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Wurlitzer  |  Op. 1984  |  Publix 4  |  4/26  |  8 Tuned Percussion  |  14 Traps  |  1,838 Pipes

The Brooklyn Paramount Wurlitzer

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ABOUT THE THEATRE

The Arnold and Marie Schwartz Athletic Center of Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus was originally built in 1928 as the Brooklyn Paramount Building. Located on the northeast corner of Flatbush Avenue Extension and DeKalb Avenue, the area was in Brooklyn's once-thriving theatre district. With the opening of the Paramount, there were an estimated 25,000 seats within a few blocks. As designed by noted theatre architects Rapp & Rapp of Chicago, the buff-colored brick Brooklyn Paramount building combined an eleven-story office tower at the corner with a large auditorium adjacent to the east. On the roof over the offices were two enormous "PARAMOUNT THEATRE" signs, and on the sides above the wraparound marquee were two very large vertical signs. Patrons entered through a low-ceilinged lobby in the office tower that led into the Grand Foyer — a giant, mirrored rectangular space 147 feet long and 42 feet high — that in turn led to the auditorium and various lounges. The rococo-style auditorium had 4,124 seats upholstered in varying shades of burgundy, a great latticed ceiling (painted sky-blue with clouds), and arches along the side walls that were originally festooned with artificial foliage. Golden staircases extended from the organ grilles to the stage for entrances by chorus girls and stars alike. Throughout the auditorium were hidden fixtures of the Wilfred Color Organ, an elaborate lighting system that allowed the auditorium to be illuminated according to the mood of the moment. The 60-foot stage curtains were decorated with satin embroidered pheasants and in the lobby were huge chandeliers and fountains with goldfish. It was reported that Paramount Publix spent nearly $3 million for sculpture, paintings, tapestries, and other items. Advertised as "Paramount-Publix's Gift to Brooklyn," the Brooklyn Paramount had its grand opening on November 24, 1928. On the program were "Manhattan Cocktail," a Paramount film starring Nancy Carroll, and "Stars," a spectacular stage revue produced by the legendary John Murray Anderson. The Brooklyn Paramount was the first theatre designed for talking pictures, or movies with sound. In addition to motion pictures, the Paramount also offered great vaudeville performers, and later, major stars such as Bing Crosby and Ethel Merman. During the Depression years, movie theatres struggled financially, and the Paramount was no exception. In 1935, the Paramount Building was sold to Simon Fabian, who had been leasing the property. The New York Times noted in 1936 that the Paramount had lost $1.5 million since its opening.                   

In 1950, the Paramount building was sold to Long Island University, which gradually converted the upper floors into college administrative offices, but the auditorium continued to function as a theatre venue for another decade. It was during the 1950s that the Paramount created a sensation with Alan Freed’s famous Rock ‘n’ Roll show with Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and others musical stars. The Paramount was also a center for jazz in New York. Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis are just some of the legends that performed on the stage. After the Paramount closed for the last time in August 21, 1962, the auditorium was converted into a basketball court for LIU's Blackbirds teams, opening on November 30, 1963. A second renovation and expansion of the gymnasium took place in the summer of 1975. The building is now called the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Athletic Center. In January 2006, the Blackbirds moved to the 17,000-seat arena in the $40 million Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center, and the Schwartz basketball court is now used as a 1200-seat multi-purpose arena.  In recent years, the gymnasium has been elegantly decorated and cosmetically revived for dinners to raise funds for scholarships. Much of the theatre’s decor is intact in its legendary auditorium and magnificent lobby. (The NYC Organ Project)

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