By Denise Dick
Barb and Loren Kindler of Hubbard brought their 2-year-old grandson to watch the demolition Tuesday of the Paramount Theatre.
Demolition of the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Youngstown is underway.
“I have fond memories of the theater,” Barb Kindler said.
As a girl she would ride the bus from Hubbard to downtown Youngstown to catch a movie at the old theater on the corner of West Federal and North Hazel streets.
Loren Kindler was never in the building, but he too frequented downtown in his younger days. His father, Albert, was a vice president at the former McKelvey’s Department Store and the family used to watch parades from the building. The McKelvey building nearby on West Federal, was demolished several years ago.
Loren watched that too.
“I was born in ’44 and lived on the South Side,” he said. “We used to come downtown. It was so busy.”
Watching the old theater fall to demolition crews makes Loren kind of sad, but he hopes it leads to progress.
The couple brought their grandson, Clark McAllen, to watch because he enjoys watching construction projects as Grandpa explains what’s going on.
Small groups of people watched as a sprayer, called a dust fighter, doused the building with water and the claw of a long-reach excavator grabbed bricks and blocks from a top corner, dropping them below.
The city hired Baumann Enterprises Inc. of Cleveland for the $721,000 demolition job which started Monday and is expected to be completed in September. Hazel Street between West Federal and West Commerce streets is closed to vehicular traffic during the demolition project and the work is being done at night.
The building opened in 1918 as the Liberty Theatre for vaudeville acts and silent movies with a 1,700-seat auditorium featuring an aquarium and fountain in the lobby. It was sold in 1929 to Paramount Pictures and renamed the Paramount Theatre. It closed in 1976 and has passed through several owners since then.
The Paramount Project, a group working to preserve the memory of the building, had wanted to turn the property into an amphitheater and outdoor gathering space and use the facade for a small restaurant and offices.
Two reports, however, showed the building was structurally unsound, and any effort to retain the front of the former theater would cost at least $1 million with no guarantee of success.
The group then wanted to have portions of the building’s terra-cotta and its iron marquee awning saved, planning to incorporate them into a seating area at the front part of the property.
Pieces of the terra-cotta have been removed, but the iron marquee was in poor condition and couldn’t be saved.
After the building is demolished, the city is turning the location into a parking lot.
“I think that’s the worst possible thing to replace a landmark,” said Nicholas Serra of Youngstown.
He watched the demolition both Monday and Tuesday nights.
“This is a big landmark. A lot of people care about it and were fighting for it,” Serra said.
At 25, he’s too young to have enjoyed it while it was still open, but he’s heard stories from his grandfather who visited there a lot.
“I’ve only seen it in its current state,” Serra said.
He and other local photographers have been in the building, snapping pictures of the inside.
“I grabbed a couple marquee letters for my grandfather,” Serra said.
The older man was ecstatic to have a piece of the old theater, he said.
Serra grew up in Austintown and within the last several years has become aware of all that downtown has to offer. He visits the bars and restaurants, enjoying the music and the art scene.
“It’s the artists — the artists’ community — that have really kept it alive,” he said.
Serra hopes some piece of the old theater building, like the terra-cotta, can be preserved and incorporated into the new plans for the space.
John Harris of Youngstown stopped to watch the demo work after running an errand downtown.
“My mother and father took me to the movies that were in it when I was growing up,” he said.
He returned in the early 1980s when there was an effort to revive the theater and organizers reopened it for a few days. At that point, the structure was intact and Harris snapped some photographs that he still keeps.
“It was beautiful — really a beautiful building,” he said.
Harris remembers a candy store on the corner and a hat shop down the street. Those things are gone, but he’s encouraged by some of the newer establishments locating downtown.
“It’s great to see downtown improvement but it’s sad to see some of the remaining things,” he said.