Established in 1915, the Paramount Theatre has been home to iconic films and performances, including the likes of Harry Houdini, Katharine Hepburn and Miles Davis.
On October 11, 1915, the Majestic Theatre (as it was then known) opened its doors as Austin’s premier stage for vaudeville, selling 1,000 seats, most at 25¢ a ticket. In 1916, the Greatest Escape Artist of All Time - Harry Houdini - performed eight shows there. Evidence of Houdini’s performances live on at the Paramount today. In the auditorium ceiling, just to the left of the painting of Saint Cecilia is a hole that was carved for him to perform a suspended levitation trick.
The 1920s was filled with Vaudeville performers and silent movies accompanied by a live orchestra or the theatre’s in-house organ. In 1930, the theater underwent an extensive remodel and update that included upholstered seats, a state-of-the-art sound system, air conditioning, the removal of the opera boxes, and a new blade sign. When it reopened as the Paramount Theater, it almost exclusively featured films from Paramount Studio, although live musical performances were also held. Though segregation prohibited Black Austinites from attending shows or performing at the theatre, exceptions were made for some Black artists that were more accepted by white audiences such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, who graced the Paramount stage.
The Paramount Theater saw the ups and downs of the economy, civil rights, and other societal issues for the next several decades. In 1973, the Paramount began a process to restore it to its original glory. The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series was established in 1975 to help keep the business afloat during the restoration process, and is a beloved favorite of Austinites still today. On May 6, 1977, the Texas Historical Commission dedicated a state historical marker. The building’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places qualified the Paramount for federal restoration funds.
Live theater returned to the Paramount in the 80s following the restoration, and remain a staple offering. Since then, the Paramount has hosted performances from the greats of the music and theater world. On July 10, 2014, President Obama became the first sitting president to appear at the theatre. He began by paying tribute to the theatre, observing that “it is great to play at the Paramount. I think I finally made it. I finally arrived.”