This quote from a March 3, 2010 Boston Globe article by Geoff Edgers sums up what you’re about to read:
“The once-grand Art Deco theater, which had become a dilapidated porno movie house by the time it closed in 1976, has been restored to its former glory.”
Wait… there was a ramshackle X-Rated movie house in the middle of downtown Boston just a generation ago?!
Yes, that is correct. Remember two articles ago how we realized that our “Developed Country” has still done a ton of “Developing” recently, and is continuing to evolve as we speak? Well here’s another example: the glowing lights that I now declare “The Sexiest Sign in Boston”… the 7,000-bulb marquee for the Paramount Theater!
I walk by this tower of light several times a week, since it’s downtown on Washington Street by the Chinatown stop on the Orange Line, and thus it nuzzles near a bevy of stores and sights. As I pass, I always pause inadvertently to ogle. The term that comes to mind while I ogle this sign is: “Glamor.” Or, if you want to be fancy and British, “Glamour.”
In short, as the undulating red and gold and blue lights glitter through my eyes, I become convinced that I am actually wearing a flowing mink coat, have my hair in a voluptuously curled up-do, and am clutching a jeweled, gold-embroidered purse (full of diamonds of course).
Such is the power of a pretty sign on the mind of this gal.
But what of this sign’s history? What of these rumors of a tawdry and decayed past?
A little sleuthing yields the answer, and it ain’t pretty.
The Paramount was opened in 1932 as a 1,700-seat theater that, according to Wikipedia, was one of the first movie houses in Boston to play talking motion pictures.
Hear that, kids? Just seventy-nine years ago, it was crazy new technology to have a movie in which actors actually spoke aloud!
But as the twentieth century wore on, our cities here in America began to decay. This is an element of our national history that broke my heart when I learned it in college. Basically, by the 1950s, more people in the U.S. were living in suburbs than in cities for the first time in our history. This was due to a combination of increased car ownership, a shift away from industrial jobs towards service ones, racial tensions (“white flight”), and more… but the end result was that our city centers began dying. The government started investing in things like highways out of the city, rather than in maintaining and improving our downtown hearts, and so those hearts became deathly sick.
And thus the Paramount Theater fell into squalor. And when I say squalor, I’m not kidding. Here’s a direct quote from Edgers’s Globe article about the Paramount:
“It may be hard, seeing the Paramount Theatre today, to understand just how dramatic a transformation has taken place.
Ross Cameron remembers. Five years ago, the project architect walked through the damp, dirty space to see what had to be done. He found bird skeletons and mold. He could see through a back wall into the alley behind the theater. And he could hear rats splashing around in the orchestra pit. At one point, Cameron entered the projection room. With no electricity, he had to follow the beam of his flashlight.
“I caught this broken mirror, and next to it on the door, somebody had painted, in red, a skull and the word ‘REDRUM,’’’ said Cameron. “Ever seen ‘The Shining?’ I had to leave for the day.’’”
WHAT?! You can’t make this stuff up. But the point is clear: by 1976 when it shut down, everyone thought the Paramount was dead. And everyone thought our American cities were dead, too.
I really want you to get this, readers: it is a BIG DEAL that the Paramount is revitalized, because it is a BIG DEAL that our cities are coming alive again!
How happy I am to be living right in the heart of an American city, in an era when these precious city hearts are beating more and more strongly, thumping: “We are not dead! Keep nourishing us, and watch us flourish!”