Historic Faribault Stop 12 Paramount Theatre
From its founding, the city had its share of theaters and halls. In 1894, on this site, the magnificent Faribault Opera House opened its doors for the first time. Although “opera house” might sound like high culture, during the opening month, entertainment included comedian Bill Nye, the music comedy, “Voodoo,” and a local production of the widely popular opera, “The Bohemian Girl.” Over the years, the Opera House presented Shakespearean plays, lectures, and even Minneapolis Symphony concerts. Like many other midwestern Opera Houses, it was converted to a moving picture venue in 1908 and renamed the Grand Theater. Then, on a bitterly cold winter night in January 1929, fire swept through the old opera house, and left it in ruins. That same night, owner and manager Will Glaser, began work on a new, better theater, announcing plans the very next morning. This one, Glaser said, would “take advantage of the newest inventions of sound picture equipment” ” and would of the “atmospheric type.” Glaser was responding to changes in the movie industry, when Warner Brothers released the first “talkie”. ”. Before that, small town theatres only needed a room for seating, a screen, and a projection room. Now, technology was expensive. A number of theatres, doomed by the initial costs involved in sound conversion, went out of business as Americans turned on the radio and abandoned the motion picture. The answer was to create a picture palace with “atmospherics” that would transport its patrons away from everyday life — — and offer a setting vastly different from the mundane experience of sitting around the living room, listening to a radio. For that, Will Glaser turned to architects Liebenberg and Kaplan, noted for designing more than two hundred motion picture theatres in the Upper Midwest, including the Uptown and Varsity Theaters in Minneapolis. For Faribault’s new theater, they chose the motif of a Moorish courtyard with Turkish caps over the doors, turrets and “stonework” on the walls. Above the seats, a special projector illuminating the ceiling with images of stars and moving clouds. It was at the Paramount Theatre that an oft-quoted instruction to electricians was posted: “Please do not turn on the clouds until the show starts. Be sure stars are turned off when leaving.” A local reporter breathlessly described his first visit to the new Paramount, writing: “A vast square somewhere in Spain. Above, a star-lit sky. Around a Spanish fort with towering parapets, yawning grills, battle, splendor, peace.” To show off its capabilities, on opening night, the feature film was a drama, Illusion, that included a big night club scene with the stars singing hit songs, while a chorus line of thirty beautiful women danced across the screen. The theater was packed on opening night, with patrons flocking to town from nearby towns, and for decades, the Paramount Theater, later renamed the Paradise Theater, provided entertainment for the citizens of Faribault. As new multiplex theaters opened in the 1990s, attendance diminished and the Paramount closed its doors. However, in recent years, the theater has been restored to its former glory and now the Paradise Center for the Arts serves as a cultural center for the community. The renovation, which won an award from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, returned the main façade to its original appearance with a replica of the original marquee as its centerpiece.