Between the years 1973 and 1985, I had the honor to have been the co-founder of the restoration and rejuvenation of the historic Paramount Theatre for the Performing Arts in Austin, Texas. The theatre, built in 1915, was in danger of being demolished for a Holiday Inn. Located a few blocks south of the Capitol building, the Paramount has long been an anchor business in the heart of the inner city. An official Texas Landmark, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in Washington, D.C., the Paramount has had a major impact on the cultural diversity of Austin for 93 years combining Broadway plays, music, comedy, variety classic films, ballet, classical music, opera world film premiers, a SWSW venue and more.
In the early years, the theatre played host to legendary performers including Houdini, Helen Hayes, Enrico Caruso, Sally Rand, the Marx Brothers, Cab Calloway, Sarah Bernhardt to name a few. In 1930, the theatre was upgraded with air conditioning at the same time that the public’s appetite for motion pictures was reaching a fevered pitch. Little by little, over the next three decades, motion pictures became more and more typical while touring live plays and variety acts began to wane. The Paramount reached a low point becoming a venue for kung fu films and exploitation product in the late 1960’s and mid 1970’s. ABC Interstate Theatres – the operator of the theatres all throughout the Southwest – had turned its back on all of its downtown theatres allowing them to deteriorate and to be shuttered or demolished in many cases in favor of more profitable suburban multi screen movie theatres..
During the first phase of the Paramount’s reincarnation (1973-1985), the theatre was a major venue for music and comedy concerts via major touring stars and Broadway shows. Over 200 big music and comedy headliners were presented covering the disciplines of jazz, reggae, rock and roll, R&B, classic rock, folk and more co-produced with Art Squires and Michael Dunham of the then Southwest Concerts. Billy Joel made his debut at the Paramount among dozens of other touring acts. Some of these concerts included Little Feat, B.B. King, Iggy Pop, Al Jarreau, Dave Brubeck, Rush, Al Stewart, Randy Newman, Cheech and Chong, Rodney Dangerfield, Toots and the Maytals, Peter Tosh, the Pointer Sisters and dozens more.
The Paramount began this active concert phase overlapping the famed Armadillo World Headquarters. Owing to the significant difference in the two venues, there were plenty of acts available that fit the aesthetic of both facilities. Even prior to these music powerhouses, the Vulcan Gas Company was actually Austin’s first rock venue in the psychedelic era in the mid 1960’s featuring Johnny Winter, Steve Miller Band, Jimmy Reed and Big Mama Thornton.
Today, the Paramount continues to hold the torch high along with the Austin City Limits Musical Festival, the Backyard, Stubb’s Barbeque, Austin City Limits television show on PBS, the Music Hall, the Long Center, Bass concert hall on the UT campus and innumerable clubs making Austin, truly, the Music Capital of the World. The theatre is also a favorite for film premieres including work by Ron Howard, Robert Rodriquez, Richard Linklater and others.
Paramount Theatre link: