The State Theatre, originally opened in 1935 at 719 Congress Avenue in the heart of downtown Austin, is a striking work of Art Deco architecture — and as the first theatre in the city purpose-built for screening movies, it’s also historically interesting. But its location, directly next door to the larger and grander Paramount Theatre, has arguably relegated the other theatre to second-fiddle status. Once the two venues merged back in 2000 to form the nonprofit Austin Theatre Alliance, the State Theatre was renamed Stateside at the Paramount, and despite having its own iconic sign and a separate facade the building is now generally considered part of the Paramount complex and rarely discussed as a distinct historic asset.
That could change in the near future, as the Austin Theatre Alliance ponders a renovation of both facilities by preservation-minded local architects Clayton Korte — and you might be surprised to learn that the development of the beautifully designed Hyatt Centric hotel tower next door was what prompted the push for restoring these structures, which doesn’t really track with the conventional wisdom on historic preservation but makes us very happy, since it’s an example of new architecture and old architecture playing well together and actually improving the city’s social environment through their mutual coexistence:
The development of a hotel project immediately next door to the theatre prompted a major renovation of the State Theatre and the first significant rehabilitation of the Paramount Theatre since 1979. According to leadership, the singular purpose of the renovation is to give the State Theatre a true reason for its existence; the theatre will serve as an incubator for future Paramount performers and be the entry point for audience segments not yet meaningfully engaged with the Austin Theatre Alliance world.
— Clayton Korte
Clayton Korte submitted a briefing on elements of the renovation plan for the State Theatre building to the Architectural Review Committee of Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission last week, so although some details of the plan have floated around for more than a year now, it appears the project is ready to seek its certificate of appropriateness from the city and move forward in the near future.
The renovation includes significantly greater seating and configuration flexibility with seated capacity targeted at 450 and full general admission capacity at almost 600. From a creative standpoint, it is a unique opportunity to re-introduce an 85-year-old building that has virtually no brand history or equity.
The building’s exterior is rehabilitated to better represent the original 1930s design and celebrate its existing marquee and blade signage. The divided light steel and glass infill references a historical photo from 1936. To meet current programmatic needs and code, two new ticketing windows are introduced along with a new pair of egress doors. A new rooftop deck allows for outdoor gathering and offers spectacular views of downtown Austin.
— Clayton Korte
The preliminary briefing presented to the committee outlines changes to the theatre building’s front facade, adding doors and windows at the street level that are more accurate to the original appearance of the structure based on a photo from 1936:
One of the other extremely appealing additions from this renovation is a rooftop lounge space providing a closer view of the State’s iconic neon sign:
Although efforts to preserve and update the theatre date back to the 1990s, it’s fascinating that the construction of a tower next door is explicitly what kicked off this latest push to modernize the facility and find a new audience. We’re obviously fans of the Paramount, but the State’s smaller-scale charm as one of the street’s few surviving Art Deco facades has always attracted our interest — so we don’t see any harm in letting this historic structure take the spotlight away from its neighbor for a minute.