Paramount centerpiece of renovation plans

by Beacon Staff • October 3, 2007

The Paramount Theatre, with its bright marquee and huge red-lettered vertical sign, began lighting up Downtown Crossing in 1932 as a movie theater, one of the first in Boston to show talking pictures. It closed in 1976 and, except for the occasional nighttime lighting of the marquee and sign, it hasn't been used since.

After more than 30 years, the Paramount will re-open in the fall of 2009 as The Paramount Center, one of the final phases of Emerson's expansion downtown from its Beacon Street campus, said David Rosen, the college's vice president of public affairs.

Now under construction, the $60 million center will include a renovated 550-seat theater, the neighboring Bijou Arcade and 260 dormitory beds in the top four floors of a nine-story addition in the "North Lot" behind the arcade.

The Center will include a 150-patron ground floor restaurant, classrooms, nine rehearsal spaces, a sound stage for film and television sets, a 200-seat screening room, faculty offices and a graphic set design studio. Rosen said the arcade's currently windowless facade will be illuminated by light-emitting diode, or LED, panels projecting moving scenes from Broadway and Vaudeville theater onto the planned windowpanes.

More than 1,300 undergraduates studying film and cinematography at Emerson, making visual and media arts the college's largest major, according to Eric Sykes, Emerson's director of institutional research. Freshman cinematography major Seth Applebaum said an on-campus sound stage and a screening room are important resources media students could use to gauge how their films might be received at film festivals.

"The sound stage is great because it allows us to do studio shoots as opposed to on-location shoots," Applebaum said. "The screening room would be great because we could watch our films on a big screen."

The Paramount Theatre will be used for classes, rehearsals and performances by Emerson students and will be rented to non-profit arts and cultural organizations during the summer months.

According to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Paramount will provide 1,900 square feet of rehearsal room.

Ben Oleshanksy, a sophomore stage management major, was most excited by the Paramount's new scene shop. He took a set construction class in the fall 2006 semester and worked on the EVVY Awards at Emerson's current scene shop in South Boston last year and had to take public transportation to get there from campus. He said he looks forward to having more adequate space for construction and storage in the Paramount's facilities.

Dean of Students Ronald Ludman said residences in the Performance Development Center behind the arcade will be two-, four-, and six-person suites with double bedrooms. Room and board for beds in the Paramount and Colonial dormitories will cost the same as those in Emerson's existing residence halls, Rosen said.

David Haden, director of housing and residence life, said he hopes the new dormitory at 543-547 Washington St. will attract more upperclassmen.

"We're not looking at increasing beds so that we can increase enrollment," Haden said. "We're looking at increasing beds so we can become a truly residential campus."