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Last week I was invited by Paramount Theater owner Mike Barrasso to go on a tour of some of the lesser-seen parts of the old theater. I took along my camera and camcorder – though I wasn’t optimistic about how any video would come out in the dimly lit halls and rooms.
In the end, most of my photos came out okay, but the bracket-held lamp on my camcorder just wasn’t quite able to pull it off. As a result, many of the clips you’ll see in the video that accompanies this post are pretty dark.
Barrasso tossed around tales as we walked along the halls. Some of the more entertaining ones involved visits by older folks who stopped by – usually unannounced, and sometimes by the busload – to check out the historical Paramount. On one particular occasion some years ago, as Barrasso recalls, a man in his mid-90s showed up at the door and asked if he could take a look around. Barrasso invited him in and as the two toured the place, the old man told him that he actually worked as an usher at the Grand Opening of the Paramount Theater back in 1929. (Barrasso recently tried to contact the man to see if he could attend the “Second Grand Opening,” but learned he had since gone into an elderly home.)
Barrasso also talked about the first time he saw the inside of the theater. He said the walls were covered in a black soot, and it was only after closer inspection, when the soot was cleared away, that the beautiful, original mosaics on the walls of the theater were rediscovered.
When Barrasso thought about ways he could rehabilitate the old theater, he mulled over the possibilities before finally deciding to go with trying to restore it to its original, 1920s look.
“I thought, how much better could I do than the original designers?” said Barrasso.
The restoration process began soon after Barrasso bought the place in 1999. After years of doing business as The Hippodrome, then, Barrasso and his business partner, Steven Stein, decided to bring back the old Paramount Theater name, and to complete the process of restoring the old theater to its former glory.
Throughout our stroll along the catwalks, Barrasso routinely reminded me to watch my head as we ducked and maneuvered along the topside of the theater. (One of his reminders is heard on the video.)
At one point – just after he had showed me one of the chandelier winches (see photo, above) – we were making our way back towards the center area when he once again reminded me of our peril.
“Watch your head,” he said to me with a smile. “One of these times you’re bound to hit your head up here.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said back to him as I ducked beneath a pipe. “That’s okay, though. You just got a two million dollar loan.”
Barrasso, who also co-owns the Skyplex nightclub located at Stearns Square, said that even as he walks the halls and tinkers around with his very own piece of historical Springfield, he still sometimes marvels at the success he’s had these past few years.
“I’m just a manager,” he said, his eyes gazing around the place as if he can’t quite grasp the truth.
The Paramount Theater is expected to re-open by spring, 2010.