On 3rd Street in downtown Charlottesville is the old box office that a specific group of people were required to use if they wanted to get into the Paramount Theater to see the show. Back then, they were called colored people. They had their own ticket office, their own entrance, their own staircase leading to their own balcony.
This entrance is not as large as the main entrance, nor does it have the Paramount “blade” or the name of the current show. This is what it looked like on the East Main Street back in the day.
Mom and I took a historical tour of the Paramount on Tuesday. We learned that it was built in 1931, showed mostly movies (sometimes Vaudeville shows) until 1974 and then was closed for more than 30 years. When a group of Charlottesville citizens decided to renovate it in 1992 and managed to raise a lot of money to do that, the theater underwent a huge, lengthy facelift.
Thankfully, some of the original fixtures had been simply covered in plywood at some point. Removing the covering revealed original woodwork, plastering and art. This wall, for instance (think what you will of the artwork) is original.
So is this water fountain.
So is this lighted marker for Aisle 3.
So are the decorative cast iron supports at the end of each row of seats.
Downstairs on the walls of the hallway are the names and autographs of many of the famous acts to perform here since the theater re-opened in 2004, including Kenny Rogers,
The Oak Ridge Boys.
I love going to the Paramount for shows and concerts. Clearly a lot of work, time and thought went into its renovation. But as our guide suggested, the question of the 3rd Street entrance remains. Some people think it should be taken away because it brings back bad memories of a time when certain people were thought less of, indeed relegated to a lesser entrance, unallowed to mix, unallowed to be equal, much as the law said “separate but equal.” Other people think it’s a good reminder, a way to remember that this entrance is no longer used, that we have indeed made progress, imperfect and incomplete as it is.
What I want to know is: What do you think? Should this entrance remain part of the structure, part of the tour, part of the concrete evidence of a past we wish were different in so many ways? Or should it go away? How much of what we choose to keep, how much of what reminds us of the past, however painful, is good and necessary? And how are such things to be displayed and presented in our communities?