A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


Oakland’s Paramount Theater is now recognized as one of the grandest examples of Art Deco architecture still in existence, but this masterpiece almost met the same fate as many other prestigious movie palaces of its era. Originally constructed in 1931, the Paramount was a torn and tattered dump by the late 1960s. At the time, the Oakland Symphony was looking for a new home, and its leaders realized that beneath decades of grime lay a unique gem. After extensive restoration, the Paramount reopened in 1973, and has been hosting icons like Bob Marley, Prince, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Jerry Seinfeld, and Chris Rock ever since. 

On today’s episode, the Paramount’s head curator David Boysel discusses the turbulent history of this 2,996-seat venue as well as the backstory to his never-ending quest to keep the building in perfect condition. Expect to hear about the Paramount’s famed architect Timothy Pflueger, the many historical mysteries that Boysel has solved over the years, the network of local artisans who keep the Paramount looking pristine, and much more. Click any of these links (Apple, SoundCloud, Spotify) to stream the episode or listen wherever you get podcasts.

One additional note: This episode is a followup to a profile that I wrote for SF Gate last month. To see some truly stunning photos of the Paramount in all its glory and to read the article, click here. If you have suggestions for topics I should cover in an upcoming article, please drop me a line: eastbayyesterday [at] gmail. I’m primarily interested in East Bay-related stories with a local history angle. -Liam

In order to maintain an unobstructed view, architect Timothy Pflueger utilized this massive steel girder to hold up the Paramount’s balcony. At the time of its 1931 installation, this 105-ton, 120-foot long component was the largest and heaviest girder ever erected on the Pacific Coast. Workers rolled the girder on logs from Moore Dry Dock, the West Oakland shipyard where it was fabricated.
A recurring theme of tropical nature can be found throughout the Paramount. The leafy pattern on these chairs is echoed in the carpet’s intertwined branches and vines. To hear more about the Paramount’s Art Deco design, check out one of the theater’s bi-weekly tours. [Photo: Liam O’Donoghue]
“When the venue opened to the public, promotional materials heralded it as ‘a castle of splendor.’ For the inaugural gala, tuxedo-clad parking valets and a platoon of ushers greeted throngs of attendees, including Hollywood celebrities and politicians. A neon-lit marquee featuring a tile mosaic towered 120 feet above the streets of downtown Oakland, enticing would-be viewers to part with a few quarters in exchange for a couple of hours of entertainment in a posh setting…” -To read more about the Paramount’s history, check out my profile of David Boysel on SF Gate.

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