Since 1928, Paonia's downtown movie theater has been an integral part of the town and the North Fork Valley community. Originally built after the Gayety theater burned down, the Paonia Theater opened Oct. 5, 1928. Now known as the Paradise Theatre, the community recently celebrated the 90th anniversary with a showing of the Paonia Theater's original premiere film, Charlie Chaplins' 1918 silent film, "A Dog's Life." An original musical score was written and performed by David Alderdice and friends.
The celebration also kicked off "How Do You Improve Paradise?" a capital campaign to upgrade the theatre. New seats? Better acoustics? A bigger dance floor? Yes, yes, and yes!
The eight-member board of directors for the nonprofit Friends of the Paradise Theatre wants the theater to remain an integral part of the community for the next 90 years. Paradise is more than just a movie theater. It's where community collaborations come together; a venue for concerts, theater and fashion shows; a fundraising space for nonprofits; a place of learning; and a cozy spot to ease the symptoms of cabin fever in the dead of winter. It also shows great movies, from first-runs to classics, and hosts three matinees a week.
"We just finished our historical assessment and the results are that we have some very immediate issues," said Paradise executive director Sunshine Knight. While it's structurally sound, repairs to the theatre's back wall are a top priority.
"You wouldn't have to be an architect or an engineer to walk down that alley and look at the wall and know that it needs a lot of work," said board president Philip Salembier. The "grand plan" for the non-load-bearing wall is to move it back 20 feet to accommodate a larger performance and dance floor, "because people in Paonia love to dance."
Because virtually everything has been replaced over the decades, "There's nothing historic about the inside of the building," said Salembier. However, the Friends want to restore the theatre front to its original classic movie theater look.
FOPT has already invested in upgrades including closed movie captioning and headphones for the hearing impaired, a new stage curtain. Early this year the electrical system a lighting were partially upgraded. A sound acoustics, lighting systems, new seats and a more efficient cooling system are the next priorities. In the next two to three years, the roof will also need replacing, added Salembier.
To complete these projects and more, the theatre needs both money and community investment. The Paradise is able to support its daily operating expenses through admissions, grants, sponsorships and concessions. With up to 65 percent of admission going to movie studio licensing fees, the concession stand is an important part of supporting the theatre. "Concessions is what keeps staff employed," said Knight.
While it has some capital funds, the Paradise doesn't enough for all the major improvements it needs and wants, said treasurer Judy Martin. "We need community investment," said Martin. "It's a community theater and we want to keep it that way and improve it so that people really enjoy the experience."
Community investment is why the Paradise is open today. In 2013, the Paonia Theater and thousands of theaters across the country were facing the high cost of converting from film to digital cinema technology and in jeopardy of closing. Through the "Take a Seat at Paradise" fundraising campaign, FOPT purchased the theater and upgraded to digital.
In 2015 the Delta County Board of County Commissioners declared The Paradise a Historic Landmark for the building's cultural and historical heritage.
Some theaters that converted have since closed, said Knight. "We are very fortunate, very fortunate, that the community is so supportive of the Paradise. With out that, We would have the same fate as those other theaters."
Last April, FOPT obtained a long-term fixed-rate mortgage backed by collateral support from Community Development funds and paid those investors back, with interest. "We had wonderful investors," said Martin. "Now we can focus on the theater."
There are several ways to support the Paradise, including tax-deductible one-time and monthly donations, on-screen advertising, theater rental, by on-line purchases through Amazon Smile (amazonsmile.com), and event sponsorships. A $25 membership fee to Club Paradiso includes a movie punch card, two bring-a-friend passes, and a movie poster.
While the Paradise doesn't focus on fundraisers, each January it raises some money through the Cabin Fever Film Series. This year's feature film, as selected by the all-volunteer eight-member movie committee, is "Green Book" (see trailer at www.tiff.net/tiff/green-book/), winner of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival's Grolsch People's Choice Award.
For more information, visit ParadiseofPaonia.com.