Back to the future

The Paramount building, 701 W. Sheridan, was designed for screening and distribution of Paramount Pictures movies and promotional materials for theater operators around the state when film reels arrived by rail. From roughly the 1930s until the 1960s, every major movie studio had a film exchange building on Film Row. As air travel became commonplace, trains no longer transported films to town, and the studio buildings began closing in the 1960s. The subsequent decades saw the area become a skid row.

With the investments of local owners such as John “Chip” Fudge, the addition of the area to the National Register of Historic Places, and the installation of a movie-themed streetscape, Film Row is coming into its own once again. It is home to office and restaurant space, but no one had yet made use of the old screening rooms until Melodie Garneau, Helen Goulden and Becky Kephart decided to open The Paramount, OKC: Reel Art, Wine & Coffee.

Stepping into the lobby, visitors are greeted by cardboard standees of Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe. From there,

patrons can take a right into the café, or a left around the corner and into the screening room. Little renovation was needed in the screening room, as the owners sought to keep it authentic.

“It was in remarkably good shape,” Garneau says.

The room sports the same chairs that theater owners sat in decades ago, with the addition of some plush seating and couches up front. The walls are lined with original acoustic tiles, but one thing is missing.

“The original screen is not here,” Garneau says.

Rather than find a poor
substitute, Garneau used a product called Paint on Screen to replicate a
storied silver screen. A gallon of the paint can cost up to $300, but
the end result provides a rich backdrop for viewing everything from
black-and-white films such as Young Frankenstein to the eponymous purplish villain of The Blob.

of the original structural details remain, although they no longer are
required for contemporary cinema technology. Old nitrate film was highly
flammable, so film exchanges kept their reels in vaults. The Paramount
has a street-level door where films would be delivered and dropped
directly into the basement for storage.

the lower level’s solid concrete structure, a fire could be contained
to that area. The projection booth was outfitted with a door in the
floor to move reels in and out of the room without having to carry them
through the building, or in the event they caught on fire.

These days, Garneau screens movies on DVD or Blu-ray shown on the wall from a ceiling-mounted projector.

a private club with paying members, The Paramount need not fear FBI
warnings at the beginnings of films of fines or prison time for public
showings. If not for that classification, Garneau says it would be too
costly to show films. Fortunately, patrons can name their own price for a
yearly membership.

historic touch that is nearly gone is fading ghost signage painted on
the the building’s east-facing wall. Garneau says plans are in the works
to have a professional painter restore it to its former glory.

Smith purchased the building in 2003. He called it the “big, gray
elephant,” because, at the time, it was painted gray in portions, and
metal sheets obscured much of the front. He began work
on the space, even renting out portions, but kept the lower level,
including the theater, mostly vacant. While many came knocking, he
couldn’t imagine sacrificing the theater for something like a law firm.

“I never rented this space because I didn’t want to get some office,” he says. “It’s not just about money.”

He says when Garneau and her partners came to him with The Paramount plan, it was a perfect fit.

“They nailed a home run,” he says. “It’s what I was waiting for.”

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