An immigrant’s dream makes the famous Boyle Heights music venue flow with ‘Rhythm of the Body’

An immigrant’s dream makes the famous Boyle Heights music venue flow with ‘Rhythm of the Body’

The clock is about to strike 8, and as businesses along East César Chávez Avenue and Mott Street in Boyle Heights close their doors, streetlights illuminate the three-story red-brick building where the celebration has just begun.

Or, you might say, Paramount Hall relives the good times that caught fire eight decades ago.

Little by little, patchworks, swingers, volcano dancers, cumambiros and punks roam the neighborhood’s four corners to converge on the historic ballroom, where everyone from Benny Goodman to Stevie Wonder, Sonny and Cher to Da Prat and La Santa Cecilia lit up the night and filled the dance floor. A local rock band, cumbia band, Spanish-speaking pop artist or jazz quadruple can destroy a room at any moment.

The shepherds say that what is happening here cannot be described in words but must be felt in the “rhythm of the body”. But the dream of a Paramount revival would never have come true without immigrant boy Frank Acevedo, who grew up poor in the Rampart district of Los Angeles and yearns for more places where low-income youth can find a community resource center, educational annex and central Latino party—all of that. integrated into one.

Acevedo, 47, remembers when, in 1985, the city of Los Angeles demolished the only safe youth recreation space in the MacArthur Park neighborhood, when he was 11. Together, they sang hip-hop and showed off their break-dance moves. But when the owner sold the property, Acevedo and hundreds like him suddenly found themselves on the street.

Paramount Hall owner Frank Acevedo in a lobby with photos of Los Angeles bands playing at the venue dating back to the early 1950s.

(James Carbone/For The Times)

“From feeling like a wonderful kid, I was devastated by the closure of the center,” the Medellin, Colombia native recalls. “I was wondering, why close a health entertainment center and not a bar or liquor store?”

Since he took over the building that houses Paramount Hall in 2004, Acevedo has invested $800,000 and countless hours of work in it. The first signs of revival occurred on the first floor, where in 2010 the Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory opened, a nonprofit that offers free music lessons in guitar, piano, keyboards, trumpet, and DJ.

“We wanted to emulate the atmosphere of Radiotron, which was a place of inspiration that provided a sense of belonging and where people saw themselves as artists,” Acevedo said.

Later, the conservatory added services to enable young people and entire families to acquire and develop skills in radio production, podcasting, music, digital content creation and photography. Carmelita Ramirez Sanchez, the current director of the conservatory, said the conservatory has served about 8,000 students, many of them from juvenile detention centers in Los Angeles County.

“We feel it is important to work with this sector as well, because they are young people who are returning to society and they need to know that they have support,” Ramirez Sanchez said.

A man and woman studying a control panel and smiling.

Frank Acevedo scores it with Paramount Technical Director Irene Parisi.

(James Carbone/For The Times)

But the cornerstone of Acevedo’s dream was the restoration of Paramount Hall for new generations of music lovers. Even the partial pandemic-related shutdown between April 2020 and October 2021 hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm.

“I don’t want the history of Boyle Heights to go away,” Acevedo said.

The noise is back

On a recent night in Paramount, he started with the music collective La Junta, then joined a four-person band of Mexican, Japanese and Filipino heritage — Degruvme, Yukicito, Glenn Red, and Prescilla C. — who created a mix of tropical dance sounds.

Against a backdrop of flashing yellow lights, twinkling glasses and booming loudspeakers, Angel Beaches—daughter of Doris Montenegro of Mexican and Colombian group La Sonora Dynamite — drifted loudly onto the stage as dancers trotted across the original 1920s wooden floor.

Mauricio Perez, 28, a downtown Los Angeles resident wearing the pachuco style, admitted that he didn’t know until recently the old building’s past.

“One of my friends brought me here, and upon entering I fell in love with the place not only for its look, but also for its history,” said the electrician, who described himself as a lover of Chicano history.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Perez values ​​most about Paramount, which can house around 400 people, is the ethnic diversity of both its music and its clients.

“It’s hard to describe the atmosphere,” he said, wiping sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief. “The rhythm of the body tells you everything.”

As Angel Peaches wrapped up their group and Riverside’s El Santo Golpe group flooded the hall with jarocho-Garifuna from Cumbia, Maria Alvarez, 42, joined in singing at the top of her lungs. Alvarez, who has been a nanny since arriving in the United States two decades ago, praised projects like Paramount that preserve Boyle Heights’ cultural identity amid the onslaught of gentrification.

“We see investors building apartments that displace the poor. Rarely do we see investors creating non-profit organizations, restoring the past and re-establishing music culture,” she said, adjusting her tight black dress and Rita Hayworth-inspired hairstyle.

Vintage spirit fits Paramount. Her early incarnations in the 1920s included a stint as a guild of Jewish bakers. During the Great Depression, it turned into a kitchen for the poor, and when the economy began to recover in the late 1930s, it turned into a ballroom. Concerts began in 1939 with the Count Basie Jazz Orchestra, the first time an all-black orchestra was allowed to play in Boyle Heights.

Entrance covered with party poster wallpaper.

The entrance to Paramount Hall is decorated with paperbacks with posters of bands performing at the venue.

(James Carbone/For The Times)

Over the next several decades, the building was rocked by the appearance of Benny Goodman. Don Tosti (best known for his song “Pachuco Boogie”); Little Julian Herrera, first Chicano R&B singer; and salsa giants like Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. The 1960s and 1970s brought Chicano music groups such as Cannibals, The Headhunters, and Thee Midniters, followed by the Los Illegals and Thee Undertakers in the 1980s.

Most of the local bands and their audiences are made up of low-income Latino youths, said Tony Valdez, a teenage boy in the early 1960s who served as head of ceremonies at Paramount before becoming a reporter for KTTV-TV 11. .

“The war started in Vietnam, and we all knew or knew someone who was recruited, killed or returned injured,” said Valdez, who grew up in the Estrada Courts housing project. “So music was a way of escaping, of thinking there was hope.”

Ruben Funcahuatl Guevara, a former singer with the Apollo Brothers and the Gates and a longtime resident of Boyle Heights who helped Acevedo research into the building’s history, said he wasn’t sure who the Paramount Hotel owner was after his last concerts there in the 1980s. But he knows what it means to restore the club.

Guevara said, “Seeing all this diversity in the same room is a source of pride, because it shows Boyle Heights as a community that opens its hands to all immigrants and all people.”

The walls are full of legacy

Two events have demonstrated the dust removal of the Paramount. One was Acevedo’s parents who emigrated with their family from Colombia in 1976. The second was the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Neither Anseira Acevedo nor her husband, Jorge, could speak English when they arrived in Rampart. But their jobs as an aircraft factory mechanic have allowed them to support their three young sons: Jorge, 5; 1-year-old Brian and Frank, 2.

Although the couple’s budget was tight, they could not return to war-torn Colombia. In Los Angeles, they find a supportive community of Mexican, Salvadorian, and Guatemalan immigrants who share a love of music, dance, party and football.

While many friends got lost in gang life in Los Angeles, Acevedo maintained a straight path as an active Boy Scout from the age of 9 to 13. When Radiotron closed, he started DJ-ing and promoting rave parties.

“I wanted to represent the Latin community and to make sure I always provided them with a festive atmosphere,” he said.

His sense of purpose changed in April 1992 after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers for beating up black motorist Rodney King and setting fire to the city.

“I understood people’s frustration with the lack of justice, community services and police abuse of minorities,” Acevedo recalls. He participated in demonstrations and quit his job organizing music events to register at Glendale Community College while working as an office manager for a real estate investment company. In 1995, at the age of twenty-one, Acevedo started his own business, Rampart Properties, and in 2004 acquired Paramount, which was renamed Casa Grande.

It took years of structural repairs and improvements to get Paramount ready for its Instagram moment in August 2019. And as customers come in today, they’re curious about past head-up collages and autographed posters of the countless artists who have made their mark.

José Galván, who selects and reserves the musical talent for Paramount, is proud to offer a performance space for both established and emerging artists.

“There are many very talented Latin bands, but many places don’t give them the opportunity to introduce their music,” Galvan said.

Paramount’s opening sparked memories of those who sang there once, such as Chicano singer Little Willie J (Wilie Garcia). The day before, he and his band Thee Midniters could be heard pumping “Land of a Thousand Dances” — with the chorus of “naa, na, na, na naa” — from homes and cars across Los Angeles.

“There were some really good bands that played at Paramount in the ’60s,” said Willie J, 76, who grew up in what was then South Central Los Angeles. “The place was upscale, a five-star street, full of charm.”

For every song he performs, Willie J. On a dollar, at a time when the price of a hamburger was 15 cents.

“We ate at a restaurant called Largos Mitote near East L.A. College, and when we had more money we’d go to Vivian’s on Atlantic and Whittier Boulevard,” he said with a laugh.

Neighboring businesses are also relieved by the dance floor’s revival.

“People who live in Boyle Heights don’t need to go out for fun,” said Felix Gastelum, whose Felix The Cat Barber Shop, which is adjacent to the Paramount Inn, lives. “Places like Paramount bring in people from other cities, which exposes us to new clients.”

For Acevedo, the legacy he most desires to preserve is that of immigrants like himself who founded the place all those years ago.

“Now Paramount is shining again with new teams of all races,” he said. “Not only was a structure fixed, but a story as well.”

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