Uptown Unveiled: The Fox and Paramount Theaters, Oakland, June 18

I've painted them on several occasions. Now my guest blogger, Annalee Allen, will fill you in on a celebration which will showcase two of Oakland's premier movie palaces: Annalee Allen

The upcoming Uptown Unveiled street party on June 18th presents an opportunity to showcase both of Oakland's movie palace gems - the Paramount Theatre on Broadway, and the newly restored Fox Oakland Theater on Telegraph Avenue. The lobbies of both theaters will be open for viewing, and guides with the Oakland Tours Program will be leading walks from one venue to the other throughout the evening.

Anthony Holdsworth's portraits of both theaters, seen altogether on this site, capture the sense of expectation and excitement patrons must have felt eight decades ago when both theaters, with capacities to seat 3000-plus people, offered a few hours of escape into the wide world of entertainment. A check of the history files reveals that several other theaters were operating in downtown during that time - the twenties and thirties, but the opening of the Fox in 1928, and the Paramount in 1931 represented a new level of architectural opulence and patron accommodation. Purchasing a ticket for 44 cents (55 cents for the loge level) meant transport to worlds and time periods far far away, files say.

Over the years, at the Fox, well-known vaudevillians and stars like Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Jimmy Dorsey Band took the stage during movie intermissions. During the year long construction period for the Paramount, which occurred as the

Great Depression

was deepening, dozens of subcontractors employed hundreds of steelworkers, plumbers, carpenters and artisans to work on the mammoth structure. On opening day the Paramount was reported to be the largest movie house on the

West Coast



While the style of the Fox suggests a "Brahamanian Temple of Northern India," with a tower dome encrusted with colored tiles, the Paramount, designed by noted

San Francisco architect Timothy Pflueger, is a towering tribute to the Jazz Age and Moderne styled Art Deco. It too features highly unusual glazed

mosaic tile panels, flanking the neon blade sign, that depict stylized male and female puppet masters crowned with stars, dangling golden strings with performing arts figures.

How exciting it must have been to see those neon letters on the theaters' towering signs, glowing nightly, drawing folks downtown to shows, dining, and dancing.

According to the files, the acquisition and restoration of the Paramount Theatre by the Oakland Symphony Association in the early 1970's, was seen as the start of a major trend around the country to take aging

movie palaces

and convert them in to

performing arts centers

. A modest $4 million, funds contributed by a few key locally prominent civic minded leaders, and matched by energetic community volunteers who mounted a one dollar per person fundraising campaign, was what it took back in 1973, to reopen the Paramount Theatre. The rescue of the Fox took much longer and was far more complicated. That remarkable story will be retold on June 18th by the volunteer guides of the Oakland Tours20Program at the Uptown Unveiled street party. In addition, the Uptown tour will be repeated monthly through the summer months, the dates and times are posted on the web at




We owe a debt of gratitude to those who refused to give up on the idea that


could have not one but two major downtown landmark venues, fully restored and open for all to enjoy. For more on uptown's renaissance check out