Lights, camera, action!
Contractors on Thursday kicked off the long-awaited transformation of Downtown’s historic Paramount Theatre from college gym to restored concert hall — but not before a musician treated the ground-breaking ceremony attendees to a performance on its antique Wurlitzer organ that literally brought the house down.
An organist at the bench of the massive instrument — one of two in the city, with a whopping 32 foot pedals, 244 keys, and roughly 2,000 pipes whose sounds rival those of an entire orchestra — tickled its ivories as workers lowered the scoreboard that Long Island University leaders installed in the facility they turned into a gym after purchasing it in 1962.
The year-long renovation — a $50-million job overseen by the firm that runs the Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets, BSE Global, which will also manage the university-owned theater following the project — is set to wrap by summer 2019, and will freshen up the 90-year-old venue while preserving its jazz-age feel, a BSE spokeswoman said.
“The renovation will restore the Paramount Theatre to much of its former aesthetic glory, while modernizing it to be in tune with today’s top entertainment destinations,” said Mandy Gutmann.
The makeover calls for preserving the theater’s opulent Rococo-style gilded roof, moving its entrance back to the corner of Flatbush and DeKalb avenues, and installing new bathrooms, ventilation systems, and seating for roughly 3,000 — about 1,000 less people than it could accommodate in its heyday, but about one-third more spectators than can pack into the nearby Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House.
The Paramount’s ancient organ will also receive a routine tune-up during the restoration.
And when complete, the theater originally built by Paramount Pictures bigwigs in 1928 will trade its schedule of Long Island University athletic events — which a college rep said already moved elsewhere on campus — for a suite of live acts by present-day musicians that will rival those shows performed there decades ago by such stars as Frank Sinatra, Buddy Holly, and Miles Davis, Gutmann said.
“The theater’s main focus is going to be reviving its legendary music roots,” she said. “Concerts will be the bread and butter of the venue.”