‘Colored’ Entrance of Paramount Removed

A fire escape was removed from the Paramount Theatre recently, which historically served as the entrance for blacks into the theater. Its demolition was inadvertently approved by the Board of Architectural Review after a presentation on the Paramount was shortened for time, and the detail was lost in the shuffle. A Paramount board member blamed a lack of dialogue between Martinez & Johnson Architecture, the city and the developers for the loss of the culturally-significant entrance. Elizabeth Nelson has the story in today’s Progress.

10 Responses to “‘Colored’ Entrance of Paramount Removed”

  • I’ve always thought seeing the old black entrance to the theater was an interesting reminder of our racist past. It angers me that these construction guys can just take something like this down without properly asking. What’s done is done, and it won’t be coming back… I assume the entrance in the back, which is what I had noticed anyway, will still be there, and I hope they leave that alone.

  • Hey, it’s not fair to blame ‘these construction guys.’ They are just doing their job- which doesn’t include historical research. If you must blame someone, blame whoever owns the property and is responsibility for it.

  • This is terrible! How are colored people going to get into the theater now?

  • What is the value in preserving symbols of racism?

    I realize that racism is part of our history, but I just don’t understand having any kind of sentimental attachment to symbols of segregation. A lot of civil rights activists went through a great deal of trouble to do away with these things… they are not to be treasured.

    If anything, we should all get together and celebrate the fact that it’s no longer used/needed/accepted.

    Just MHO, of course.

  • I think the idea is not to treasure but to remind and let the lessons stand for future generations. For instance, it’s much more vivid in a child’s mind to see a fire escape and imagine that this was the only entrance she could use to go into a theater than it is just to be told about it. I think a historic building is a little different than other contexts.

    FWIW, there’s lots of symbols of racism that still stand today that are no longer regarded as such even though they still exist. The balcony at the Jefferson Theater, for instance, used to be the Colored Only section. Now it’s just a fun place to sit.

  • I can understand that point of view, but I question the value of a "fire escape" as a useful tool for education, or a worthwhile cultural landmark.

    The article seems to indicate that the only reason it was a "cultural landmark" was because of its part in segregation. I don’t feel any sense of loss for it, nor see any potential value in keeping it.

    As far as teaching children, I believe that we can describe to them the kinds of things that were done sufficiently to get the point across. I prefer to do so in such a way as to point it out as a historic attitude that is "obviously" wrong. I don’t want to inflict any sense of guilt on my kids ("Imagine if that was *you*!"), nor would I want to make it "personal" for them. It was an insult to some very decent people by some very misguided people a long time ago.

    Some places still have a very definite use, and may be historic (or have been historically misused). For instance, the balcony you mention. Another would be the back of every city bus. I don’t propose that we destroy all such places… but their significance/usefulness goes far beyond being "just" a symbol of racism.

  • The fire escape is gone but the entrance with ticket window that blacks were required to use is still there. The article in The Progress seemed to imply at least, that the fire escape had some connection with the fact that the theatre was segregated. Blacks were only allowed to sit in the balcony. I wonder if the connection between segregation and the fire escape is because it was installed to keep blacks fleeing from a fire from using the front stairs and entrance?

  • This is an excellent point. I was always under the impression that the double door at street level on third street was the "Colored" entrance. My impression was that the fire escape was just that: a fire escape.

    Having worked in an old theater (the Biograph in Georgetown – long gone), I can tell you there’s a very good reason for the fire escape. Old projectors (truly the best kind – new ones just don’t project well at all) actually use a form of welding arc to illuminate the film. It creates the closest thing to pure white light, and the intensity is stunning. However, there’s a drawback: if a problem occurs, they can start a very intense fire that can cause the celluloid film to generate a super hot flash fire. Combined with the white-hot welding arc, you have a recipe for one hell of a fast-spreading fire.

    In most old projection booths, there were gravity doors (one or more for the projected light and one for projectionist access), all of which were held open by a cable with a lead fuse. If it got hot enough to melt the lead, the fuses melted and the doors closed. No person could possibly open them without great assistance, as the doors were very heavy. The purpose was to contain the fire and save many lives, if not the theater itself. However, the projectionist would die. I’ve been in the Paramount’s booth, and I seem to remember it having the fused doors (in fact, I’m almost positive it has them), but I could be mistaken.

    I believe that most older theaters with balconies had fire escapes because of this very real fire threat. I seriously doubt the historical significance of this particular fire escape as it concerns Charlottesville’s historical race relations.

  • The fact that it was a FIRE ESCAPE that blacks had to use to get in drives home the point even more than a balcony or a back entrance. That’s even more degrading, and it’s certainly something we have to remember to avoid problems from returning. It’s sorta like the holocaust, if you destroy remnants, it might just happen again…

  • There was and still is I think, a small and spooky staircase that went from the 3rd St. ticket window and entrance up to the balcony. That staircase was how blacks got to the balcony. They did not use the fire escape. The objections to the removal of the fire escape had to to with the elimination of the contrast between the nice white entrance with the big, grand marquee over it and the uninviting black entrance that was unadorned and instead had an ugly metal fire escape over it.

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