Paramount Theatre, Oakland, California
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Page One: Timothy Pflueger

Timothy L. Pflueger - photo by Peter Stackpole
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Timothy Pflueger
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Pflueger & Rivera
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Artists & Designers
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Timeline: 1929-1931
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History of the Paramount Theatre
Brief History
Brief History
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(Page One)
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.

photograph of Timothy Pflueger by Gabriel Moulin Studios 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 invidiously, "modernistic."

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.
Brief History
Brief History
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