A disappearing act downtown

We’re sure that lots of people are taking pictures this weekend at the Summer Festival of the Arts at and around Youngstown State University, but the most photographed spot in the city these days is probably the fast-disappearing Paramount Theater at West Federal and Hazel streets.

There’s something strangely fascinating in seeing a building stripped away, one layer at a time. One day the balcony seats are dangling precariously above a lobby that is scattered with bricks and crumbled terra cotta. The next day half the building is gone, exposing duct work above and the last remaining decorated arches over the ground-floor side doors.

It was not uncommon during the week to see old timers standing at the fence talking about the other theaters that lined Federal Street and Central Square in years past. Or to hear a wide-eyed child exclaim, “Daddy what happened to that building?”

Age caught up with it

What happened was it got old — just about 95 years old when a giant claw took the first bite out of it Monday. It is the loss of a landmark, but it is not the first or last. Indeed, a 1917 story in The Vindicator reported that “another landmark, the Excelsior block, is being razed for the new Liberty Theater at Hazel and Federal.” The Liberty would open a year later and be remodeled and renamed the Paramount a decade after that.

The Paramount joins a long list of long-gone Youngstown theaters that were its contemporaries, including the Park, Strand, Orpheum, Princess and Hippodrome (which in 1917 boasted 1,000 choice seats at 25 cents, with premium seats going as high as 75 cents; lesser movie houses were charging 10 or 20 cents).

The Paramount debuted “The Robe” in CinemaScope, a revolutionary process in 1953. It couldn’t compete today with Imax.

To borrow a phrase from movie advertising of years ago, there are only a few days left to catch the Paramount.

Grab your camera — wait, we’re dating ourselves — grab your phone and head down to Federal and Hazel while there’s still time to capture a piece of history on film — or in pixels.

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