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My love affair with the Paramount

January 13, 2013
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

As I've said in past articles, I grew up in Cedar Rapids. One of the fondest memories of my youth was the Paramount Theater. As a kid, I spent every Wednesday during my summer breaks with my grandmother. She didn't drive (except the one time she drove to pick me up from piano lessons, but that's another story). So every Wednesday we'd wait at the bus stop for the downtown bus. We'd get off downtown in time for lunch, and then on to the Paramount for the afternoon movie and there began my love affair with the Paramount. It was a six story brick building located right in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids, and it was like a palace to me. Having been built in the architecturally extravagant 1920's, the theater's builders wanted it to make it like a palace, with everything high class. It had a Hall of Mirrors, which I later learned was patterned after that in Versailles, expensive oil paintings, busts, furniture and other treasures including a graceful stairway that led to the lower level restrooms. The Paramount became very famous for its Wurlitzer theater organ, which could be mechanically lifted up from below stage level when it was used. The grandeur radiated in every nook and cranny, and in my childhood fantasy, I used to pretend I lived there!

Then came June of 2008. The Cedar River crested to its highest level in Cedar Rapids history, 31.12 feet, out distancing the old record of 20 feet. More than 10 square miles of the city was underwater. As the Paramount sat very close to the Cedar River, more than 34 feet of water filled the theater. The water filed the sub basement, the basement, and 8 feet of the main floor. The building I had loved so as a child was a total disaster, including the world famous Wurlitzer organ. The damages were estimated at over $16 million. Its doors were shut for more than four years, many people believed forever, but there were those that believed the historic building could and should be rebuilt. As destructive as the flood was to the interior, the structure remained solid, and the renovations began. Teams of architectural experts from across the country assembled and began the task of bringing the Paramount back to its original grandeur.

The Paramount Theater reopened in November 2012 after a $35 million project that not only restored it to its former grandeur, but added to its magnificence. The marquee on Third Avenue has been replaced and updated to an electronic display, but entering through the Hall of Mirrors, patrons can experience the historic theater they remember, with all of its opulence. I can't wait to see it!



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