Just as you pass the Duquesne University Tamburitzans Building on the Boulevard of the Allies, the next building past the Tamburitzans has an elaborate arched doorway that bears the Paramount Pictures emblem. What was it or what is it? | You Had to Ask | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Just as you pass the Duquesne University Tamburitzans Building on the Boulevard of the Allies, the next building past the Tamburitzans has an elaborate arched doorway that bears the Paramount Pictures emblem. What was it or what is it?

Question submitted by: Chris Martin, Mount Lebanon

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I used to think this was some kind of Masonic symbol -- partly because I tend to drive past it so quickly, and partly because I harbor a deep conviction that the Tamburitzans are tied up with the Illuminati somehow.

 

 

But a few years ago I was set straight by Ed Blank, the movie critic for the Tribune-Review, which I also suspect is tied up with the Illuminati somehow. Blank, however, was around way back in the days of the Pittsburgh Press (though like all movie reviewers, his appearance remained unnaturally youthful ever since, on account of rarely seeing the sunlight). At one time, Blank told me, "Nearly all the major film companies used to have an office on the Boulevard of the Allies, and most had their own screening rooms there. MGM and Universal and Paramount had theirs up there, and Paramount was the last to close. It lasted well into the 1980s." Like everything else in Pittsburgh during that decade, the studios were closed up back then for cost-cutting reasons.

 

In a way, the Paramount emblem is a last vestige of the film industry as it was 100 years ago. From the outset, federal laws prohibited movie companies from handling their own distribution -- that would have been monopolistic, see. (Whereas today, we can enjoy a wide range of media offerings from companies as diverse as General Electric and Disney.) So in each major city arose a network of distributors frequently called "film exchanges," some under contract to a specific moviemaker -- don't ask why this wasn't monopolistic behavior -- and some buying from several sources.

 

By the start of the First World War, there were more than two dozen such distributors in Pittsburgh alone; one of them boasted the slogan that "WAR OR NO WAR -- A good program means good business." I think that may also have been the campaign slogan for Bush/Cheney this year.

 

Each distributor maintained its own warehouse of film for local movie houses to buy from, and therein lay the problem. Film catches fire easily, and of course the danger is that because of certain Supreme Court decisions, people are wary of shouting "fire" in crowded theaters. The danger in a warehouse, which could hold thousands of reels of film, would be even greater.

 

Originally, the film exchanges were located Downtown, particularly on Fourth Avenue. The street was often called "Film Row" for that reason. But it couldn't last, recounts "Days of Maximum Film at Minimum Price," Michael Aronson's graduate thesis on Pittsburgh's early film history. "The mounting hazard of a catastrophic fire ... drove the exchanges to build a series of fire-proof buildings on Forbes Avenue," Aronson writes. Specifically, they moved to the 1100 block of Forbes, outside of Downtown. The city's had a hard time showing movies in the Golden Triangle ever since.

 

Judging by listings in the Pittsburgh Moving Picture Bulletin -- a trade journal directed at the "men who spend the money" in the film business -- by the mid-1920s, over half the film exchanges had moved to Forbes. Not surprisingly, when the film exchanges relocated, a lot of other businesses followed them, and soon the area was a tiny Hollywood-over-the-Mon. It was a district that specialized not in making but in distributing films -- selling promotional tools and offering screening rooms for interested movie-house owners and, later, film critics.

 

As for the Illuminati, recent evidence suggests that, instead of meeting near Duquesne, they all have seats on UPMC's board of directors.

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