Beginning in the early 1920s, the Famous Players-Laskey Film Company expanded as a result of the success of motion pictures and became known as Paramount Pictures. Balaban and Katz of Chicago merged with them, and in 1926 the groups opened the New York Paramount Theatre as its home base in Times Square. Almost always showing movies produced by Paramount Pictures, the company established theatres across the country. It continued building theatres into the early 1930s and developed standardized furnishings, management details and accessories.
When the Kankakee Paramount opened on April 11, 1931, the Mayor of Kankakee designated the ensuing week as "Paramount Week." At that time there were at least six other theatres in downtown Kankakee, but by the 1980s only two remained.
The owner of the Paramount building contacted Classic Cinemas, which purchased it in 1988. Although the building's interior was badly neglected over the years, the building was structurally sound and many of its art deco elements were still intact.
It took more than double the purchase price, but the Paramount was renovated and modernized in keeping with its heritage, and reopened on December 15, 1988. The lobby features the original poster cases topped by the "Publix Theatres" symbol, a trade name used by the entire Paramount circuit on everything from advertising to buttons on the ushers' uniforms. Ten plaster plaques are positioned around the upper portion of the lobby walls. Several are originals; three were recast during the renovation.
The reconstructed auditorium doors, with highly polished hardware and stained glass inserts lead to one of the largest halls in Kankakee. The auditorium is decorated in a style that is very typical of Paramount theatres with a cobalt blue ceiling and intricate geometric designs in green, red, gold and silver. All the painting was done by local painter and artisan Gary Reynolds.
The theatre was also redecorated throughout with new tile floors, new carpeting and a new candy counter. The marquee was restored. New projection equipment and new screens also were installed.
In the fall of 1990 four more screens were added to the theatre by building in the parking lot adjacent to the theatre, preserving the large, historic auditorium. The art deco style was carried into the new wing, and art deco lights were purchased from a theatre in Pennsylvania for the "new" auditoriums.
All auditoriums now feature digital sound using HPS 4000 Dolby Sound systems. In 1999 new theatre seats were installed in the main auditorium.
In March of 2009 Digital 3D was installed on two screens! In September of 2010 one more Digital 3D screen was installed, bring the total to three screens with Digital 3D capability.
On March 12, 2012 all auditoriums were updated with Enhanced 4K Digital Projection and Datasat Sound Processor.
Take a "Virtual Tour” of the Paramount Theatre (link will open a new browser window).