Places that Matter

Loew's Paradise Theater (former)

click on image for slideshow
Lobby, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Lobby, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Entrance, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Lobby, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Auditorium, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Balcony, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Detail, Landmarks Preservation Commission
Sumptuous former movie palace turned theater
Place Details »

Place Matters Profile

By Deenah Vollmer

The grand movie palace is a dinosaur, some might say. In an age of shoe-box multiplexes--with ticket prices skyrocketing to over $10 a pop--a 4,000-seat theatre with velvet curtains, crystal chandeliers, and smoke machines has lost its stronghold in the diversifying entertainment industry. But in the Bronx, an effort to renovate and revive a historic landmark of architectural brilliance, a gathering place of community significance, and a multi-faceted entertainment center has successfully restored the Loews' Paradise Theatre in the Bronx borough of New York City.

Located on the west side of the Grand Concourse, the Theatre opened September 7, 1929 as one of five "Wonder Theatres" built by the Loews' cinema chain between 1929-30. "Wonder Theatres" are named for being equipped with identical Robert Morton pipe organs known as "Wonder Mortons."

"When the Grand Concourse was developed in the Bronx in the 1920s, people thought this would be an ultimate destination address, that people would want to come and live there like Park Avenue," said Sam Goodman, Urban Planner for the Bronx Borough President's Office.

In the same period, with a bit more leisure time and money in their pockets, Americans turned movie theaters into gathering places and neighborhood centers. The Paradise Theatre displayed the grand eclectic design of the Roaring ‘20s when American movie theatres emerged as movie palaces. Movies were not meant to be viewed; they were meant to be experienced. The Paradise Theatre led a starry-eyed viewer into a private dream world set in a quintessentially public space.

The 52,000 square-foot Paradise Theatre is the second largest auditorium in New York. Only Radio City Music Hall is bigger. Designed by John Eberson, who was one of the most prominent theater designers in the United States and inventor of the Atmospheric style, the theatre sought to transport visitors to an outdoor Baroque Italian garden of marble pillars, cypress trees, plaster replications of Michelangelo sculptures, vines, stuffed birds, and even a goldfish pond. With a painted ceiling of stars bearing the constellation of Marcus Loews' birth sign and a smoke machine producing simulated clouds, viewers felt they were sitting under an evening sky. The result was a multi-sensory movie experience, an escape. According to Eberson himself, the auditorium was "a magnificent amphitheatre under a glorious moonlit sky where friendly stars twinkled and wisps of cloud drifted."