Public throngs to Paramount Theatre for tours

Downtown Cedar Rapids venue restored after Floods of 2008

Diana Nollen
Published: October 26 2012 | 4:19 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 2:34 am in
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With the snip of a red ribbon, the Paramount Theatre is back in business.

City leaders, City Ambassadors, dignitaries and citizens packed the gleaming Hall of Mirrors at noon Friday (10/26/12) to reflect on how far the building -- and Cedar Rapids -- have come since the Floods of 2008 coursed through the heart of town.

"It certainly has been quite a journey to get to this day," Mayor Ron Corbett told the crowd. "We've taken this great historic building and preserved many of the historic aspects, but we've also enhanced the Paramount Theatre, and as you take the tour, you'll see that. ... We've taken this historic building and modernized it."

He invites all of Cedar Rapids to come in and experience the Paramount. Another public tour is slated for 3 to 7 p.m. Nov. 11, with more monthly open houses in the works.

"As you walk out, you'll feel a great sense of pride. You may even have a tear in your eye. That's OK, because it won't be a tear of sorrow or sadness; it will be a tear of joy and love, for the building and for the community."

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-1st District, spoke of the importance of arts venues and the way communities pull together in the wake of natural disasters. City Manager Jeff Pomeranz called the $35 million renovation project "a symbol of partnership."

A partnership that turned "the largest swimming pool in the Midwest" into "a performing arts theater that will stand the test of time," said Jim Hoffman, chairman of the stakeholder committee appointed by the city to make decisions large and small on the four-year process.

He drew gasps when he pointed out that the building filled with 34 feet of water from the subbasement and basement, rising 8 to 10 feet in the auditorium and Hall of Mirrors.

After several rounds of applause and the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, an afternoon of guided tours took visitors through the balcony, the new dressing rooms and green rooms where performers will relax, down to the expanded stage, where a spotlight was shining on the replacement console for the Mighty Wurlitzer. Visitors then toured the lower level lounge and back up to the Fourth Avenue entrance hall, featuring concessions and the Encore Lounge, added in the 2003 $7.8 million renovation and further improved this time around.

Victor Thompson, 82, drove up from Muscatine to take the first tour. He served as an electrician and technician for shows after the building was renovated in the mid-1970s.

"It's fantastic. It just amazes me what they've done here." he said. "It was a beautiful thing back then, but it's way far and above now."

He's especially surprised by the increased stage size -- made deeper and wider after the backstage area was extended into the former alley behind the building. Gone, too, are the old tools of his trade -- the sound system and the dimmer boards that adjusted the lights.

"It's a marvelous place, it really is," he said.

"Isn't it just gorgeous," said Sharon Cummins of Marion, national director of planning and development for VenuWorks, which manages the Paramount for the city.

Her history with the building goes back to 1987, and she's surprised by "how modern the new parts look -- how they were absolutely able to make this feel like home, and then you step into the new part and go, 'Wow.'

"They just did a fabulous job of blending new with old. It's going to last forever now," Cummins said.

Among those waiting in line for a tour was Casey Prince, manager of Theatre Cedar Rapids, another historic venue that went through a flood reclamation. His building reopened for community theater productions in February 2010.

"Our whole journey was extremely emotional," he said. "The payoff, though, was absolutely worth it. The scale of what's happened at the Paramount is seemingly exponentially larger than what we went through, so I think it's just going to be that much more of an impact on the whole community.

"So many people come here for such a wide variety of programs, that I really think it's going to become one of those points of pride that people talk about when family's visiting or when they're off visiting family, talking about the beautiful, historic theater that they have at home." Prince said. "It's very amazing."

 

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