Tuesday, June 10, 1930, the Middletown Times-Herald published a Special Paramount Edition on the Paramount Publix Corporation and their new theatre, the Paramount. On Wednesday, Middletown Mayor Clarence Van Fleet threw the switch that illuminated the huge electric sign over the theatre. Opening day, Thursday, began with a noon parade. The doors opened at 6 pm for the first of two shows –all on film– which included an on-screen welcome by Buddy Rogers (star of the 1927 Best Picture, “Wings”), a music selection by the Paramount Symphony Orchestra, Paramount News, a short feature on Middletown and its best-known citizens, and then the feature film “The Big Pond,” starring Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert.
The theatre was built by Neilson Construction Company using Middletown firms as subcontractors, with construction beginning in October 1929. The auditorium was designed for talking pictures and had only a shallow stage. Included was a cooling system which was to keep the theatre at seventy-two degrees. Much was made of the system, which consisted of air passed over large cakes of ice. The air was cooler but had plenty of humidity. Harry Stowell, who had been the musical director and supervisor at the Bardavon and Stratford in Poughkeepsie, was the first manager. He employed a staff of twenty, mostly male, as ushers, doormen, porters, pages, maids, and cashiers.
The theatre remained under the management of Paramount and its successor corporation, ABC, until it was sold on March 30, 1973, to Hallmark Releasing Corporation. After a succession of operators, it closed in 1978. The City of Middletown took ownership of the theatre for back taxes in February 1979 and sold it in January 1981 to the Arts Council of Orange County, who restored the theatre and opened it as a performing arts center in September 1985. The stage was enlarged by adding an apron on the front and a pavilion was added to provide dressing rooms and wing space. The New York Theatre Organ Society installed the Wurlitzer from the Clairidge Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey. The console of the Middletown’s original Wurlitzer is now part of the organ in the Orpheum in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Orange County Arts Council was unable to continue to operate the theatre, so led by Mayor Joseph DeStefano, the City of Middletown again acquired the theatre through the action of the Industrial Development Agency. From 1996 thru 2010, the Middletown Paramount was under the management of the City’s Cultural and Civic Affairs Department.
On November 1, 2010, Nelson Page and his New Jersey-based Majestic-Star Entertainment Corporation became the managing operators of the Paramount. Additional renovations and improvements to the facility were begun – including bringing back 35mm motion picture projection equipment – to bring to the community a modern facility that is both comfortable and pleasurable to attend. Encompassing everything from concerts to a wide variety of classic film offerings, community celebrations and headline acts, making the Paramount THE destination for entertainment in Orange County for the 21st century.
In 2012 a grant from the Orange County IDA enabled the theatre to upgrade its projection equipment to the new digital standard. First-run movies were again on the screen at the Paramount.
Since 2013 The City of Middletown Economic and Development Department has operated the theatre. Daily Movies have become a regular staple at the theatre once again. A Classic Series has also been formed that runs in the Spring and Fall on select Saturday Afternoon. From Comedy Shows to Educational Lectures, to Major Music Acts, The Paramount has also added numerous Live Performance’s to its calendar, making it a hub once again in our downtown community.
The Paramount Theatre will continue to show first-run movies and limited release films, as well as produce and program quality, live national and local entertainment
The Middletown Paramount’s Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ is owned and maintained by the New York Theatre Organ Society (NYTOS). Crews of volunteer NYTOS members rebuilt, installed, and maintain the instrument. The organ is on permanent loan to the Paramount through a contractual agreement with the City of Middletown, who now operates the theatre.
The instrument is the second Mighty Wurlitzer to reside in the Middletown Paramount in the theatre’s long history. The original Paramount Wurlitzer, a 3-manual 11-rank instrument installed when the theatre was built in 1930, was removed in the late 1950’s to make room for new air conditioning equipment that was placed in the organ chambers.
The current Wurlitzer, built by the Wurlitzer Company of North Tonawanda, NY, was originally installed in the Clairidge Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey, in 1923 as a 2-manual 10-rank organ. Like so many theatre pipe organs (there were thousands of them installed in theatres across the country and around the world during the silent movie era of the 1920’s), the Clairidge organ was turned off during the early 1930’s as sound movies replaced the silents and it was all but forgotten.
In 1982 the Clairidge Theatre underwent major reconstruction to convert it to a multiplex, and the theatre owner donated the instrument to NYTOS, which found a new home for the organ in the Middletown Paramount. Now having 3 manuals (keyboards) and 12 ranks (separate sets of variously voiced pipes), it is slightly larger in size and specification than the Paramount’s original instrument.
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