HISTORY OF THE PARAMOUNT THEATRE
When motion pictures grew into one of the nation's greatest industries, large decorative and sometimes exotic
theatres were designed especially for the "movies"
and the stage pageantry which generally accompanied them. In 1925,
Paramount-Publix, one of the great studio-theatre chains that dominated
the industry, began a construction program resulting in some of the finest
theatres produced in that epoch.
[Also see: "From Nickelodeon to Picture Palace"]
The first to be built was on Times Square, the last in Oakland where construction on the Paramount
began in late 1930. The Paramount Theatre in Oakland was one of only three theatres
built by the Publix chain on the West Coast. (The others, built in 1928, survive in Seattle and Portland.)
It was not only the last Publix house but was also the last very large moving picture theatre built on the
West Coast and is now the largest of the type still extant there.
Financial pressure of the times forced Publix to sell the theatre prior to its completion, and although it opened as the Oakland Paramount on December 16,
1931, it was one of the Fox West Coast theatres.
The architectural firm of J. R. Miller and T. L. Pflueger had overall responsibility for the Paramount
Theatre, but Timothy L. Pflueger was primarily responsible for its design. Born the son of German immigrants in San Francisco
in 1892, Timothy L. Pflueger endured a hard-working childhood, taking
his first job at the age of 11. He studied architecture at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in his native city and
was first engaged by the firm of James R. Miller in 1910, becoming a full partner in 1920. By 1930, when
the Paramount Theatre was commissioned for Oakland, the firm of Miller and Pflueger had become
well-known for Pflueger's remarkably avant-garde San Francisco skyscrapers.
Timothy Pflueger was one of San Francisco's most colorful artistic
figures, and monuments to his extraordinary style are scattered throughout
the Bay Area. His first executed design (1912) was the Portola Valley
church, Our Lady of the Wayside
- now designated a California State Historic Landmark.
Fans of old movie theaters may recognize Pflueger as the architect
of the Castro, Alhambra, and El Rey theaters, and the
renovator of the lobby and facade of the New Mission
Theater in San Francisco. But his selection as the architect for the Paramount Theatre project was based
on his reputation as the designer of three extraordinary buildings in downtown San Francisco:
the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company Building
at 140 New Montgomery Street (1925, with A.A. Cantin) now known as the PacBell Building,
the Medical and Dental Building at 450 Sutter Street (1930),
and the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange
at Bush and Sansome Streets (1930).
[Also see: Timothy
Pflueger's contributions to the art and architecture of the City Club of San Francisco]
[Also see: Timothy
Pflueger's sketches, renderings, and models collected at SFMOMA]
Timothy Pflueger's distinguished career continued after the building of the Paramount Theatre. He was appointed
chairman of the board of consulting architects on the San
Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project which included his design of the (now demolished) Transbay Terminal,
and was one of a five-member board of architects that designed
the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939-1940.
Among Pflueger's later works were
the Circus (Le Cirque) Room of The Fairmont San Francisco hotel,
the Top of the Mark
at the Mark Hopkins Hotel (1939), the Patent Leather Lounge or Orchid Room at the St. Francis Hotel (1939),
and the Bal Tabarin (name changed to "Bimbo's") on Columbus Avenue.
Pflueger also designed George
Washington High School, Roosevelt Junior High School, most of the major buildings of
City College of San Francisco,
the Union Square Plaza and Garage in 1942 (the world's first underground multi-level parking garage) and, shortly before his
death in 1946, I. Magnin's on Union Square.
Pflueger's East Bay Area designs include several buildings in Shattuck Square which have been
designated City of Berkeley Landmarks and Structures of Merit.
[Also see: Art Deco San Francisco: The Architecture of Timothy Pflueger]
A timely juxtaposition of events lay behind Pflueger's
concept for the Paramount Theatre. First, there was
the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et
Industriels Modernes of 1925 in Paris, which promulgated
the contemporary style that so appealed to Pflueger.
That style, now commonly called "Art Deco," has been
variously termed "Art Moderne," "modern," and, sometimes
Pflueger himself did not
attend the Paris exposition, nor did he choose to call
his personal interpretation of the new style either
"Moderne" or "Art Deco." While he gleaned ideas from
publications, particularly from the annual Decorative
Art: The Studio Year-Book, his Paramount Theatre has a
unity of style remarkable for any building, especially
one conceived when novelty was the current rage. It
is "moderne" only in the sense that it owes little to any
past style, and it is not characterized by the abstract,
geometric manner commonly associated with "Art Deco."
Because it relies less on conventional "Art Deco" mannerisms
than most buildings of its era, the Paramount now seems
less dated than most of its contemporaries.