Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More plans for Casa Grande's Paramount Theatre

[Source: Jill Zarend-Kubatko, Casa Grande Valley Newspapers] -- The 75-year-old Paramount Theatre has been awakened once again. Nudging the entertainment house into the new year with imaginative ideas are its owner Debbie Barber and Amy Berglund of Old Town Coffee Company... Berglund and Barber hope to have a full run theater sometime in February. "This is a kickoff for further things to come and a year from now we should have a full season theater. It currently is available for renting," Berglund said...

Built in 1929 by the same theater chain that built the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix, Casa Grande's Paramount Theatre was the first talking picture show in Pinal County... The theater became the town's leading entertainment center for more than 60 years. Long Theater Enterprises, which had purchased the theater in 1942, filed for bankruptcy in 1989. The theater reopened but closed again in 1992. The facade had been altered so much, the theater was rejected by the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Through the various changes in ownership, its beauty was lost in the form of layers of "renovations."

Barber purchased the 650-seat theater for $32,000 at a county tax sale to have a place for her daughter's ballet class and other youth activities. There was no place in Casa Grande for them, she said at the time, and she wanted to create one. In 1998, with help from a state Heritage Fund grant, Barber had the 1970s facade removed and the outside restored to its original Spanish Colonial Revival style. The ticket booth was reconstructed in its original location. The restrooms were moved; the store windows rebuilt. The theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. When the acoustic tiles came off inside the theater, Egyptian-motif stencils in three of the alcoves were found undamaged. Art students from Central Arizona College painted the other alcoves to match.

The original lapis-blue ceiling color was uncovered and repainted. The large plaster of Paris peacock-feather grill was painted gold. The walls and niches were painted their original beige and gold. The balcony was enlarged. The floor was leveled and covered in copper-red carpeting. Egyptian-style columns were added to both sides of the stage.

A replica of the original marquee was purchased for $36,200 in a downtown revitalization project sponsored by Casa Grande Main Street with assistance from Arizona Main Street, the city of Casa Grande and the Casa Grande Arts and Humanities Commission, which awarded Local Transportation Assistance funds for the project. Barber, who has been restoring the theater for more than a decade, and her daughter Crystal Thies accepted the Governor's Heritage Preservation Honor Award for outstanding achievement in preserving Arizona's historic resources June 10 at the annual Historic Preservation Conference in Tucson.

"The rehabilitation and reopening of the Paramount is vital to the energy that is being created in the historic downtown district," Main Street Executive Director Marge Jantz said in a June article about the reopening. Main Street now uses the marquee in promotions as an example of the progress and revitalization of "old" Casa Grande. "This is just the love of my life," Barber said at the time of her 2004 reopening. "It'll probably never be done. My dream came true, what I originally purchased it for." [Photo source: Debra Jane Seltzer.]