Aurora has a rich history as a center for entertainment. At the turn of the 20th Century, vaudeville and silent films could be seen in many local venues, including Dreamland, The Majestic, The Strand (formerly the Grand Opera House) and The B.
In 1915, J.J. Rubens and other far-seeing theatre owners formed the Aurora Theater Company—a power group that guided Aurora’s moving picture business. New theatres were needed to accommodate the movies’ transition to “talkies.” Rubens, on a trip to Italy, began envisioning plans for a new theatre with a Venice theme—The Venetian. He called upon C.W. and George L. Rapp, nationally known architects of movie theatres, to be the designers. Combining Rubens’ Venetian theme with the fashionable Art Deco influence of the 1920s and early 1930s, Rapp & Rapp designed a breathtaking palace…what David Naylor referred to in American Picture Palaces – The Architecture of Fantasy as “their best Art Deco theatre.”
In 1930 however, prior to construction, Aurora Theater Company was sold to the Paramount-Famous-Lasky Corporation. Although it retained the Rapp & Rapp design, the theatre was renamed The Paramount, rather than The Venetian. The $1 million dollar building opened on September 3, 1931, to wonder, excitement, glamour, laughter and music. An organist was flown in to play the Wurlitzer, local dignitaries attended the opening, and telegrams arrived from Paramount Studios stars such as Claudette Colbert, Sylvia Sydney, and Janet Gaynor.
In addition to the movies, The Paramount also offered vaudeville, concerts, sing-a-longs and circus performances…all inside Illinois’ first air-conditioned building outside of Chicago. Acoustics and sight lines had been so well designed that there was not one bad seat in the house. The luxurious theatre gave its patrons a brief respite from the troubles of the Great Depression. Read More