Stefanie is a resident of Anderson and lives with her family in Edgewood. She serves as an Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Anderson University. In her spare time, she volunteers with the United Way of Madison County, Freedom Martial Arts and Fitness, and Madison Park Church of God.
The Paramount Theatre is a historic vaudeville venue.
When I came to Anderson University as a student, I had no idea that a majestic theatre stood right across the White River. The Paramount Theatre is a hidden gem of Anderson, Indiana, that many people never knew existed. Constructed in 1928 by John Eberson, the theatre was originally built for movies and vaudeville. Now, it’s one of only 12 atmospheric theatres that remain of Eberson’s original 155.
At the time the theatre opened in 1929, the Great Depression was center stage. So, Eberson was forced to downsize his plans. He originally designed a seven-story hotel and theatre with a ballroom, but he adapted and built the three-story theatre that still stands today.
Outside the theatre, the bright marquee glows on the brick-lined street, across from the Dickman Town Center. When there are events at The Paramount, you’ll often see patrons taking pictures outside the marquee in its broadway-style lights.
Enjoy an affordable, beautiful venue outside of Indianapolis.
Growing up near Indianapolis, I thought only capital cities built theatres with painted murals, velvet seating, and fancy architecture. But when I first walked inside The Paramount, I could only compare the interior to the likes of the Indiana Roof Ballroom. (The Ballroom in downtown Indianapolis was the location for my junior and senior proms!) Similarly, both places opened in the late 1920s and feature European landscapes from floor to ceiling.
When I attended my first event at The Paramount, I was unfamiliar with much of Anderson besides local shopping. So, I was surprised by how affordable the ticket price was compared to events in Indianapolis! Now, I’ve lived close to downtown Anderson for 15 years, and my family has quality entertainment right next door.
Admire a beautiful Spanish-style theatre restored to its full grandeur.
To say the theatre is unique would be an understatement. The Paramount was designed to look like a Spanish villa with wrought-iron gates and a ceiling painted like the sky. Looking up, you can see the stars twinkling and projected clouds slowly drifting across the ceiling. And the statues seen in the theatre today are all original. That includes their iconic statues of Hebe and Venus—one of only two statues of her that size in the world.
Like many historic atmospheric theatres across the country, The Paramount fell into financial troubles and closed down. But a group of people now called the Paramount Heritage Foundation took interest and helped it avoid the wrecking ball. Although a building of this grandeur demands a lot of care, the theatre has been a historic icon in Anderson since it reopened in 1995.
The Anderson Symphony Orchestra introduces your kids to classical music.
Each year, The Paramount hosts the Anderson Symphony Orchestra (ASO), conducted by Dr. Richard Sowers since 1989. Founded in 1967 by Anderson University, the ASO was originally just a group of local volunteers. Now, the symphony is made of talented professional musicians and singers.
The ASO has also featured opera, pop, and gospel singers that perform alongside them for special concerts. Many who are booked boast Anderson as their hometown or Anderson University as their alma mater.
A favorite event in the Anderson community is the ASO Halloween Pops Concert every other fall. Not only is the music Halloween-themed from movies, videos games, and pop culture, but the performers also dress in costumes! The conductor even comes out in different costumes throughout the night, such as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
And as a parent, I appreciate that they also play classics like Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s Night On Bald Mountain. Even though it’s a longer orchestra set, the kids were completely enthralled by the music, remembering some pieces from Fantasia. It also serves as a cultural experience to expose my kids to classical music!
Photo courtesy of Anderson Symphony Orchestra
Photo courtesy of Anderson Symphony Orchestra
Kids can experience music up-close and hands-on.
My kids love attending the Halloween concert because we all dress up in costume, and before the performance, there’s a musical petting zoo for the kids. The petting zoo brings in volunteers with different instruments to get kids interested in the fine arts. Our daughter, Ava, always enjoys the violin as her instrument of choice.
The volunteers help the kids navigate the instruments and ensure that everything is sterile for the next in line. Jackson thought it was fun to play the trumpet, which was a great chance for him to belt out a loud instrument away from home!
Kids can even join the ASO Kid’s Club to learn about the arts and attend all the shows for free. A family friend brings her kids to every performance, and they even help pass out the playbills to the guests. It’s an extra special perk for volunteers and kids club members!
Photo courtesy of Stefanie Leiter
And all of these events at The Paramount are accompanied by a historic pipe organ installed back in 1930. The Grande Page Pipe Organ is one of only three in the U.S. still at their original theatres. The Page organ was originally installed for entrance and exit music for theatre guests and singalongs.
Now, the organ has been restored and enlarged to a three-manual, 12-rank organ with 966 pipes. Because of its historical significance, the annual convention for the American Theatre Organ Society takes place at The Paramount. Our daughter especially loves the organ at performances because it reminds her of The Phantom of the Opera.
Experience special events from movie premieres to holiday celebrations.
Beyond its normal concerts and musicians, The Paramount also hosts comedians, speakers, and local events like ballets and talent shows. For movie buffs, the theatre screen stands at 40 feet by 20 feet, which is the second largest screen in Indiana. Movies are shown throughout the year with ladies’ nights out, holiday classics, and family-friendly features.
In 2006, the theatre hosted the local premiere of Hoodwinked!, a computer-animated film produced, directed, and written by Anderson University alums. As an alumna of Anderson University, it was a special night to be included for a movie premiere. After watching the movie, the film’s alums stuck around for a Q&A with students, creating a Hollywood-like experience for attendees.
For train enthusiasts, “The Davenport Express” model train exhibit has been on display on the second floor since 2009. Covering over 2,500 square feet, Larry T. Davenport’s display includes airports, the Davenport Christmas Village, and London landmarks. I grew up watching my own dad build a train display, and the amount of work it takes is underappreciated in these exhibits. Our son, Jackson, could watch the display for hours when he was a toddler. When he was three-years-old and we took him to his first event, he cried when we dragged him away from the display!
Visit Anderson for the Festival of Trees.
Another event worth the trip is the annual Festival of Trees, which kicks off the holiday season. More than 30 years ago, the Festival of Trees first made its annual debut for patrons. During the Festival in 2019, the ballroom was fully restored, including new windows, fresh paint, and new cornices.
With the pandemic in 2020, the Festival went virtual for the first time, but normally, dozens of Christmas trees are on display for people to view. Professionals and amateurs design themed trees for guests to purchase, including upside-down designs, plaid trees, Harry Potter themes, farmhouse designs, and even Grinch trees. The trees can auction for thousands of dollars, with all proceeds donated to the continued upkeep and restoration for The Paramount.
When Ava and Jackson were younger, they loved coming to the Festival to take pictures by the trees, eat breakfast with Santa, and see the puppy parade—where they were all dressed in special holiday costumes. Now, we always make sure to stop by for the train exhibit and view the trees on December’s First Friday event.
Photo courtesy of Stefanie Leiter
Photo courtesy of Stefanie Leiter
Explore downtown Anderson, a walkable city center.
If you are lucky enough to buy a ticket to a show on the first Friday of the month, you can arrive downtown early for the Anderson Art Walks. Local art venues have special hours on those days, including the A Town Center, Anderson Museum of Arts, and Park Place Arts. A Town Center also features outdoor movies during the summer, if you’re seeing a matinee at The Paramount and want to stick around town for more.
If you want to make a weekend out of your visit, Anderson’s Mainstage Theatre features live performances on the weekends from spring to late fall. Located just down the street from The Paramount, your visit can include a show at each venue. My family and I are season ticket holders at the Mainstage, regularly attending shows like Seussical the Musical, Into the Woods, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Spend a memorable night out in Anderson.
It’s a fun outing when we can park and walk the downtown area before shows with our kids. Because of its quaint setting, the kids love the opportunity to meet the cast of the show, which makes for a special night. And with more local eateries opening in the downtown area, it’s a perfect date night spot. My husband and I have participated in several First Fridays, with dinner and a show at The Paramount.
The Dickman Town Center across the street features park benches, picnic tables, interactive water fountains, a playground, and an outdoor stage if you want to enjoy the outdoors. Oakley Brothers Distillery, Kettle Top Brewhouse and Eatery, and Creatures of Habit Brewing Co. are all popular local destinations within walking distance of the theatre. And depending on the time of the show, you can bring the kids to nearby family-friendly local restaurants, including The Toast Cafe, Collective Roots Local Market and Cafe, Burro Loco, and Yosaku Hibachi Express.
The Paramount is a community space for families.
If your visit to The Paramount leaves you wanting more, there are two spaces open to the community for rental throughout the year.
The Hardacre Ballroom is a 6,000-square foot space with original hardwood floors and 1920s art deco design. The room often hosts community dances, proms, weddings, receptions, and festival events. The Marquee Room is a smaller space for meetings, banquets, and parties with a fireplace and beautiful Spanish villa theme. You can explore the theatre with a walking tour throughout the year, including a behind-the-scenes look at areas unavailable to the public.
Start new family traditions at The Paramount Theatre.
Within the walls of the ballrooms, The Paramount also presents nonprofit events to benefit families in the community. On a night during the Nutcracker ballet, the United Way of Madison County hosts an annual ballerina spa night for single moms and their children. Children and moms can receive free hair styling and manicures along with a variety of holiday crafts, a professional family picture, and lots of food.
Without the generosity of The Paramount, families in need would be unable to attend events on their own. I personally have attended the ballerina spa as a volunteer and can see the impact it has on families. In addition to the United Way event, another ballerina spa night is available for a fee each December. Girls can dress up like ballerinas and receive manicures, updos, and makeup before the show. And this is only one example of the generosity and partnership The Paramount partakes as a nonprofit in the city of Anderson!
With a lot of opportunities for date nights, ladies’ nights, and family outings, The Paramount is a great place to start new traditions! Just a short 30-minute drive from Indianapolis, downtown Anderson is a fresh spot for local arts and culture. Whether you’re looking for a weekend visit or a day trip to take in all we have to offer, The Paramount should be on your list!