History and Future of the Brooklyn Paramount Theater

By: JOSPEH WHELAN / STAFF WRITER


Long Island University was established in 1926, having historical roots that reach back nearly a century. On the university's Brooklyn campus is the Metcalfe building, constructed as the Brooklyn Paramount Theater in 1928.


In 1962, the theater’s stage was removed and the space was converted into a gymnasium. The gymnasium is no longer in use and the empty room remains in limbo.


While many students have walked through the Metcalfe building, wondering what the space is used for, Seawanhaka dug into the history behind the former theater and the plans for the future.

The Past

Opened on November 24, 1928, the Brooklyn Paramount Theater was a grand palace of entertainment. The 4,201-seat theater had an elaborate display of late-baroque and neo-gothic architecture.

The inside of the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. (Photo: LIU Archives)

In its heyday, despite its grandeur, the Brooklyn Paramount Theater was not successful, as it had to compete with the many other theaters in the area.


Within five years, the theater had closed, only to reopen in 1934 with a “movies-only” policy.


Its stage saw brief popularity in the 1950s with the introduction of Rock and Roll, hosting Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Little Richard, C and many more.


At around the same time, Long Island University purchased the building, converting the upper floors into the offices and classrooms that make up the Metcalfe building.

The exterior of the theater/Metcalfe building. (Photo: NYC Municipal Archives)

By the early 1960s, use of the extravagant theater had declined and by August 28, 1962, the Paramount hosted its last show.


New Life

Shortly thereafter, LIU took over the theater section of the building, removing the old Paramount signs and stage.


In place of the stage, a basketball court and bleachers were added to where audience members used to sit. Underneath the court, the still-operational Wurlitzer Organ was left in place. Above the court and its hoops, much of the antique architecture still remains.

The theater/gym in 2001. (Photo: Vincent Laforet)

The basketball court was used by the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds until 2015, where new life for the theater was in sight.


The Future

Digital rendering of what the restoration of the Brooklyn Paramount would look like. (Photo: LIU Archives)

In April 2015, LIU Brooklyn announced that the theater would be leased to the company Onexim. The company’s owner Mikhail Prokhorov, former owner of the Brooklyn Nets, planned on reconverting the gymnasium into an auditorium.


The 50 million dollar project would include re-adding balconies and box offices, updating lighting and sound systems, and relocating the entrance to the corner.

Digital rendering of the inside of the Brooklyn Paramount renovation. (Photo: LIU Archives)

A bright future was clearly in sight as groundbreaking occurred in June 2018. The project was estimated to be completed within two years, however, this was not the case.


The project was put on hold when Prokhorov sold part of the Nets to its current owner, Joe Tsai, who later bought out the rest of the team. This caused the project to be delayed, as Prokhorov was still responsible for the theater.


Later, the COVID-19 pandemic halted the project due to the lack of in-person events and decrease in demand for venues for live performances.


As COVID-19 continues to impact the world as we approach the end of 2021, the plans for the Metcalfe building remain uncertain.

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