Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's Paramount

The Paramount Theatre
1933 Courtesy the Historical Society of Palm Beach County
            A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of dining at Bistro Chez Jean-Pierre in Palm Beach. The food was wonderful, company equally so, but as I sat and looked around the restaurant, it seemed vaguely familiar.

            How did I know this place? Our dinner companion said it had been Chez Jean-Pierre since 1991. Before that, it had briefly been “Alligator Joe’s” and before that “O’Hara’s.

And that’s when the light went on. I remember O’Hara’s! As a young college student home on spring break, my friends and I would go there for dancing and drinks after the movies.  I never did see any of the celebrities who hung out there, but the descendants of Vincent J. O’Hara, Sr. list “the duke and duchess of Windsor, Jack Benny, Merv Griffin, … and Pierre Salinger” among others. Not that I was there then, but O’Hara’s had been open since 1944 and only the front room was spared from a fire that devastated the restaurant in 1981.
            I had fond memories of dancing there, but once I realized where I was, my head swiveled to look out the window toward the building where we had enjoyed the blockbuster movies of the late seventies.
Original Interior of The Paramount
Photo Available for Purchase on
The Paramount Theatre opened in 1927 and was a beautiful theatre.  Designed by Joseph Urban, who also designed Mar-a-Lago and the Palm Beach Bath and Tennis Club, it had 1,236 upholstered seats from which patrons enjoyed over 2,000 films. It also had twenty-six private balcony boxes with six seats each. Dubbed the “Diamond Horseshoe,” they rented for $1,000 for the entire thirteen week season—in 1927! In todays’ dollars, that would be over $12,749. For movies! And we thought they're pricey now.
I remember murals that hung all the way from the ceiling to the floor. Designed by the architect’s daughter, they were muted by the time I watched movies there and the once brightly colored fish swam murkily through tendrils of seaweed, their blue, gold and green dimmed by age.
Paramount Currently
Photo Courtesy WallyG Flickr by Yahoo
The movies stopped in 1980, a mere seven years after The Paramount Theatre Building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

It’s all been renovated now. The murals are gone. The building reopened in 1985, but the glorious interior was now two floors of office spaces. The original dark green colors are still there as well as the original columns and a portion of the ceiling, but the murals are gone.

            The Paramount Church now occupies where the stage, screen and orchestra pit were located. The stage where stars of the day such as Al Jolson, Ed Sullivan, Bob Hope, Barbara Streisand, Duke Ellington and Helen Hayes once performed no longer exists.
            Bistro Chez Jean-Pierre is located at 132 North County Road, but the entrance is off of Sunset Avenue. As for The Paramount, you can drive by anytime. Located at 145 North County Road in Palm Beach, the building is still there. There are photographs of the building in its glory days on the walls inside.

            This article appeared originally as the July, 2012, column of The Florida You Don't Know in the papers published by Seabreeze Publications, Inc. in Martin and Palm Beach Counties.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

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