 1983 to the designs of Boora Architects, restoring the building to much of its original opulence. The interior of the auditorium, however, was painted one neutral color, rather than restoring the murals that had decorated it. Portland residents Arlene and Harold Schnitzer contributed generously to the completion of the initial phase of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. The one-year, $10 million renovation involved repairing, recasting or replacing much of the theatre's ornate interior as well as making it comfortable and safe for today's audiences and performers.
The landmark 65-foot-tall "Paramount" sign was removed on March 18, 1984, to be used by Ballard Sign Company of Salem as a model for a new replica which would restore the wording used originally (from 1928–1930): "Portland", appropriate for the building's change in use as well as being historically fitting. The new replica sign, with neon letters five feet tall, was attached to the building on September 4, 1984. The theatre re-opened later the same month. The present "Portland" marquee is a replica of the original theater sign. The original, replaced during the remodel, still read "Paramount". The removal of the sign turned out badly, as it accidentally fell onto the sidewalk in an impressive crash.
Design highlights: wool carpeting designed in Portland and loomed in New Zealand; original chandeliers renovated and fitted with new crystal in rococo-style lobby; original ornate interior re-paneled, recast and replaced; classic colors of warm neutrals and teal replaced the original dark and heavy gold, green and rose.
The building was restored to much of its original opulence. When the performing arts center was re-opened in 1984, it was decided to name the Portland Theatre building after Arlene Schnitzer.
It is the last surviving theater building on Portland's Broadway, which was once lined with large theater houses.
A secret door between the theater and the Heathman Hotel's cigar room next door was uncovered during the renovation.
Part of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, it is home to the Oregon Symphony, Portland Youth Philharmonic, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, White Bird Dance Company, and Portland Arts & Lectures. It is also a concert and film venue.
Jerry performed here on
7/25/72 Grateful Dead (Paramount Northwest)
7/26/72 Grateful Dead (Paramount Northwest)
5/9/73 Old And In The Way (Paramount Northwest)
12/14/74 Merl Saunders (Paramount Northwest)
3/5/76 Jerry Garcia Band
6/3/76 Grateful Dead
6/4/76 Grateful Dead
10/1/77 Grateful Dead
10/2/77 Grateful Dead
10/26/78 Jerry Garcia Band
1.)^History of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts
2.)^Erickson, Steve (Sep. 5, 1984). "Arts center displays new sign". The Oregonian, p. B1.
3.)^Freeman, Mark Matthew, Procol Haem's gig-list for 1973, http://www.procolharum.com/paramount-northwest.htm
5.)^Oregon Journal June 25, 1968
6.)^Oregon Journal August 16, 1972
7.)^The Oregonian December 3, 1972
8.)^The Oregonian August 10, 1975
9.)^The Oregonian August 28, 1976
10.)^The Oregonian November 11, 1980
11.)^The Oregonian February 18, 1982
12.)^August 24, 1983
15.)^The Oregonian March 30, 1972
16.)^The Oregonian March 20, 1972