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Paramount Theatre, Abilene

Paramount Theatre, Abilene

Architect: David S. Castle

Atmospheric Style: Hispano-Italian

First Opened: 19th May 1930 (94 years ago)

Reopened as the Paramount Opry: 12th January 1980

Reopened as the Paramount Country Music Hall: 24th May 1980

Reopened as a performing arts center: 21st May 1987

Website: paramountabilene.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (325) 676-9620 Call (325) 676-9620

Address: 352 Cypress St, Abilene, TX 79601 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

The Paramount was designed in an Atmospheric style and opened in 1930 as a 1,500-seat theatre serving the town of Abilene’s then 23,000 residents. Although closed in the late 1970s, the Paramount was saved by preservation-minded citizens, reopened in the late 1980s, and has grown to become a cultural beacon in downtown Abilene.

Detailed Information

The Paramount Theatre was built by local businessman and philanthropist Horace O. Wooten for the exhibition of first-run movies and stage shows. Wooten believed that Abilene should be more than a bustling cattle and railroad town, and that any fine city needed a fine cultural life. A theatre would neatly complement the 18-story hotel he had built in 1930 next door to the site where he would end up building the new theatre.

Wooten had established his grain business in Abilene in the late 1800s, from which he began to build his fortune establishing a grocery company which was invaluable to the newly-developing community and the West Texas area. Wooten’s business interests were diverse, including farming, ranching, and a railroad business. He was instrumental in the establishment of Abilene’s McMurry College (now McMurry University Link opens in new window) and was the first president of the college’s Board of Trustees.

Wooten engaged local architect David S. Castle to design the 1,500-seat theatre in an Atmospheric style with a Spanish courtyard theme, augmented with Italian decorations, at a reported cost of $400,000.

The theatre opened in May 1930 with the talkie Safety in Numbers (1930) Link opens in new window starring Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Carole Lombard.

The Paramount’s Atmospheric interior was noted for its sky-effect ceiling and patio walls “hung with thousands of roses, magnolia blossoms, Spanish creeper and red bougainviglia [sic]”. Behind the faux garden walls rose Italian cypress trees. The predominant colors were “Spanish browns, reds and yellows”. The auditorium was reminiscent of a Spanish hacienda augmented with Italian decorative pieces. Interior decoration work was carried-out by Otto Bowmen, a Dallas-based interior decorator.

For many years, the Paramount was part of the Interstate Theatre chain, lovingly managed by Wally Akin for over four decades. Promotional stunts were second nature to Akin – locals recalling bringing milk bottle caps for admission to “Uncle Wally’s Birthday Club” on Saturday mornings.

During World War II, the Paramount was a popular destination for soldiers stationed at Camp Barkley, a large Army training camp outside Abilene.

On 13th August 1942 the theatre hosted the premiere of Paramount’s short Unusual Occupations (1942) Link opens in new window, which featured the West Texas Hardin-Simmons University Cowboy Band. On 5th November 1963 the theatre hosted the world premiere of Take Her, She’s Mine (1963) Link opens in new window with stars Jimmy Stewart and Sandra Dee attending in person.

The Paramount closed as a movie theatre in September 1979 and was sold by the Wooten family to the Wolfe Investment Company in October of that year. The Abilene Preservation League Link opens in new window agitated for the theatre to be added to the National Register of Historic Places and was keen to work with any new owner of the theatre. The theatre was subsequently leased to the Paramount Opry of Abilene, Inc., and reopened in January 1980 as the Paramount Opry.

After a three-and-a-half month unsuccessful run as the Opry, and another unsuccessful short run starting in mid-May of the same year as the Paramount Country Music Hall, the Paramount was purchased by the Abilene Preservation League Link opens in new window in December 1980, in a bid to secure its preservation.

The League formed the Paramount Committee to prevent the building from being seized and potentially demolished via eminent domain, and led a successful application to have the building added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Following an extensive six-month rehabilitation led by architect firm Killis Almond & Associates Link opens in new window (for an undisclosed sum, per the terms of the grant from Julia Matthews and the Dodge Jones Foundation which made the rehabilitation possible), the Paramount reopened in May 1987 as a performing arts center. A collection of over 70 drawings from the renovation are held and made available online by The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Special Collections Department Link opens in new window. Architect Killis Almond noted that one of the largest unexpected problems of the project was the underground river works unexpectedly struck while building the new orchestra pit.

Reopening night was a combination of a performance by Pete Fountain, one of New Orleans’ most popular jazz performers, plus an awards ceremony and party. The renovated theatre was awarded the 1985-86 Cultural Affairs Council Award for outstanding contribution to the local arts scene.

Listed/Landmark Building Status

How do I visit the Paramount Theatre?

Tours run roughly once per month, dependent on availability and programming. Tours are generally free and last about one hour. Check the theatre’s Events listings Link opens in new window for current schedule, or contact the theatre direct by phone at (325) 676-9620 Link opens in new window.

Further Reading


Historic Photos & Documents
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Photos of the Paramount Theatre

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  1. Auditorium: Orchestra
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  5. Cloud Machines
Auditorium: Orchestra
Auditorium: Balcony
Auditorium: Closeups
Cloud Machines

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