Venue Spotlight: The Fox Theatre

 

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Image by Brilliance Photography

For tourists and Atlantans alike the Fox Theatre is a place of notoriety. It has lived through the changing landscape of this city: through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Civil Rights Movement, right to the Atlanta we know today. The history of The Fox, as it is colloquially known, is as rich as it strong.

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Image couresty of FoxTheatre.org

The Fox is more than just its 4,665 seat auditorium used for live performances of concerts, shows and plays. It is also home to the Egyptian Ballroom, which is large enough for 1,100 guests and perfect for private events as well as the Grand Salon and Outdoor Terrace, and the intimate 30 person Landmarks Lounge.

Contrary to popular belief, the Fox was not originally built to be a picture house. In 1927 an organization known as the Shriners of Atlanta, a subgroup of the Masons, held a competition for the design of their new headquarters. The competition was won by the architecture firm of Marye, Alger and Vinou. These men designed the building that we know as the Fox, filled with mosque-inspired onion domes, towers,  and horseshoe and lancet arches. Unfortunately, as building began on the headquarters, the group’s leaders realized the cost of building would be much more than their budget.  Since they could not manage the costs on their own, the Shriner leaders leased their building to movie magnate William Fox as part of his chain of movie palaces. his  financial backing the 250,000 square foot Fox Theatre was completed, with the crowning addition of “Mighty Mo”, the 3,622-pipe Möller organ that remains the largest Möller theatre organ in the world even today. On December 25, 1929 the Fox Theatre opened in true hollywood fashion, playing Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie!

The opening date was not even two months after the stock market crash, causing less than desirable circumstances for Fox and his theater. It closed because of bankruptcy just 125 weeks after its opening and remained so until the late 1930’s when a new corporation known as Mosque Inc.  acquired the building. Despite the growth of drive-in theaters, television and the suburbs throughout the 1940’s through early 1960’s the Fox continued to prosper even when its contemporaries could not because of Atlanta’s love for it.

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Photo from Robert Gordon’s “The King on the Road” Courtesy FECC/ThePurpleGang

However, as the 60’s drew to a close, movie palaces began to lose favor, and in 1974, the future of the Fox was again in danger, as Mosque Inc. close the Fox’s doors permanently, or so it seemed.  A large corporation tried to buy the lot and demolish the building in order to build a high rise headquarters. The “Save the Fox” campaign quickly emerged, led by high school students from the city, and a new non-profit called Atlanta Landmarks. The city’s first African American mayor, Maynard Jackson (1973), was needed to sign off on the demolition for the corporation. However, with childhood memories of entering through the “colored” door and only being allowed in the balcony in mind, he did not sign off on the destruction of the Fox, realizing the problem of racial prejudice could be overcome and the theater could continue to thrive. In fact the Fox Theatre became a National Historical Landmark in 1976.

Atlanta Landmarks bought the building and in 1979 it hosted a record breaking run of Broadway’s A Chorus Line.  Since then it has provided the stage for numerous plays, musicals, performances and movies. In the mid 1980’s the Fox fundraised more than $4 million for restorations of the theater, yielding the Fox we see today. At 85 years old, the Fabulous Fox Theatre is one of Atlanta’s most treasured landmarks.

 

 

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