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From palace to porn: Paris Adult Theatre closes, ending decades of Summer Avenue entertainment

A hardy survivor of the golden age of movie theaters that became a similarly distinctive relic of a bygone era of theatrical pornography, the Paris Adult Theatre on Summer Avenue has closed.

The closing marks the end of almost eight decades of greatly varied entertainment at the 2432 Summer address.

From a bowling alley to an “adult” theater 

A tribute to girlish innocence and fatherly devotion before it was a showplace for hardcore shenanigans and outré fetishism, the building opened in 1940 as the Luciann, a beautifully designed family neighborhood theater named for Lucy and Ann Cianciolo, the young daughters of the theater’s owner, Michael Cianciolo, an immigrant from Sicily. The “Luciann” name still can be seen in ornate cast-concrete letters above the Paris marquee, and in the terrazzo tile outside the now shuttered entrance.

In 1958, the Luciann evolved into a 16-lane bowling alley and then became a popular dance club, The Party, before transforming into Paris, an “adult” theater, in the early 1970s. Since then, the almost 1,600-square-foot brick building has occupied the space between Summer and Faxon like a disreputable party guest, a chain-link fence segregating its baleful influence from the ostensibly less dubious mission of the Memphis Light Gas Water customer service center next door.

With (understandably) no fanfare, the Paris closed Oct. 1, according to Josh Porter, director of special projects for Romantix Inc., the Denver-based company that operates 59 “adult boutiques” nationwide, including Memphis locations on East Brooks, Getwell and eastern Summer Avenue. Romantix had acquired the theater from the Paris Adult Group, the chain that originally bought it from Cianciolo. 

“It’s a shame, we really hated to lose it,” said Porter, who said he was aware of the storied history and architectural appeal that made the location “very unique” in the Romantix chain.

Although business at the Paris “was okay,” he said, “the reason we closed the store is that it was going to cost too much to renovate it, to bring it up to a reasonable standard.”

Said Porter: “It just needed some love, so to speak.”

“It was beautiful but it was not elaborate.”

Described by one Yelp reviewer as “a true smut palace,” the Paris was the city’s oldest operating movie “theater,” although its original auditorium — built to seat 1,014, or about 1,013 more people than are required in the typical peep show booth — had long since been parceled into private viewing rooms and shelf space. Inside, the establishment offered “lingerie – toys – games – lubricants – fetish gear” and other enticements, according to a sign still posted on an exterior wall, below a marquee reading “Paris Adult Entertainment Center” that continues to glow day and night with scattered light bulbs.

Memphis movie theater historian Vincent Astor, author of “Images of America: Memphis Movie Theatres,” said the Luciann “had the prettiest front of any neighborhood theater in Memphis.” 

“As a building, it was the best (neighborhood theater) ever built in Memphis,” Astor said, nothing the distinction between the smaller but still ambitious cinemas that served neighborhoods all over town and the grandiose movie “palaces” located Downtown. “It was beautiful but it was not elaborate.”

He said “a lot of the old Luciann” remains in the building, even though the original sloping floor had been flattened out when it became a bowling alley.

Michael Cianciolo, 73, the grandson of the original Michael Cianciolo who built the Luciann and such other theaters as the old Rosemary and the Plaza in Poplar Plaza, said he grew up behind the movie theater, which was managed by his father, Augustine Cianciolo. 

He said the Luciann specialized in “the Tarzan movies, the cowboy movies, the gangster movies — the stuff that everybody went to see. They would walk there from the neighborhood. There was no air conditioning at the time, so you would go to the movie theater so you could cool off. Dad would have a truck deliver blocks of ice every night, and they would put those under the stage, and the fans would blow it out over the audience. It was called ‘air-cooled.’”

When the Luciann was sold to the Paris chain, “Dad asked them to cover up the name ‘Luciann’ out of respect to my aunts, and they actually did do that for a while, they covered it with a giant piece of plywood. But a storm came along and blew it off and they never did put it back.”

“They put a time capsule in the east side of the building”

Even as it continued its metaphorical slide from grand dame of the golden age of movies to Summer Avenue streetwalker, the Paris continued to play a significant albeit minor role in Memphis-connected film history. Writer-director Ira Sachs, whose credits include “Love Is Strange” with John Lithgow, shot scenes for his 1996 debut, “The Delta,” inside the Paris; that same year, Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy rescued multiple film reels from a storage room at the back of the theater, in the process rediscovering the porn parody “Bat P***y,” which this past month made its Blu-ray debut via the American Genre Film Archive.

According to the Shelby County Assessor’s office, the Paris is owned by Edward Wedelstedt of Denver, identified in various media accounts as “Colorado’s porn king.” Whatever plans Romantix has for the building remain unknown, but Cianciolo hopes to find out. “They put a time capsule in the east side of the building,” he said. “I don’t know what’s in it, but knowing my dad, it’s something really special. So if they tear it down, I want to be there.”

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Malco Cinema applied for a building permit for work valued at $5 million to renovate the historic Powerhouse building on the grounds of Central Station.
The Commercial Appeal

 

Article source: http://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2017/12/13/paris-adult-theatre-closes/949007001/