In 1967 the Paris took up residence in the old Capital Theatre, a 1920s movie palace that had seen better days. A year later the owners unveiled “Worcester’s first theater within a theater,” Paris Cinema 2, built on the balcony atop Paris Cinema 1. Although originally promising to offer foreign and art films, the Paris started to dabble in controversial films like the Swedish I Am Curious (Yellow) in 1969 and Oh! Calcutta! in 1972. Eventually the management rechristened the upstairs Paris Cinema 2 as the Adult Penthouse, screening Deep Throat in 1974 and then Behind the Green Door. Paris closed for the first time in 1977.
When the Paris reopened in June 1982, it adopted an adults-only format, showing X-rated films geared toward a heterosexual audience in Cinema 1 and “Adonis films” or gay pornography, in Cinema 2. Sitting right on the circuit of Salem, Myrtle, Portland, and Franklin, the Paris emerged as an important node on the Block. Cinema 2 with its gay films soon became a rendezvous point for anonymous and solo sex. From this point, the Paris Cinemas spiraled through a string of closings, code violations, and license restrictions. By 1989 the city required that to secure a license, the Paris had to patrol its viewing areas every twenty minutes to guard against “disorderly conduct.”
In March 2005 the Paris Cinema found itself caught up in the city’s larger urban revitalization agenda. Envisioning yet another downtown Worcester “renaissance,” city officials accused the cinema of “harboring illegal activity [such as drug dealing and prostitution] on the block that faces Worcester Common, in the shadow of City Hall, painting an ugly picture of downtown.” City Manager Michael V. O’Brien favored seeking “the best ‘market use’ for the property, considering the renovations of other buildings downtown,” which were bringing in millions of dollars of new investment. O’Brien authorized “a multidepartment attack on the theater” to force the owners to clean up or shut down.
After warning the management to curb illegal activities, in January 2005 the Worcester Police Department staged four stings at the Paris Cinema that resulted in the arrest of twenty men “allegedly engaging in sexual acts inside the theater, some in groups and others by themselves.” District Attorney John J. Conte then brought formal criminal and civil nuisance complaints in Superior Court against the cinema’s parent company, Can-Port Amusement Corporation, seeking to close the business “as an entity maintaining prostitution or acts of lewdness.” At the same time, the Department of Code Enforcement investigated the theater for building violations and necessary repairs, while the City Licensing Commission explored whether the Paris possessed the appropriate certification to operate. The commission’s chairman, Francis X. Sena, revoked the theater’s license to show X-rated movies, complaining, “Are we going to have a haven or sex mecca for deviants who come here?” And although Sena himself would resign in 2007 under a cloud of suspicion for alleged corruption and kickbacks, his view of the Paris Cinema as a blight on Worcester’s moral landscape was shared by many.