Designed in 1927 by Olliver J. Vinour and P. Thornton Marye of the local architectural firm, Marye and Alger.
It is only natural that Atlanta is the home of the South's finest theatre, the fabulous Fox. At the corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue stands this imposing cream brick structure of Moorish architecture. Its minarets and domes so completely dominate the scene that to view it is to be instantly whisked away, as if by magic carpet, to the Near East.
As originally conceived, the Fox was neither Fox nor theatre, but a headquarters for the Yaarab Temple of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (more commonly known as the Shiners). They had been planning a new home since 1916. By 1929, their dreams had grown so far out of touch with financial reality that the Shrine's directors were forced into a "marriage of convenience" with movie potentate William Fox. At the suggestion of Mr. Fox, the temple was modified to include both a movie auditorium and retail space.
The Theatre opened on December 25, 1929 just 18 months after laying the cornerstone with a matinee that was followed by the grand opening premiere gala that evening. Admission prices ranged from 15 to 75 cents.1
|Fox, Opening Day, 1929|
The Atlanta Fox Theatre has its own completely equipped emergency hospital on a lower level which is reported to have been the birthplace of at least one child. There are seven floors of dressing rooms backstage, each complete with toilet facilities and ranging in size from small single rooms for the "stars" to large dormitory rooms capable of accommodating as many as 50 from the chorus. On the seventh floor is also found a fully air-conditioned, soundproof rehearsal room, a broadcast studio, and a little theatre.
Three special power lines coming into the main power room, located three floors below street level, provide enough power to adequately light an entire city of 60,000. The massive stage lighting control board is fully automatic and its numerous effects can create any illusion ever attempted by the great Ziegfeld.
The stage floor, an enormous 128 x 36 feet, is divided into three sections, each on an elevator lift. Any one or all sections can be lowered 40 feet into the stage basement or raised four feet above footlight level. The giant CinemaScope screen requires a 35-horsepower motor to pull it into the fly loft. The 1846-seat cantilevered balcony is considered something unique in construction. A sound system of 45 speakers on the stage, ranging in size from tiny tweeters to five-foot-square woofers, is augmented by 36 additional speakers located throughout the auditorium. The orchestra pit, composed of two sections, each on an elevator lift, can seat a symphony of 150 pieces. The gold on the decorative molding is 14 karat leaf and that in the grand foyer alone is estimated to have cost $35,000.
The auditorium, comprising an area of 65,000 square feet, simulates a Moorish courtyard. Rising from each side of the courtyard is a huge stone wall with various sized windows which are barred against "intruders." Surmounting each wall is a complex of guard posts and battlement windows.
Entering the huge auditorium, an early reviewer for the Atlanta Journal described "a picturesque and almost disturbing grandeur beyond imagination. Visitors encounter an indoor Arabian courtyard with a sky full of flickering stars and magically drifting clouds; a spectacular striped canopy overhanging the balcony; stage curtains depicting mosques and Moorish rulers in hand sewn sequins and rhinestones."
The organ chambers are concealed in the walls as balconies with heavy gold leaf screens in typical Moorish style. The walls are connected in the front by a banistered bridge which is lighted by lanterns, the bridge forming the proscenium arch. Everywhere realism is carried to its ultimate. A concrete and steel "draped canopy" extending over the balcony appears to be made of tent cloth which has already won its first bout with mildew.
The interior was a masterpiece of trompe l'oeil; false beams, false balconies, false tents, ornate grillwork hiding air conditioning and heating ducts. Virtually every practical feature was disguised with artistic fantasy.Detailing and furnishing were equally ornate. Nothing - no space, no furniture, no hardware - escaped the gilt, the tile, the geometric design. Men's and Ladies' Lounges, broom closets, telephone booths were all emblazoned with intricate plaster, bronze and painted detail. Yet for all this seeming excess, The Fox retained a sense of tastefulness. As rich as it was in ornamentation, it never appeared overstated.
The atmospheric ceiling is an electrical phenomenon, the secret of its function closely guarded by the Fox management. Stars appear to twinkle in the midnight blue sky while soft white clouds drift slowly past. The effect is so startling that an orchestra conductor, appearing at the Fox for the first time, looked up briefly from his score and thought he was performing in an outdoor theatre. The automatic sunrise system is almost unbelievable. A timing device is employed to determine the interval between sunrise and sunset. At first, only a slight golden-pink glow is observed over the court wall. The glow increases in brilliance until the golden sun appears to be travelling diagonally across the auditorium, finally setting behind the overhead bridge in a manner befitting the most gorgeous natural sunset.
The Fox opened as the Great Depression began. After 125 weeks of talking pictures and elaborate stage entertainment, it declared bankruptcy. Revived after temporary city ownership, it scraped by during the 1930's.
In 1935 Arthur Lucas and William Jenkins, operators of regional theaters, form a partnership with Paramount Publix called Mosque Inc. They purchase the Fox for $725,000 and reposition it as a movie house. The theater gains firm footing for the first time since it opened.
Because of the expense of converting 1,100 theatres to sound equipment and the economic crisis of the early 1930s, Fox's empire crumbled. He declared bankruptcy in 1936 and his interests in the Fox Theater Corporation and Fox Film Studios were sold.
In 1939 the Georgia Theatre Company steps in to manage the facility. The banquet hall is renamed the Egyptian Ballroom and becomes the site of public functions, dances and social affairs.
|Fox Theater, 1940|
|March 13, 1956|
The Fox faced yet another threat: the relentless growth of metropolitan Atlanta. Almost sold and demolished to make way for Southern Bell's headquarters, it was rescued through the efforts of Atlanta Landmarks, Inc., a non-profit organization of interested, energetic and committed Atlantans. Their four-year "Save The Fox" fundraising campaign opened the hearts and purse strings of individuals and corporate donors.
Under Atlanta Landmarks' ownership, The Fox was once again put on a sound financial footing as a multi-purpose performing arts center.
A non-profit group saved the Fox from demolition and in 1975, the group began the lengthy process of restoring the theater. Reopening the theater as a peforming arts center, the Fox's financial situation is now much more sound.
In 1976, documents were submitted qualifying The Fox to be designated a National Historic Landmark.
Constant restoration and upkeep have kept the Fox looking new and have helped retain its status as a truly unique and magnificent theater. The Fox is reportedly the only major theater in the country to have a full-time restoration staff. They are also the only major theater to have 2 ballrooms attached in the orginal buidling (this is as it was on opening day in 1929).
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