The Paramount Theatre was located at 138 West Federal Plaza in Youngstown, Ohio and was opened as the Liberty Theatre in 1918. The Paramount closed in 1976 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 9, 1984.

History

The Liberty Theatre was designed by Detroit architect C. Howard Crane, with Stanley & Scheibel serving as associate architects.3 It’s exterior motif was a late Neo-classical, Ecole des Beaux Arts exterior with terra cotta ornamentation and an interior with ornate plaster detailing, and the theater could hold 1,700 patrons. The vaudeville house opened on February 11, 1918 with the premier of “A Modern Musketeer.”8 The operation was managed by C.W. Diebel Associates. In 1922, the McCrory Group acquired 60% of the stock for $209,000.

In 1929, Paramount Pictures Corporation purchased the theater and renamed it the Paramount Theatre.14 It then spent $200,000 modernizing the facility and installing a sound system for talkies, and an Art Deco design was applied to the mezzanine.3 In 1933, Paramount went into receivership due to the Great Depression, but the company and theater survived to begin showing movies. A speakeasy later operated out of the basement.8

The Paramount was last remodeled in 1950. Mirroring Youngstown’s fortunes, the theater began a steady decline in the mid-1970s, and the final movie, “Let’s Do It Again” that starred Bill Cosby 8 shown was in 1976.14

Post Closure

In 1983, developers Richard Blackwell and William Andrews purchased the theater and planned to restore the it to its original condition.10 But the partners stated just a year later that they were “fed up with the lack of cooperation and support for their projects shown by city officials, lending institutions and the Youngstown Revitalization Foundation.” Since the purchase of the theater, only $2,009 – mostly from friends, were donated to a fund set up to support the rehabilitation of the Paramount. In addition, a low-interest $100,000 loan from the city’s Community Development fund, that would have served as a match to other grants for the restoration of the first floor, stage and exterior, was rejected. The theater renovation would cost $70,000, while the remainder would be used as a down payment on the purchase of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad depot. Profits from the theater would pay off the mortgage on the station. During their ownership, a candy shop and eatery opened in the first floor of the theater.10

On December 29 and 30, 1984, the Paramount Theatre hosted “Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. Steel Mill Movie Day.”4 The event included a tour of the theater, a close up view of the then 67-year-old pipe organ, 1.5 hours of movies of the former mill, and a brief on why the steel business was in the condition that it was. Steel memorabilia was provided by the Paramount, Ohio Historical Society and CASTLO Industrial Park, the latter which was located at the former Youngstown Sheet & Tube Struthers Works.5

Ohio One purchased the abandoned theater in 1985 for $26,800. It was then sold on a land contract in 1997 to Manhattan Theatre Proprietorship.

The building was then sold on April 21, 2006 by Ohio One to Liberty/Paramount Theatre Youngstown, LLC, an investment group led by Grande Ventures Inc. of Wheaton, Illinois and Lou Frangos of Cleveland, for $79,900.7 8 Grande Ventures was a new corporation founded by Paul Warshauer solely to restore and reopen old theaters.8 The newly formed LLC pitched a theater and musical venue with seating for 300 to 600, and a restaurant and cabaret bar in the basement. The balcony would be converted into a 300-seat movie theater, or two 150-seat theaters. The plan was prepared by Youngstown architect Ron Faniro and the investment group sought tax credits from the federal government for the projected $4.8 million restoration.12 Architects Lowenstein + Durante and general contractor, Marous Brothers were retained for the rehabilitation project, but no work was completed.12

In June 2010, the Paramount Project was formed to assist in the reuse of the Paramount Theatre.14 The committee wanted to raise $4 million over the next three to five years to save the front terra cotta facade, and to demolish the remainder, converting it into an outdoor amphitheater and gathering space.

In November, the city of Youngstown purchased the Paramount Theatre for $80,000 from Frangos.2 8 14 An appraisal was done that pegged the property value at $85,000.7 The move came a month after a majority of the council members refused a motion to purchase the abandonment, citing the liability of owning such a building and the high cost of asbestos abatement and demolition, which ranged anywhere from $400,000 to $750,000.11

In July 2011, the state of Ohio approved $803,490 14 in Clean Ohio funds for the theater.6 8 The city would use the funding to clear asbestos and demolish most of the Paramount. After the demolition, the building’s front facade would be restored to its historic appearance and would serve an outdoor amphitheater. The city would contribute $269,553 in matching dollars for assessment, acquisition, remediation and demolition.

The city’s board of control, comprised of the mayor, law director and finance director, approved a $19,500 contract with Strollo Architects of Youngstown to develop a plan to demolish the theater sans the front facade.13  The board also entered into an agreement with Brownfield Restoration Group of New York for $56,028 to supervise the environmental cleanup of the Paramount in accordance to Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund policies.

A preliminary investigation by Strollo found that the front of the Paramount would not strong enough to stand on its own if the remainder of the theater is demolished.14 If the front of the theater could not be saved, the Paramount Project would walk away from their proposal. To secure the front of the building would cost $900,000 to $1.2 million, according to Strollo. The rather grim report from Atlantic Engineering, a company hired by Strollo for a preliminary site assessment of the building, noted that if the main theater walls were demolished, the front facade would have no means to resist wind loading.14 15 17 Steel beams inside and out would be needed to hold up the facade. Careful demolition would be needed to minimize vibration transfer to the facade to reduce the chance of terra cotta ornamentation breaking off. Atlantic’s estimate for saving the facade was between $1.3 million and $1.6 million.15

In November 2012, the city moved forward with demolition plans for the Paramount,15 and on March 28, 2013, the board of control signed a $721,000 contract with Baumann Enterprises of Cleveland for the razing.16 Out of the seven proposals, it was the lowest and considerably lower than the city’s $1.1 million estimate. The city had received an $803,490 grant from the state in July 2011 towards the project.

Upon completion, the lot will be regraded and turned into a surface parking lot for City Hall.16

Digest

  • Name: Liberty Theatre, Paramount Theatre
  • Location: 138 West Federal Plaza, Youngstown, Ohio
  • Years of Significance: 1918, 1929
  • Status: Demolished

Further Reading

  1. Paramount Project
  2. Paramount Theatre at After the Final Curtain

Sources

  1. United States. Dept. of the Interior. Seven Early Office Buildings at Central Square. Comp. Eric Johannesen. Washington: National Park Service, July 1979. Web. 13 Sept. 2012. Article.
  2. “Youngstown buys old Paramount Theatre building.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 21 July 2010: n.pag. Web. 16 Sept. 2012. Article.
  3. Harris, John C. “Paramount Theatre.” Cinema Treasures n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2012. Article.
  4. Paramount Theatre. Advertisement. Vindicator [Youngstown] 28 Dec. 1984: 31. Print.
  5. “‘Steel Mill Days’ plays at Paramount.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 28 Dec. 1984: 31. Print.
  6. Downtown Youngstown Revitalization Project Gets Go-Ahead. WKBN, Youngstown, 11 July 2011. firstNews. Web. 17 Sept. 2012. Article.
  7. “Youngstown to award contract for Exal site.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 15 June 2010: n. pag. Web. 17 Sept. 2012. Article.
  8. D’Astolfo, Guy. “Plans unveiled for Paramount restoration.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 18 Oct. 2006: A1-A3. Print.
  9. “Act swiftly to produce project of Paramount importance.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 23 July 2011: n. pag. Web. 17 Sept. 2012. Article.
  10. Rummel, Victoria. “Paramount Plan May Be Dropped.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 16 July 1984: 2. Print.
  11. “Youngstown OKs $2 million call center incentive.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 16 June 2010: n. pag. Web. 17 Sept. 2012. Article.
  12. “Liberty/Paramount Theatre, Youngstown, Ohio.” Grande Ventures, Inc. n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2012. Article.
  13. “Paramount Theatre facade to be reserved in demolition.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 12 June 2012: n. pag. Web. 18 Sept. 2012. Article.
  14. Skolnick, David. “Plan to restore landmark Paramount facade in jeopardy.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 9 Sept. 2012: n. pag. Web. 18 Sept. 2012. Article.
  15. Dick, Denise. “City to fully demolish Paramount Theatre.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 4 Dec. 2012: n. pag. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.
  16. Skolnick, David. “Paramount demolition to begin, property to become parking lot.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 29 Mar. 2013: n. pag. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.
  17. Skolnick, David. “Youngstown hires company to consult on Paramount Theatre.” Vindicator [Youngstown] 22 Sept. 2012: n. pag. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.