Paramount Importance

May 6, 2007

Paramount Theatre

I’m totally bummed by the news that a Calgary developer (Procura Real Estate Services) wants to demolish Edmonton’s Paramount Theatre to build a 40 storey office/condo building. The Paramount opened in 1952 as the flagship of the Famous Players cinema chain in Edmonton. It played all the big blockbuster films until it closed as a movie theatre in 2003, a victim of suburban multiplexes and home video. Since then, it had a brief life as a “multipurpose arts facility” and is currently a church.

Paramount Theatre

The building is a prime example of the Modern style of architecture and embodies mid-century cool in its sleek, sophisticated lines (this article from a real estate newspaper has a nice appreciation of the building). If it’s torn down, Edmonton will lose an important piece of its architectural history and another chunk of its soul! Procura president George Schleussel doesn’t agree, of course. “I did not see any historical importance to what is there,” Schleussel told the Edmonton Journal, “I think the downtown needs modern, good quality retail storefronts.”

I agree that Jasper Avenue needs more storefront action to revive the cold, cold corpse of downtown. I’m always struck by how much street life downtown used to have in old photos. It changed in the 1970s during an oil-fueled economic boom eerily similar to what we’re experiencing today. In a frenzy of con(de)struction, most of the human-scaled buildings were razed to erect highrise towers that have no engagement with life at street level.

Paramount Theatre

I’m dubious that the building proposed will be the saviour of downtown. It’s more likely to be another undistinguished, life-sucking monolith like the IPL tower to the immediate east (left in the picture above), which took out the historic Strand Theatre.

Paramount Theatre

I have many movie-going memories of the Paramount, but I’ll only offer this one: cutting class with some high school buddies to go to the first screening of The Exorcist in 1973. It was pretty heady stuff – the place was packed, we were underage and worried we’d be busted before we could get in, and there was so much buzz about the movie (people barfing, passing out, speaking in tongues) that we feared for our very souls, sanity and life. As it turns out, we didn’t have to worry about demonic possession – the crowd was so giddy and noisy (quieting down only to watch Linda Blair spew pea-soup vomit) that we could barely hear the film.

Paramount Theatre

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3 Responses to “Paramount Importance”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    Good point about the decline of Jasper Avenue. These photos do not quite show the paramount, but they do include the block to the imediate East of it:

    http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/~ab443/jasper.html

  2. Martin Says:

    I strongly agree, that this post Art Deco building should be preserved as architectural heritage. In Slovakia, Bratislava we would consider this building as historical. I beliave that there are very few buildings in Edmonton centre which are comparabe in architectural value. Yes human-scaled buildings are very important for city centre. I always feel better if I am passing this building, feel like in my European homeland.

  3. Junk Thief Says:

    That looks like a great theater. I did a couple of blog entries about the Continental Theaters in Oklahoma and Missouri which were superb early 1960s structures, but were not seen as being “historic” enough to be spared. Until seeing Guy Maddin’s “My Winnipeg” and his section on that city’s downtown demolitions, I had thought Canada had a better appreciation of history than the U.S. but apparently not.


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