2012-10-10 / Front Page

Paramount Center Shuttered, for Now

By Annie Chesnut

The Paramount Center, in Peekskill / Photo: Annie Chesnut The Paramount Center, in Peekskill / Photo: Annie Chesnut In a piece of grim economic and social news, the Paramount Center—the historic performing and visual arts center in the heart of neighboring Peekskill—is now shuttered.

“The Board of The Paramount Center for the Arts in Peekskill, NY announced [October 4] that the non-profit arts institution is temporarily suspending operations while it explores opportunities to reorganize,” a press release reported. “The decision to suspend operations was made at a Board Executive Committee Meeting held Tuesday night.”

The Paramount, located at 1008 Brown Street, was viewed by many who frequent the area as the “anchor store” of the ambling outdoor mall that represents downtown Peekskill’s gentrified arts and entertainment district. With films, live concerts, seasonal events, art exhibits, and educational programs, the Center offered something for virtually everyone. It was well known for its annual fundraising galas, the most recent of which was held in mid-September, featuring the legendary classic rock band, Foreigner.

The one-time movie palace, which opened in 1930, prospered through the Depression and the war years, but fell victim to more modern, multiplex-style movie houses.

Eventually the building was acquired by the City of Peekskill and opened briefly in 1979 as a performing arts theatre.

Cold Spring recording artist Dar Williams told the PCN&R, “The Paramount is the best example of what happens when you plunk a big, impressive cultural institution into the middle of a town. Every person benefits, and new businesses pop up on the same block and take hold. I've seen this kind of reshuffling happen for big old theaters that are hard to book and harder to heat. They can come back, they just need to pause the machine in order to get it working again.”

After mixed success and a successful grassroots ‘Save the Paramount’ campaign, in the late ‘70s, Peekskill agreed to an independent nonprofit corporation to lease the building and independently operate it. In the spring of 1982 the Peekskill Paramount Center for the Performing Arts opened anew.

Libby Pataki (wife of former Gov. and Peekskill Mayor, George Pataki, and current director of tourism for Putnam County), recalled, “When George was Mayor of Peekskill in the late 70's and early 80's, bringing the old Paramount back from ruin was one of his top priorities. We have the most wonderful memory of opening night in his first term when the Bamberg Symphony was to play, and the workers had been under such pressure to have all in readiness that the plaster on the ceiling wasn't even dry. Our entire family went there for every imaginable show or movie.”

Mary Foster, current Mayor of Peekskill, added, “The Paramount Theater is an important asset owned by the City and has been important in attracting other entertainment and cultural enterprises to Peekskill. This administration is committed to bringing new leadership to the Paramount so that it can re-open and reach its potential.”

Calls to the Paramount’s administrative offices were received with a voicemail reiterating the October 4th press release, and an email to current Director Lisa Reiss went unanswered.

Putnam resident and businesswoman Patty Villanova, who owned a shop across from the Paramount for six years before moving to Main Street in Cold Spring, noted, “The longer I stayed in Peekskill, the more I found out how systemic the problems were and how hard if not impossible it would be to change things. The only thing surprising about the theater suspending operations is that it didn't happen sooner.

“The Paramount is a perfect example of what happens when Government intrudes in an area that is beyond its scope—since when do politicians know anything about running a theater and entertainment venue?”

For her part, Williams said, “I think the people at Paramount know how to get the theater back on its feet. The hardest part is renovating an old space and putting it on the map. They did that beautifully.”

And Pataki concluded, “The Paramount is a treasure, and we must do everything in our power to keep it alive in this day of cineplexes, malls and boxy movie venues utterly devoid of history or interest points.”

The October 4 press release from the theatre continued: “The Paramount apologizes for the inconvenience we have caused to our members, all those who purchased tickets for shows that will have to be cancelled or delayed and to the friends of the Paramount who have been supportive of our efforts to provide a diverse menu of high quality performances and visual arts exhibits over the years. We ask for all of our patrons and supporters to bear with us as we dedicate our efforts towards reemerging as one of the premier performance venues in the Hudson Valley in the not too distant future. Updated information will be provided on the Paramount website at www.paramountcenter.org as it becomes available.”

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