When it opened on Jan. 16, 1914, the Paramount Theatre in Rutland, Vt., was a crown jewel of the town, and quickly attracted top-shelf talent, including Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and the Great Houdini.
Trains carrying performers on their way to Montréal from New York City would stop in the bustling city to perform, drawing crowds from all over Rutland County and beyond.
But when the passenger trains stopped coming, so did the big performers. Once an entertainment destination in its own right, Rutland settled into its new role as a blue-collar bedroom community for General Electric and other manufacturers. The Paramount Theatre was transformed into a movie house, fell into disrepair, and finally closed its doors in 1981.
Thankfully, that wasn't the end of the story. In the mid-1980s, a sentimental entrepreneur bought the building and put a new roof on it to keep it intact for the time being. Years later, community leaders banded together to rehab the place. With the help of native son, former U.S. Sen. Jim Jeffords, they landed a $1 million federal grant to restore the theater to its original glory under the guidance of historical architect John Berryhill. Once again, Rutland had a performing-arts center for the community and surrounding towns.
In 1997 and 1998, the theater board brought in preservation experts from the University of Vermont to determine the theater's original paint colors. New seats were purchased. A fleet of artisans arrived to repair the theater's extravagant plaster relief work of rosettes and angels. Even the acclaimed F. Schumacher wall-covering company in New York City got in on the project, re-creating the luscious "Du Berry" rose-patterned fabric that had originally adorned the theater's walls.
The restored theater opened in March 2000 to communitywide acclaim. But local painting contractor Paul Gallo, owner of Magic Brush Painting in Rutland, was a little bothered by the lobby. All the grant money had been spent restoring the theater's performing space, so the lobby, box office and intermission rooms were left as they were – walls painted a sad mishmash of sickly leftover yellow paint that obscured the extravagant plasterwork and leaded-glass panels of lacy concentric circles.