Paramount to light up Austin

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Precision Signs technicians are making history.

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Precision Signs technicians are making history.

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They are creating and assembling the marquee for the historic Paramount Theatre building at the intersection of 4th Avenue and 1st Street Northeast in Austin.

They are literally putting the "lights" into a movie palace where lights, cameras and action once attracted moviegoers.

And, Austinites and others can see the fruits of their labors this summer; possibly as early as the SPAMTOWN USA Festival July 4-8.

"We like a good challenge," said Jon Boyer, owner and manager of Precision Signs. "and this was it. This is one of the largest sign projects of this kind that we have undertaken."

Precision Signs became involved a year ago, when owner Jon Boyer approached the Paramount restoration project’s overseers about undertaking the challenge to recreate the marquee that dazzled audiences for decades.

Through the generosity of Virginia Wilder, money was available to have a new marquee constructed, and Precision Signs was awarded a contract to do the work.

The marquee is 20 ft. long and juts from the building by10 feet over the sidewalk and rises nine feet into the nighttime skies.

There is one big "P" on the marquee, plus the word "Paramount" and over 1,240 11-watt bulbs illuminate the sign with a brilliance unseen in Austin since the original.

The lights are "chasing" or sequential and lend the image of moving from the apex of the marquee to the farthest edges.

The colors are cream and sandstone red and the same green used on the theater’s interior.

Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, every pain-staking effort had to be taken to ensure the marquee’s authenticity.

That’s where historic photos from the Paramount Theatre archives came into use as well as the memory of Elliot Dubinsky, the retired Austin businessman who once worked in the theater as well as benefactor Wilder’s own recollections of the golden era in cinema in Austin.

"The new marquee is all aluminum, which means it will better-stand the elements and be preserved much longer than the original," said Boyer.

"There weren’t really any problems in designing a new marquee to match the old in every detail," he said. "We scanned the archive photos and then duplicated the original in every detail."

Because Precision Signs is an Underwriters Laboratory shop, both U.L. and national electrical code standards were used.

Jeremy Pedersen and Rey Veraza, Precision Signs technicians, put their skills to work, beginning last fall on the marquee project.

According to Tim Camerer, a master welder with special skills at "tig welding" was retained to affix the raised "Paramount" letters to their platform. The result is a seamless job of welding the letters to their base.

Ozzie Zrucky’s Car Nu Auto Body technicians were needed to paint the marquee and they delivered with an expert job, according to Boyer and Camerer.

A primer was first applied to the aluminum frame to adhere to the metal. Then three coats each of the red, sandstone and green colors were applied. On top of the base coats of paint, a clear coat was applied just like the clear coat paint used on classic collector vehicles.

"Actually, there weren’t many snags in the project," said Camerer. "There were always challenges to meet, but the project went along relatively smoothing considering all that had to be done."

Some parts of the marquee could be hung as early as July, but it is unlikely the entire marquee will be hung until later this summer.

Then, the under section’s hundreds of clear light bulbs in bright, white sections will be inserted.

Finally, the wiring will be checked and a switch thrown to turn on the dazzling display.

Precision Signs is also tackling the extraordinary signage for the much-anticipated SPAM Museum at Hormel Foods Corporation’s Corporate South office location along North Main Street.

Boyer and Camerer say the firm’s tender loving care goes into each project.

"They’re all special and we do our very best to meet the buyer’s expectations," said Boyer, "but a restoration project like this is special, because the Paramount Theatre means so much to everyone in Austin."

The Paramount Theatre opened in 1929 as a first-run movie house. Forty-six years later, April 30, 1975, it closed.

From 1977 to 1987, it was operated as a disco bar, teen club and finally a comedy club.

In 1988, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

The city, through the Austin Area Commission fort he Arts, became the building’s owner in 1992.

Then an ambitious fund-raising project was launched to restore the theater, inside and out, to its original splendor.

Much progress in the restoration has been made, but much more is needed.

When the theater marquee is in place and lit, maybe, people will see the possibilities.

"It’s a great looking building," said Boyer, "but to many people, that’s all it is on 4th Avenue Northeast."

"When the marquee is up and the lights are glowing, maybe they’ll see more," he said.

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at