Historic Structures

Paramount Theatre Baton Rouge Louisiana

Date added: March 10, 2016 Categories: Louisiana Theater

Originally called the Columbia, this theater, built in 1920, was hailed at its opening as the "most complete temple for silent drama to be found in the Southern States." Walter E. Stephens, of the Baton Rouge architectural firm Prather & Stephens, was both architect and contractor for the new theater. Said to be "the most thoroughly equipped and scientifically built motion picture play house in the South," this fireproof structure boasted the country's first "floorlights" and the country's second automatic dimmer-bank controls for lighting. In 1930, the Columbia's name was changed to Paramount.

The opening of the Columbia Theatre on September 4, 1920, was a momentous occasion in Baton Rouge. Dedication ceremonies included a concert by the Stanocola Brass Band, music by the Columbia Concert Orchestra and an opening prayer by the Reverend Canon Racine of St. Joseph's Church. The theatre was adorned with flowers from "business houses associated with the theatre and from individuals interested in the venture."

1,100 theatergoers then watched the nationally acclaimed Miss Norma TaImage perform in Arthur Goodrich's celebrated play, "Yes or No?," followed by Magda Lane in "Bought and Fought For," a two part western drama.

The theater was designed for both live entertainment and silent movies. "Columbia, the Theatre beautiful" provided the "best in vaudeville and screen acts." (Columbia Theater Programme, week commencing November 4, 1923.) Groups such as the famed "Lee Lassie White Minstrels" performed. In 1926, the outstanding musical booking was "No, No Nanette", which, at the time, was the "rage of the whole world and which has New York and Chicago each clamoring for seats." (State Times Advocate, November 16, 1926, p.5.) The "Talkies" were introduced in 1927, and thereafter, the number of live performances waned.

Throughout the years, however, many movies have been filmed in the Baton Rouge area. As a result, leading actors and actresses such as Roy Rogers, Clark Gable, and Mary Pickford gave special live performances at the Paramount.

Two world premieres also took place here. In 1958, "The Long Hot Summer" starring Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, and Orson Welles made its debut. "Desire in the Dust", featuring Raymond Burr and Irene Ryan, p remiered in the mid-1960s.

In the 1950s, Tom Mitchell, the manager, booked legitimate theater about ten times a year. The performances included Joan Bennett and Zachary Taylor in "Bell, Book and Candle"; Katharine Cornell in "Constant Wife"; Eddy Bracken in "The Seven Year Itch" and the road show of "Oklahoma." Dance companies including the Ballet of Monte Carlo and the Jose Greco Dancers also performed. Attempting to keep up with the times, Mitchell also booked rock star Jimmy Buffett in 1968.