The Paramount: Oakland's Hidden Distraction

“Visit Oakland” has been a catchphrase scattered among East Bay billboards, often persuading young people to spend a day in the largest city of Alameda County. When I first started living in Berkeley, I often found myself looking at these advertisements and wanting to explore the different facets of Oakland. I quickly came to realize that I knew essentially nothing about them. Other than the existence of the Oakland International Airport, overhyped eateries, and persisting gentrification, the characteristics of the metropolitan area were unfamiliar to me. Little did I realize that Oakland is a remarkable hub for culture, likely due to its standing as the most diverse major city in the country. As a humanities student, I highly regard the arts and their significance to modern culture, and to my joy, I stumbled upon an attraction that embraces these creative values: the Paramount Theater.

Much thanks to Kathleen Moran’s discovery course on the history of Hollywood, I was able to take a backstage tour of this historic movie palace. Built in 1931 during the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, the Paramount was the largest multi-purpose theater of the West Coast at the time. Ironically, the era that introduced the concept of the modern movie theater, a recreation intended for profit-earning masses, was also characterized by the Great Depression. Visiting the theater became a way for people of any socioeconomic status to temporarily forget about their financial worries. Watching a movie was an escape. Famous for its Art Deco design, the Paramount’s ornate interior exudes luxury. There are golden mythological figures adorned on the wall, delicate spirals covering the ceilings, warm hues shining throughout the hallways. By contemporary standards, it seem like a kitschy piece of architecture, but the Paramount was not meant to be an engineered innovation—its purpose was to serve as a distraction for the common person.

Today, getting off the 19th Street Oakland station and walking onto Broadway will reveal the enormous retro sign sporting the theater’s very name. Neglected after the end of the classic movie era and start of World War II, the abandoned theater slowly deteriorated. Fortunately, it was bought in 1972 by the Board of Directors and Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association with the intent to revitalize the historically significant and artistically heightened building. After tedious restoration, the Paramount was brought back to its original aesthetic grandeur. Today, it is the home to the East Bay Symphony and Oakland Ballet. Though some may be annoyed by its singular screening vicinity, I prefer the Paramount to other chain theaters—its 35mm prints and authentic sound system ultimately enhance the entire movie watching experience. So whether you visit intending to watch a Hollywood classic or just end up finding yourself attending a pop rock concert hosted by the venue, Oakland’s hidden gem on Broadway is worth a day visit. College may not be as dire as a national economic depression, but it definitely fosters much of our anxieties—perhaps the Paramount can be your distraction this weekend.