AKA: Paramount Theater of the Arts, Downtown, Oakland, CA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Miller and Pflueger, Architects (firm); Theodore C. Bernardi (architect); Michael Arthur Goodman Sr. (architect); James Rupert Miller (architect); Timothy Ludwig Pflueger (architect)

Dates: constructed 1930-1931

2025 Broadway
Downtown, Oakland, CA 94612-2303

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Building History

When it opened on 12/16/1931, the Paramount had the largest capacity of any theatre on the West Coast at 3,476, one of the few lavish movie palaces built during the nadir of the Depression. The movie chain Paramount Publix wanted this theatre to gain attention and therefore selected Miller and Pflueger for its design. Miller and Pflueger designed it at about the same time they were doing the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange Club in San Francisco, CA. Pflueger, the firm's chief designer, was well-connected in the city's artistic circles and could call on friends and colleagues to assist in the design and construction of this palatial theatre. The consulting architect, Harrison Gill, designed metal work in the theatre that was produced at the Michael and Pfeiffer Iron Works in San Francisco; mosaic cartoons were done by Gerald Fitzgerald, who also conceived of the metal grating lining the auditorium's ceiling. (Pflueger and Howard first explored the idea of using a suspended, back-lit, metal grate to adorn a ceiling was first explored at the Pacific Stock Exchange.) The grating note only provided a lively ceiling composition, it also masked fresh air ducts and assisted in the reflection of sound in the auditorium. Plaster bas-relief on the auditorium walls was executed by Robert Boardman Howard (1896-1983), an artist and son of the architect John Galen Howard (1864-1931). Howard and artist and sculptor Ralph Ward Stackpole (1885-1973) designed the central relief panel illustrating a central winged figure surrounded by horses, that hung over the segmentally-arched proscenium. The Russian-born architect Michael Goodman (1903-1991) worked in the Miller and Pflueger office at the time, and assisted in the design of the stage's fire curtain and light fixtures.

Sited in a mid-block location, the designers wanted to erect a tall sign to advertise its position, hemmed in by other buildings. They devised a sign 110-feet high, decorated with male and female puppeteers directing a whimsical collection of performers below including various dancers, a man fighting a large beast, a man riding a stag, a cowboy and his horse, a woman riding a giant seahorse and a satyr blowing a horn. This mosaic billboard was based on a three-foot painting by an artist working in the Miller and Pflueger office, Gerald Fitzgerald. A local producer of billboards, Foster and Kleiser, magnified Fitzgerald's image to cover the roughly ten-story high surface. In her review of the renovation, architectural critic Sally Woodbridge drew parallels between this 110-foot high billboard and the recent writing of Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, in their book Learning from Las Vegas (1972), who extolled to architects the relevancy and artistic possiblities of billboard design. (See Sally Woodbridge, "The Paramount Plays Again," Progressive Architecture, vol .LV, no. 7, p. 54) Fitzgerald, who worked with Pflueger until the late 1930s, also designed a majestic, 35-foot high, glass sculpture, called the "Fountain of Light," on the entrance-end of the lobby.

This was one of the most important and flamboyant Art Deco theatres in the US. David Naylor, in American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy, stated categorically: The Paramount Theatre of the Arts stands as the gaudiest orchestra hall in the country and one of the most glamorous." (See David Naylor, American Picture Palaces: The Architecture of Fantasy, [New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981], p. 194.) The Paramount operated for 39 years for movie-going audiences, closing in 1971.

In 1970, civic leaders in Oakland, CA, considered the idea of building a new civic performing arts center but found its estimated $13 million cost too high. The following year, with the Paramount Theatre closing imminently, they considered the idea of buying and rehabilitating it. Following brief negotiations, National General Theatres, Incorporated, sold the venue to this civic group for $1 million; remodeling efforts cost another $1 million. Fund-raising to preserve this remarkably lavish Art Deco movie palace was not difficult, and the theatre reopened as a performing arts center on 09/22/1973.

Building Notes

The California Historic Landmark Plaque is located at 475 21st Street, Oakland, CA; this theatre is notable for the 87-foot mosaic sign that marks its facade.


As noted above, the Oakland Paramount underwent a thorough renovation in 1972-1973; it became a multi-purpose performing arts building, used by the Oakland Symphony for its performances. The architectural firm of Milton Pflueger and Associates, the successor to Timothy Pflueger's architectural firm, served as an historical consultant for the 1973 renovation; the San Francisco Office of Skidmore Owings and Merrill were the architectural consultants.

By 2002, one newspaper report indicated that the City of Oakland had spent $20 million repairing the theatre.

California Historical Landmark: 884

National Register of Historic Places (Listed 1973-08-14): 73000395 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 1025