On Sunday, dozens of community members gathered to celebrate the history of the Paradise Theater. Called "Another Day in Paradise," the celebration included a recap of 90 years of movies, plays, musicals, fashion shows and live radio broadcasts as people shared their memories of and gratitude for what many called the heart of the community.
Emcee Bob Pennetta recalled his first visit to the theatre in 1976. Former owner Charlie Bear would patrol the aisles, he said, "and you'd better be good."
He referred to the theater as the "cultural center" of the North Fork Valley. "This room has always been a very important part of our community," he told the nearly packed house.
KVNF Saturday morning host Don Foster took the audience back in time to 1928 and the theater's beginnings, and to a time when citizens filled their Model Ts with Sinclair Gas. Theaters were still playing silent films when audiences heard their first "talkie, "The Jazz Singer." He imagined Al Jolson on the screen, turning to the audience and uttering the immortal words, "You ain't heard nothin' yet."
The Paonia Theater was built in 1928 by Tom Poulos, whose family still lives in Paonia. Lynne Bear was in the audience. She and late husband Charlie were the theater's second owners.
Through movie titles, Foster took the audience through the decades, until the 1980s when the theater went dark. "There's a hero to the tale," said Foster. One day, Danny Perkins rode into town from Kansas to save the day. He worked as a projectionist, and in 1991 bought the theater for $37,000 and a thousand dollars down. Perkins remodeled the theater, put in a new projector, and built the stage.
Dianne Schevene spoke of how the theater has touched four generations in her family. Through it, her sons learned about creative expression and risk-taking. Magness is now a designer in San Francisco, said Schevene, and returns to Paonia not during the holidays, but when there's something happening at the Paradise.
The theater helped son Jordan get his start as a filmmaker. The theater took a risk and supported his Kickstarter campaign to make a documentary about dogs and sports with Kale Casey, a Paonia area medic and Team USA skijor racer.
That film is "Dog Power: The Inspiring Story of Dog-Powered Sports." The film has been screened in at least 12 film festivals so far, and was selected for the 2016 Banff Mountain Film Festival, which is why he couldn't be at the theater, she said.
"His film was shown in Banff yesterday morning and this morning." It's also part of the festival's world tour. "I'm here to tell you, the theatre played a key role in something that is now going all over the world."
A lot of speakers and big-name musical acts have come to the theater, which was renamed the Paradise Theatre 25 years ago. Pennetta recalled when he brought longtime friend and Chicago blue musician Otis Taylor to town. He brought another friend, Crawford resident Joe Cocker to the show. After watching a set, Cocker joined Taylor on stage. "That was a real special night here," said Pennetta, remembering Cocker. "Those little surprises that you get when you have a place like this."
Crawford singer/musician Jeneve Rose Mitchell gave a performance. Mitchell's first public appearance after becoming a finalist on American Idol was at the Paradise.
Paonia photographer Celia Roberts read a letter from former owners Regna and Jason Jones, who bought the theater after seeing it for sale in the shopper.
Her first day in Paonia in1992, Roberts dined at the former Casa Restaurant and "was charmed half out of my wits because it was so beautiful." That evening she went to the theater and former owner Danny Perkins was on-stage making an announcement. As he walked up the aisle, everyone clapped. That was unusual, said Roberts. Then they clapped at the end of the movie and she knew she was somewhere special.
As she's heard other newcomers say, she felt like she'd come home.
Roberts said she's been asking lately what it is about Paonia that has kept her here through the years. "What is it that's laid the foundation for this sense of community?"
Those thoughts led her back to the early days of Paonia, the Bear and Poulos families and others who arrived in the area long ago. They set the stage for what Paonia is today. "I want to just take a few moments to acknowledge the history, the legacy of this community that's made it so special for us to live here."
They passed that legacy on, and now, she said, "is our responsibility to, guess what? pass it on, because it didn't just happen."
Foster said the lights have gone off in thousands of small- town theaters across the country, but the Paradise remains. "I gotta appreciate everything that's happened on this stage," said Foster. "But wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet."