I just read that the wrecking ball is coming for Worcester's famed Paris Cinema next Wednesday. If I were at home, I'd try like crazy to get photos of the interior of this Worcester icon before it bites the dust. But since I am now in Mexico, all I can do is re-post something I first posted seven years ago, as part of an essay about an art exhibit featuring my photos and other prints of famed Worcester icons at the Futon Company (which is now also part of Worcester's history.)
I already knew about the saga of the Paris Cinema (originally called
the Capitol Theatre) which is on Worcester’s Common, behind City Hall. I
first researched it for Preservation Worcester back in 2005. By then,
what had begun as a palatial movie palace in the 1920’s had deteriorated
into a seedy “Adult Cinema” offering gay porn. In January of 2005,
according to an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, “a series
of police raids resulted in the arrests of 22 men for engaging in
sexual acts in the theater, some in groups and others by themselves.”
City Manager Michael V. O’Brien said that the cinema “painted an ugly
picture of downtown at a time he’s pushing for revitalization.”
January, 2006, the Paris Cinema was closed down by the authorities and
has sat empty ever since, awaiting the wrecking ball, but Preservation
Worcester has been trying to save it from this fate. The theater was
once the pride of Worcester. Inside, much of the original architectural
splendor is still there, although in a dilapidated condition.
I wrote in my summary for Preservation Worcester’s “Most Endangered”
list, the Capitol Theatre (now Paris Cinema) is a rare surviving
example of the “atmospheric” theaters that were popular across the
United States during the movie palace era of the early 20th century.
Architect John Eberson developed the atmospheric style of theater design
in 1923. He wanted to distract Americans from life’s problems by
creating an atmosphere of rest and beauty, “a magnificent amphitheatre
under a glorious moonlit sky in an Italian garden, in a Persian court,
in a Spanish patio or in a mystic Egyptian templeyard, all canopied by a
soft moonlit sky” as he put it.
Eberson had his own alliterative
slogan for what he was doing: “Prepare Practical Plans for Pretty
Playhouses—Please Patrons—Pay Profits.”
(Don’t you love the
alliteration and the optimism of the era—it’s a far cry from being
raided by the police for encouraging public group sex.)
seating 2,500, the 1926 Capitol Theatre was the first of three
atmospheric palace theaters built in Worcester in the late 1920’s. It
allowed its patrons to live the fantasy of attending a show in an
outdoor amphitheater in Spain.
only was its interior elaborately detailed with decorative plaster and
wrought iron in the Spanish style, but the impression was enhanced by
projectors that created the effect of twinkling stars and moving clouds
on the arched ceiling of its auditorium and second floor mezzanine
lobby. Although the building was converted to a multiplex cinema in the
1960’s, much of the interior and ornamental detailing still survives.
But no one knows in what condition….
When photographing the Paris
Cinema, I made one photo which shows the place in the rather grim (yet
graphically sophisticated) condition it’s in today, incorporating an
empty storefront and an African hair braiding shop, but in the other
photo I’m submitting to the show, I used color to suggest the fantasy
palace that it was at the beginning—a place designed to distract the
citizens of Worcester from the harsh realities of the Depression by
providing them a fantasy for a few hours that they were viewing the
glamorous world of 1930’s Hollywood from a seat in a Spanish
amphitheater, under the twinkling stars and moving clouds.
6 hours ago