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Michael Barnes

Blazing Up the Paramount Blade

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The Paramount from the top of the Norwood Tower.

The Paramount from the top of the Norwood Tower.

CITY: Congress Avenue is transformed. The public gathered before a stage on the street. Smaller parties perched in the Norwood Tower, Contemporary Austin’s Jones Center, Stephen F. Austin Hotel terrace, State Theater, the Townsend bar and elsewhere. All awaited the lighting of the Paramount Theatre‘s vertical blade sign, a replica of the crowned glory that reigned over the avenue from 1930 to 1964, then disappeared.

The Paramount from atop the Contemporary Austin's Jones Center.

The Paramount from atop the Contemporary Austin’s Jones Center.

At Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin‘s penthouse atop the Norwood, the late president’s daughter talked about the Paramount as the last thing they see at night from one of their terraces, and the first thing they see in the morning, meaning a photograph Lady Bird Johnson‘s hearse passing the theater marquee that reads “We’ll miss our leading lady.” In fact, the Johnson family can count another major connection to the rejuvenated façade, as recounted by Paramount captain Jim Ritts: As they planned to replace the blade, the theater leaders could not determine its color definitively until somebody unearthed a video from the early 1960s of an LBJ motorcade moving along the avenue. So green instead of blue.

The Paramount blade from Seventh Street just before the official lighting.

The Paramount blade from Seventh Street just before the official lighting.

The next Paramount party I visited was on the soon-to-be upgraded rooftop of the Jones Center. Here, closer to the scene, one could hear the rumbling of the street party and see the size of the sign − five stories high and able to withstand 90 mile per hour winds, according to an engineering consultant hired by the theater. This reveling proved a bit rowdier here than at the sedate Norwood reception, but both were buoyant about the prospect of the lighting.

The Paramount blade moments after its public lighting.

The Paramount blade moments after its public lighting.

Next, a dozen or so guests − myself included − were led onto the street stage for the lighting ceremony. Most did something crucial, like navigating the theater through times good and bad, leaders such as John Bernardoni, Paul Beutel, Ken Stein, Charles Eckerman and Stephen Scott. Others turned out to be family members of deceased donors, or they worked on the sign somehow.

12043183_10156059488480316_122284010100213542_nWhy was I included? A very small thing really: Seems I got the project rolling three years ago when I quizzed Ritts on the whereabouts of the original Paramount blade. Not long after that, the powers that be decided a replacement would make a fine birthday candle for the theater’s centennial celebration.