Originally built as a 1500-seat movie palace by Publix Pictures, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures, the Peekskill Paramount Theatre first opened its doors to the public with great fanfare on June 27, 1930. The Inaugural program featured an overture by the Paramount Symphony Orchestra, an appearance by the village mayor, and “A Paramount All-Talking Picture”, The Big Pond, starring Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert.
At the time, Publix Theatres was recognized as a leader in the theatre building industry, and the Peekskill Paramount was constructed as a state-of-the-art facility unrivalled in the region. Designed by the noted architectural firm of George and Charles Rapp, who designed great theatres all across the country, the Paramount boasted “a mammoth cooling and air conditioning plant, a beautifully furnished lounge, rest rooms and many other exclusive features.” It even had a great Wurlitzer theatre organ, which rose from the pit, played for years by Banks Kennedy. The Paramount building is a designated Westchester County Landmark, listed on both the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The Paramount prospered for decades despite the Depression and World War II. However, it was the advent of shopping malls and television that brought on its demise as a movie theatre. Paramount sold the building in 1973. Eventually the building was acquired by the City of Peekskill in 1977 due to a tax default. Following improvements to the building, the Paramount opened briefly in 1979 as a performing arts theatre operating under the auspices of local arts and community groups.
The results of those performances were mixed, and following a market survey and various proposals, and through the urging of a community-based grassroots “Save the Paramount” campaign, the City of Peekskill agreed to the establishment of an independent nonprofit corporation, which would lease the building and independently operate it. Following further renovations and improvements, including the removal of several hundred seats, the Peekskill Paramount Center for the Performing Arts presented its first series of performances in the spring of 1982. Its mission was to bring cultural and educational programming to the northern Westchester and Putnam County area at affordable prices.
The Paramount has recently completed a series of major renovation and historic restoration projects over the past three years. This work has included the following: repairing and replastering the walls and ceiling; recreating the original 1930s ceiling design on hand-painted canvases and installing them on the ceiling; completing the decorative painting of the theatre walls and balcony, faux opera boxes, stage proscenium, and towering plaster columns; installing new carpeting throughout the theatre and lobby areas; refurbishing our classic vintage theatre seats, and, most recently, the complete renovation of our restrooms.