Known Years of Operation

Mar 10, 1928 - Jan 11, 1984

Number of Seats



Marc E. Bowman , West Coast Inc., Paramount Pictures

The esteemed Paramount Theater opened March 8,1928, on Broadway and Main Street in downtown Portland, Oregon. Originally named Portland Publix Theater, the theater was designed for viewing Paramount films, operated by Marc E. Bowman and West Coast Inc. The building was described at the time as a palatial (palace-like) playhouse and today is still one of the most iconic theaters building on the Pacific coast. The playhouse combined motion pictures and stage acts, such as featured music and dance that were complemented by background color and lighting effects. The theater was rather groundbreaking not only through its architecture but in its ability to merge audience classes by combining both stage performance acts with films.

Everything the Portland Publix theater did, they did in a big way. The newspapers were filled with ads exclaiming the Grand Opening, the architecture, and exhibitions. The Morning Oregonian described the grand opening as “an epoch in Portland” (a period of time that marks a notable event). The theater opened at 5:30 on a Thursday evening featuring two deluxe film showings and Alfred Short’s musical orchestra. Alfred Short, who was appointed the musical supervisor, had a long history in theater, symphony, and grand opening orchestra events. Short’s orchestra played “Faust” by Gounod to be the opening number for the dedication of the theater.

Designed to reflect the French Renaissance era, the theater was decorated with plaster ornamentation and artificial marble. Audiences were wonderstruck by the huge, majestic foyer, the roomy auditorium and the striking color combinations. The proscenium arches reached untouchable heights and were decorated in rich embellishment that framed the ceiling. With new and modern features, the theater included trick stages, orchestra pits and ‘novel’ lighting effect. Seating 4000 audience members, the Publix theater was the largest theater in the city, one of the largest on the Pacific Northwest and was known for its ornate features along the entire west coast. This theater was truly “an amazing institution of architectural splendor.”

On March 13, 1930, two years after Portland Publix was opening, the name of the theater was changed to Publix Paramount Theater. The name change was to proclaim all Publix theaters as subsidiary to Paramount pictures. Expectedly, the name change came with a ‘Parade of Entertainment’. The theater put on an all-day event with singers, orchestras, and live acts, while Portland fans packing Broadway Street. Artists such as Crooning King, Ron and Don, Paramount Theater organists - Eddie Magill, megaphonist - the Troubadours, Jobby entertainers and the Rose City Beavers all performed acts throughout the day. The admission was twenty-five cents from opening to 1 pm, thirty-five cents from 1 pm to 6 pm and fifty cents for the evening events. The program was also broadcasting on KOIN radio station from 6:30 to 7:00 pm that evening. To solidify the name change, the theater installed the famous “Paramount” sign that was the largest of this time. The sign was exclaimed to be a “Blaze of Electric Glory”.

Paramount Theater continue to be known for exhibiting Paramount films such as “The Cocoanuts” featuring the famous Four Marx Brothers. This film was a musical comedy the was described to be ‘100 percent [a] talking, singing, and dancing production” which broke all box office records at the Portland Paramount theatre. The Portland press acclaimed it as being one of the year’s outstanding comedy productions. Other musical act seen on stages around the country were made into films through Paramount Pictures. The New York musical “Manhattan Mary” inspired the film “Follow the Leader”, features the story line and one of the original songs from the Broadway show. Famous names in this film include Ed Wynn, Ginger Rogers, Lou Holtz and Stanley Smith.

In 1984, Portland Paramount theater was renovated to be Portland’s new performing arts theater, now known as the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The 2.5-million-dollar campaign was initiated to cover renovation costs which included (but not limited to), $152,000 for the new skylight glass dome above the lobby, $60,000 in light sculptures, and $250,000 in purchases of theater art. The Paramount Theater is one of the few that have been preserved and enjoy by the Portland performing arts community.

Works Cited

  • Butterworth, Beverly H. “Civic Fund-Raising Campaign Pin Their Donors.” The Oregonian, 1 Mar. 1984, p. 89.
    “Cheif Executive Puts New Sign to Work.” The Morning Oregonian, 13 Mar. 1930, p. 8.
    “Ed. Wynn Is the Name.” The Morning Oregonian, 16 Dec. 1930.
    “Enriched by the Qualith of Architecture Ornamentation.” The Sunday Oregonian, 4 Mar. 1928, p. 12.
    “Great Comedy to Be Screened Here.” The Oregon Statesman, 28 July 1929, p. 2.
    Hayakawa, Alan R. “44 Interior Colors- Puce to Peach- Redefine Theater.” The Oregonian, 7 Sept. 1984, p. 120.
    “Portland Opening Big Event Of Week.” The Sunday Oregonian, 4 Mar. 1928, p. 10.
    “Portland Theater.” The Morning Oregonian, 5 Mar. 1928, p. 6.
    The Sunday Oregonian, 4 Mar. 1928, p. 3.
    “Theaters - ‘Follow The Leader.’” The Advocate, 13 Dec. 1930.
    “Theatre to Celebrate.” The Morning Oregonian, 13 Mar. 1930, p. 8.
    “Today the Parade of Entertainment Begins.” The Morning Oregonian, 13 Mar. 1930, p. 8.