Paramount Theatre, Oakland, California

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Photographer: Philip Greenspun

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Photographer: Gabriel Moulin Studios

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Mosaic, Marquee, and Sign

"0ver-all dimensions: The building measures approximately 195' by 300' over-all, and its over-all height is approximately 125' to the top of the sign, which rises approximately 38' above the roof...

Above the marquee, the elevation is faced with glazed mosaic tile at each side of the vertical sign projecting at a right angle from the center of the wall. (The uppermost 30' or so of the wall rise above the roof to form a parapet.) The tile facing returns around each side for about 13'.

The Paramount Theatre facade is composed of a monumentally-scaled mosaic bisected by a sign above a simple marquee-sheltered entrance. All the elements of the design, entrance, marquee, mosaic, and sign, form an integrated whole and are treated in a restrained Art Deco manner. The mosaic represents a pair of immense static figures manipulating puppets."


"The mosaic is composed of two pictorial panels approximately 100' high separated by the projecting sign and bordered at the outer edges by almost 5'-wide bands of five rows of chevron-profiled maroon tiles ascending to a height of over 80'.

click for larger image The left-hand (south) panel represents a maroon-robed male figure frontally posed against a gold background. Behind the head are three green-bordered blue horizontal bands bearing red-orange maroon-bordered gold-rayed five-pointed stars. The hair (or cap) is rendered in maroon, is square-cut across the brow, and bears a blue, green, and red-orange ornament. A maroon collar studded with three red-orange stars connects across the exposed collar-bone area with the robe. The face, neck, and hands are gold, the facial lines being indicated in black. The hands, crossed across the chest at their wrists, each hold three gold puppet strings. The shoulders and yoke of the robe are ornamented in blue and green with touches of yellow, and the hem has gold lines and a gold meander with tendrils of blue, green, and peach. Green-soled sandals with gold thongs are on the figure's maroon feet.

[Also see: Philip Greenspun's scans of upper left panel]

click for larger image Except for the hair, the softer lines of the face, the necklace, yoke of the robe, brooch, and the somewhat more slender hands, the female figure on the right-hand (north) panel is precisely like its male counterpart. The maroon hair falls in four strands and curls slightly at the shoulder line. A band of blue and rose yellow-centered flowers ornaments the hair, the necklace is red and green with a green pendant, and the brooch below the green-trimmed yoke of the robe is blue, yellow, and mustard-color with a center of darker blue.

Each figure manipulates four tiers of puppets costumed in a multiplicity of bright colors.

click for larger image of upper south panel click for larger image of lower south panel In the upper tier of the south panel, a young satyr crouches before a girl in a flowered peasant costume, a girl holding a bird rides a deer, a dancing girl brandishes a branch, and a man dances at her right. Below those fairy-tale figures are a pair of boxers, and three women evidently representing tennis, swimming, and golf. The third tier from the top contains a cowboy with his horse and dog, a man firing a rifle, and a war-bonneted Indian with a tomahawk. The bottom tier represents five variously costumed female dancers including one in a tutu who executes a high kick.

click for larger image of upper north panel click for larger image of lower north panel The uppermost tier of the north panel represents a red-coated soldier in red shako, gold cloak, white breeches, and blue boots who holds up a blue sword, a seminude girl riding a dragon, a fawn nibbling foliage, and a seminude woman bearing a basket of fruit on her head. Harlequin and Columbine, a Panpipe-playing satyr, and a man and woman masquerading in 18th-century costume occupy the second tier down. The tier below contains a seminude female snake charmer, a brown animal trainer in white shorts wrestling with his bear, a geisha, and a dancing sailor, and the bottom tier depicts five dancing women, one with an airily floating scarf.

A Pflueger office press release suggested a possible total of 70 different colors in the mosaic. Most of the maroon and gold areas are formed of square tesserae. The tiles of other colors are mostly irregular in shape and are cut to fit like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

The two monumental and static figures of solemn, almost hieratic, aspect symbolize, in the words of a Pflueger office press release, "'man' and 'woman' . . . representing the guiding part of the theatrical and motion picture industry." The great mosaic, impressive in size and colorful in detail, serves as a kind of immense billboard announcing to the city that the Paramount is a place of entertainment. Thus the architecture is made to serve a symbolic function appropriate to its actual use."


"The original marquee was (like the present one) an integral part of the facade design rather than an incongruous appendage as in so many theatres that adopted past styles. It was, as a Pflueger press release put it, 'a fitting base for the great mosaic and sign above. Its lines are simple. The usual Jazz is entirely missing...' It was rectangular, with simple horizontal lines...

The original marquee was removed in the mid-1960s to permit subway construction and street widening, and during the 1973 restoration, was once again modified - this time to harmonize more closely with the original architecture. The present marquee is triangular in plan, its apex blunted slightly by a downward continuation of the forward edge of the theatre sign. The two panels echo the design of the original single-paneled fascia, having two-tiered attraction boards below taller panel strips each bearing the word PARAMOUNT. The movable letters of the attraction boards are white, set against a black background, and are back-lit. The letters spelling PARAMOUNT are outlined in red neon, have white incandescent centers, and are set into a gray matrix. The soffit of the marquee is a truncated version of the original marquee soffit."


"The vertical sign, like the horizontal marquee, is an integral part of the facade design, and, of course, a far more conspicuous one. It projects about 10' from the wall plane and soars upward for well over 100'. Its bright silvery metal sheathing is tangent to the wall, so the cantilevering of its steel frame is (unlike that of most theatre signs) entirely concealed. Most of the sign is vertically scored, but the lower surfaces from the base of the marquee to the line where the mosaic figures begins are horizontally scored, as are the surfaces above the mosaic-faced parapet wall. The channels of all the scoring, and the outer corners, are illuminated by a total of about 7,000 feet of neon tubing alternating blue and green. Horizontal tubing continues across the top, center, and base of the marquee, thus firmly uniting the marquee and sign.

The letters spelling PARAMOUNT on each side of the sign are white porcelain bordered in red, their centers lighted by incandescent bulbs and their outlines by neon tubing. The sign rises about 8' above the top of the mosaic and runs west about 25', passing over the parapet and descending to the roof. Thus, sign and wall are interlocked, keyed into each other. It should be noted that the composition of this remarkable facade is based on a system of intersecting planes."

- excerpted from Historic American Buildings Survey Document No. CA-1976, pp 21-25

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