The Paramount Center for the Arts (ex Paramount Theater) is located in Bristol Tennessee. Bristol is a unique town in hat the state line between Virginia and Tennessee runs right through its center. The theater is located at 518 State St. which is on the south side of the street and in reality, is in Tennessee.
In the 1930s, Bristol was the vibrant center for economic growth, education and the fine arts in the Mountain Empire. Downtown Bristol thrived with many shops, stores, offices, a busy train station, theaters, restaurants and hotels. It was for that reason that the founders of the Paramount chose the location we enjoy today. For almost 50 years, the Paramount satisfied the varied tastes of Bristolians from vaudeville to the movies. As with most of our theaters, The Paramount fell victim to changing times and tastes. In 1979, the lights were dimmed for the last time and the Paramount was closed.
In 1982, Harry Daniel transferred ownership of the Paramount to Theater Bristol, Bristol's amateur theater group. Theater Bristol gave the theater to the Paramount Foundation and in less than a year and a half, $2.3 million was raised from concerned citizens, area businessmen, city and state governments to provide funds to rebuild and enhance the Paramount.
The theater as it stands today is essentially how it looked when it was completed in 1930. The marquee is a replica of the original which had deteriorated beyond repair. Four rows of seats were removed to allow the proscenium to be moved forward and the back wall was moved back to enlarge the stage area. The result is a stage that is capable of hosting everything from New York road shows to local body building contests.
The original organ was dismantled in the 1950s during a remodeling to accommodate Cinemascope and a stereo sound system. The pipes went to an amusement park in Alabama and the console went to Kings college and has since disappeared. The present organ belongs to The Piedmont Theater Organ Society (PTOS), a chapter of The American Theater Organ Society (ATOS). The Paramount rents the organ from PTOS for $1.00 a year.
The organ was originally installed in the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, VA in 1930. In the 1940's, Fire destroyed the original WurliTzer console. Both Wurlitzer and Kimball were asked to bid on the replacement console. Kimball was the low bidder and installed the console that we see today. The organ was purchased in the 1960's by Mr. Hugh Cummings of Burlington, NC. under the urging of Mr. George Anthony. Mr. Anthony, a charter member and Secretary/ Treasurer of PTOS removed the organ from the theater in the back of his station wagon one load at a time and stored it in Burlington, NC . In 1974, Mr. Cummings donated the organ to Elon College with the stipulation that PTOS would install it. The organ was installed in the War Memorial Gymnasium at the Elon College located in Elon College, NC where it was played for athletic events and public concerts. The Gymnasium was razed in 1984 to provide space for a new building. At that time, the organ was given to PTOS and it was removed and again put in storage. On August 31, 1989, Mrs. Mary Beth Rainero from the Paramount Foundation contacted PTOS to see if PTOS would consider installing an organ in the Paramount Center. On October 29, 1989, a 48 foot tractor trailer pulled up at H.P. King Co. building in Bristol with the organ where it was stored, rebuilt and later installed in the Paramount Center. On April 18, 1993, The organ was introduced to the public by Lee Erwin and "The Phantom of the Opera". Since then, the organ has been refined and regulated. The original WurliTzer relay has been replace by a Uniflex 2000 Electronic Relay System. The organ is used for concerts, public meetings, before stage shows and movies and to play for silent movies.
The Web page for the PTOS is:http://www.lostprovince.com/PTOS/ where you can find more information.
Photo courtesy of Ernest N. Boyd
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