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Of Paramount importance: Flatbush Avenue theater is reborn

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The Paramount Theatre is coming back, baby!

Long Island University and an affiliate of Barclays Center have inked a deal to bring live performances back to the historic Paramount Theatre on Flatbush Avenue at DeKalb Avenue. Using a bit of original diction, the company’s chief said he is excited to make the former picture palace and stage for the stars, which has for the past half century served as a gymnasium for the college, a venue again.

“We are excited to turn the lights back on and to see the evolvement of the venue,” said Brett Yormark, chief executive officer for the arena. “We believe there’s a big untapped future at the LIU Brooklyn Paramount Theatre.”

The partnership is an opportunity for the school to open up the venue beyond the college’s community, an administrator said.

“There’s no question that the Paramount has a legendary history,” said Michael Glickman, chief of strategic partnerships and university advancement. “This partnership will give both our students and the wider community a chance to enjoy it.”

The venue first opened in 1928 as a movie house and performance hall, and the likes of Frank Sinatra, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly graced the stage. The Paramount later became a mecca for jazz musicians, including greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie. The interior includes an ornate ceiling, cherub statues, wall fountains, and a Wurlitzer organ.

The school bought the theater in 1950, and converted it into a gymnasium for intramural sports and for student activities and events, leaving much of its interior intact. In 2006, the school opened a new, $45-milllion gym and moved its basketball and volleyball games there.

The Paramount building now contains a basketball court and bleachers beneath the ostentatious floor-to-ceiling detailing, and serves as a practice space for the college’s baseball, softball, tennis, and track teams. It also occasionally hosts matches of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league.

Glickman said that under the new arrangement, the building would remain open for the activities it currently hosts.

Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, the Barclays-affiliated booking company, said the renewed theater will hold 1,500 people — that’s down from the more than 4,000 of its heyday — and that the programming will focus on emerging artists. It hopes to host musical and comedy performances as well as boxing matches.

Long Island University students will also get jobs at the theater as part of the partnership.

“LIU is fully committed to delivering a unique education that combines rigor in the classroom with engagement beyond our walls,” university president Kimberly Cline said. “We will create new opportunities for our students and alumni as part of this exciting new endeavor.”

It is unclear what sorts of interior construction will take place before the venue is open for business. Managers hope it will compete with the nearby Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House, which seats 2,090, and the newly refurbished Kings Theatre in Flatbush, capacity 3,000.

“There’s a history that differentiates the LIU Brooklyn Paramount Theatre and it will complement other venues due to its capacity and unique programming,” Barclays Center spokesman Barry Baum said.

The director of the Kings Theatre said he is happy to have the competition.

“We welcome the Paramount as yet another infusion of energy into Brooklyn’s thriving arts and culture scene, which continues to grow by the day,” Matthew Wolf said.

Long Island University and Barclays Center are working together to figure out each side’s needs, Glickman said.

No word yet on when the performances will start, but the building will host NBA All-Star Game events from Feb. 12–15.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperlman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019: Updated to reflect that the Paramount building no longer hosts volleyball games, as administrator Michael Glickman indicated that it does. Quote from Kings Theatre director Matthew Wolf added.
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