The Paramount Blade
Although the Paramount officially opened its doors as the Majestic on October 11, 1915, it was in 1930 that the Interstate Theatre Circuit, owned by Carl Hoblitzelle, engaged in a major remodeling to accommodate the rise of film entertainment. The Majestic Theatre became a Paramount-Publix theatre, and it was in 1930 that the Paramount blade became a fixture of both the theatre’s façade and the Congress Avenue downtown corridor. In an article dated August 29, 1930, the Austin-American Statesman described the blade this way: “A huge sign, more than 75 feet high [from the sidewalk], and topped with a brilliant sunburst.” Little is known about the blade’s demise or its current whereabouts, and there are no known architectural or engineering drawings of the original blade. A November 24, 1963 article in the Austin-American Statesman indicates that the theatre’s façade, including the blade, was to undergo a renovation: “The theater’s familiar vertical sign, something of a Congress Avenue landmark, will be re-lamped and renovated, but its appearance will be kept the same in deference to tradition.” Yet video footage from the Aqua Fest Parade, held in August 1964, shows the Paramount Theatre without the blade. After conducting extensive research, we have no knowledge of why the blade was never reinstalled or what happened to it once it was removed from the building.
Scope of Work
The scope of the work included the contractor providing engineered sealed architectural signed drawings showing all structural mounting and bracing of the blade. We then built the structural bracing and fabricated a historically accurate 12’ 6” x 48’ double-sided blade per the contractor’s drawings and specifications. The fabrication includes approximately 1400 LED bulbs, a flasher, a speller, a controller, and a mounting frame. The blade was fabricated by Wagner Sign Company from Elyria. Wagner Sign Company has more than 20 years’ experience in restoring, fabricating, and installing historic signs, including in 2013 of the New Orleans Saenger Theatre blade, also a historic landmark theatre. In addition, Wagner is registered with League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT – which the Paramount is a member) and used to give seminars for LHAT. They are revered and recognized as the premiere company on a national basis to fabricate and/or restore historical marquees and provided us the lowest bid during our search process. Once Wagner Sign Company completed fabrication, the blade was transported to the theatre and installed in three days.
Prior to installation, a preliminary engineering assessment was conducted to ensure that the building could hold the new blade and that the blade project will not impact the restoration of the façade. We estimate that the use of aluminum for the blade and LED bulbs that do not require excessive wiring, the reduced the weight of the blade by about half of its original weight.
Getting it Right
As for the blade’s color, all of the photos in our possession, as well as those at the Austin History Center, are in black and white and date from the 1930s and 1940s. The first color pictures of the theatre that we have in our possession date from the Batman world premiere of 1966 and show the façade without the blade. We originally assumed the blade was maroon with gold trim simply due to the fact that the current marquee indicates this color scheme. However, we were able to locate a number of color postcards of Congress Avenue suggesting that the blade was actually green with a yellow/white border. They also suggest a predominantly red sunburst at the blade’s crest that matched the color scheme of the marquee. Video footage from the Texas Archive of Moving Images indicates the same general color scheme as seen in the postcards (we have included a screen shot from video shot in 1960 showing the green blade with a yellow/white border). Video footage of the blade from a 1961 parade with LBJ and a foreign dignitary shows the same color scheme and includes footage of the blade’s predominantly red crest. Finally, black-and-white video footage taken of Congress Avenue in 1955 shows one way in which the blade was programmed, the lights running up each side of the blade and into the crest, and pulsating at the top. We suspect that the sign had multiple lighting options, with the video reflecting one version of a number of options.
In addition to our own collection of historical photos, newspaper clippings, and other materials, Paramount staff members spent countless hours sifting through photos, videos, and documents at the Austin History Center, the Harry Ransom Center’s Hoblitzelle & Interstate Theater Collection, the Texas Archive of Moving Images, and online, where we discovered the postcard images. We contacted the archivists at Paramount Pictures for information about the blade and/or the sign company that built it, but they did not have any information in their records.
We are worked with the City of Austin’s Preservation Office and Historic Landmark Commission and received our Certificate of Appropriateness to rebuild and reinstall the blade sign that illuminated the Paramount Theatre and Congress Avenue from 1930 to 1963. We also requested a review of our project by the Texas Historical Commission to insure we are in compliance with the provisions of to the Texas Government Code as it applies to the appearance of Registered Texas Historic Landmarks.
Cost of the Project
The total cost to fabricate and install the Paramount blade was $192,532.69. This project was fully funded by family and corporate foundations, and individual donors with a strong interest in historic preservation. In addition, the Paramount continually undertakes both proactive and reactive facilities maintenance and restoration projects.
Installation and Relighting of the Blade
On September 23, 2015, the Paramount hosted a series of viewing and relighting parties at various locations in downtown. Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell provided dedication remarks before a crowd of the Austin community who helped make the night possible counted down longtime Paramount usher Flo Thompson flipping the switch to light the blade. The celebration continued in the theatre with a special concert by Austin-favorite, Patti Griffin.
For additional background or information regarding the fabrication and installation of the blade, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org