You Are Here: Paramount Theater

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Photo by Karen.

The Paramount Theater, located at Broadway and 21st street in Oakland, has an intriguing strangeness to it: always heavier and cooler than the air outside. It feels like its own eco system, its own self-governing dimension.

Timothy Pflueger, son of German immigrants, designed four Bay-Area buildings in six years: the San Francisco Pacific Telephone building (1925), the West Coast Stock Exchange (1930), the Castro Theater (1922) and the Paramount Theater in Oakland (1931). He never went to architecture school and died at 54 in the home he was born in, in San Francisco’s Mission District. As his notoriety for the incorporation of Mayan, Asian and Egyptian elements within his designs increased, so did his national clout. When Paramount Publix of New York City began the search for an architect to spearhead their newest movie palace in Uptown Oakland, Pflueger purchased a ticket to New York, stood directly in front of the board and argued that he was the man for the job.

He had something special in mind. Pflueger drew inspiration from the literary realm, specifically the popular fantasy novel, Green Mansions. Like its contemporaries Tarzan and The Jungle Book, Green Mansions tells the story of a young orphan raised in the jungle. Set in the jungles of Venezuela, Rema, the bird-like female protagonist, searches for love and kin but ultimately dies a tragic death. To embody the magical world of the book, Pflueger hired a fleet of artists including muralists, sculptors and textile designers. Together they created the imposing fountain of light, an ornate 35-foot-tall work of carved glass illuminated in soft greens, reminiscent of gently rushing water. The sculptural piece hovering above the main entrance serves as a gateway to the building, setting the supernatural tone of the space—a tone that is further rounded out by bas reliefs of golden climbing vines and large patterned leaves. Pflueger also incorporated images of Greek and Egyptian gods and lotuses enhancing the mystical language of the space.

Once you walk in the Paramount, all thoughts everyday life fall by the wayside. All that remains is a delightful quiet place, filled with the promise of black and white movies, musical acts and elegantly dressed woman drinking martinis.

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