Ricker Foundation

Jay and Nancy Ricker receive a standing ovation after announcing their $500,000 donation to the Paramount Theatre that will pay off the theater's mortgage on Thursday.

ANDERSON — A donation by the Ricker family means the Paramount Theatre will no longer have a half-million dollar mortgage hanging over its head.

“The Ricker family certainly put an exclamation point on what we call the giving season,” said executive director Randy Hammel.

Jay and Nancy Ricker, who recently sold their gas station and convenience store business to Giant Eagle, announced they would donate $500,000 to the Paramount to pay off the 90-year-old theater’s restoration mortgage taken out nearly 30 years ago.

“The Paramount is kind of the culture of downtown, and it has had a mortgage for some time,” Jay Ricker said. “This donation should set the Paramount on a road to self-sustainability.”

The Paramount is just one of 12 remaining atmospheric theaters designed and build by legendary architect John Eberson.

The design was to give the illusion of a Spanish villa complete with wrought-iron gates, statues, a ceiling painted like a sky with stars that twinkled, and clouds projected onto the ceiling which slowly moved across the sky. Thousands of tiles in the original design of the lobby floor were set by hand and the terra cotta façade on the building facing was so detailed it merited its own blueprints, according to the theater’s website.

In 1989, with the theater facing demolition, a group of community members bought the building and embarked on a years-long restoration project totaling about $2.25 million — which the theater’s board has been paying on ever since.

Ricker donates $1 million to community

Wiping out the debt means the theater will save about $8,000 a month, according to Hammel, which frees up some money for additional programs and allows the theater’s board members to work on continuing to restore the historical building.

“Most of the money will go toward fixing things," he said. "This is a 90-year-old building and it requires constant upkeep and repairs.”

Russ Willis, president of the Board of Directors, said Thursday will stand as one of the most important days in the theater’s history.

“There are two major days for us," Willis said. "In 1929, when the theater first opened; 1989, when it reopened and was saved from the wrecking ball; and now I think there are three days after today.

“It’s the dawn of a new day,” he added.

Jim Ault, one of the guarantors of the mortgage, compared the Paramount Theatre’s restoration to a phoenix.

“It represents the spirit of this community, kind of like the phoenix rising up from the ashes, to help rebuild the community,” he said. “It’s not about a building. It's much more than a building — it’s a bit of history and a bit of class for the community.”

Though the donation helps to get the theater on a more stable foundation, Hammel said the $500,000 donation is just the beginning for what’s needed to return the theater to its former glory.

“One thing that could kill us is if people think we are all set," he said. "This is a 30-year-old loan and we have still got a lot to do.”

But that doesn’t diminish the support the Ricker family’s donation provides to the Paramount.

“We have lots of companies, organizations, agencies and individuals who give annually or monthly… these are people who love the arts and care about downtown,” he said. “I want to say a big thank you to the Rickers and to all the other people who continue to support the Paramount.”