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[photo] "The Fabulous Fox"
Photo of the arcade by Jody Cook; others by Michael Portman, courtesy of the Fox Theatre

The Fox Theatre is a premier example of the American movie palace. "The Fabulous Fox" is one of the most ornate movie palaces remaining in the country, and one of the largest (250,000 square feet) movie theaters ever built. It opened on Christmas Day, 1929, near the end of the golden age of the American movie palace. The Fox was not originally intended to be a movie theater. The building was originally planned and designed to be the new headquarters for the Shriners of Atlanta. This local group, the Yaarab Temple, included almost 5,000 members in the late 1920s. The formal name of the Shriners, a national fraternal organization that is a subgroup of the Masons, is the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.

In 1927, the Yaarab Temple held a design competition for their new headquarters building. A local architectural firm, Marye, Alger and Vinour, submitted the winning design, a flamboyant interpretation of a mosque with onion domes, towers, horsehoe and lancet arches, and a minaret. The Yaarab Temple Shriners loved the design because it followed the Arabic theme chosen to promote membership in the national Shriners organization, but they soon found out that the cost to build their new headquarters was more than their budget. The Yaarab Temple subsequently signed a lease to share the building with movie mogul William Fox, the president of the Fox Theater Corporation and the Fox Film Corporation. The deal called for Fox to lease the large, 5,000 seat auditorium planned for the Shriners' new mosque. The cornerstone was laid on June 14, 1928, and The Fox Theatre opened 18 months later on December 25, 1929. The Yaarab Temple dedicated their new mosque a week later on New Year's Day.

Historic postcard of the Fox Theatre
Courtesy of Jody Cook

The exterior of the building and most of the interior are based on historic Islamic architecture. Several interior spaces are based on historic Egyptian architecture, including the Egyptian Ballroom, the Yaarab Temple's former banquet hall and ballroom. Although the Fox has been classified as a variety of architectural styles, including Neo-Mideastern Eclectic, Neo-Mideastern Exotic, and Islamic Revival architecture, the Fox does not fit typical architectural style definitions because it is really fantasy architecture. It is a premier example of the movie palace architects' free-style approach to design. The Fox includes features and details borrowed from historic mosques constructed from the 10th to the 16th centuries all the way from southern Spain to north Africa, the Mideast, and northern India. Early 20th-century architectural critics called movie palaces like the Fox a "prostitution of architecture," but movie palace builders were not trying to build high-style examples of American architecture. They were trying to construct fantastic, romantic designs that would attract patrons to their movie theaters.

Because of the Great Depression, the Fox Theatre closed only 125 weeks after it opened. Members of the Yaarab Temple could not meet their pledges, and by 1932, William Fox was bankrupt. In December 1932, the mortgage was foreclosed and the theater did not get back on a sound financial footing until later in the 1930s. A new partnership called Mosque Inc. acquired The Fabulous Fox and it prospered as one of Atlanta's finest movie houses from the 1940s through the 1960s.

The Fox was a successful theater for longer than most American movie palaces which had to compete with suburban development, drive-in movies, and television in the 1950s. And the Fox survived longer than most, in large part because Atlanta loved the Fox. In addition to its exceptional architectural design, the Fox also houses the second largest theater organ in the world, a Moller organ affectionately known as "Mighty Mo," as well as its original period furniture collection, including sofas, chairs, vases, lighting fixtures, etc., collected by William Fox's wife Eve. By 1974, however, The Fox was an endangered property. A large corporation wanted the theater site on Peachtree Street for its new high-rise headquarters and tried to have the building razed before the property changed hands.

Uncharacteristically for Atlanta, a grass-roots campaign to "Save the Fox" quickly emerged, championed by a group of local high school students who picketed in front of the theater and attracted media attention at a critical time. Aided by the mayor, the city's new Urban Design Commission, and a new non-profit organization, Atlanta Landmarks, Inc., the campaign was a success. Atlanta Landmarks purchased the Fox in the summer of 1975 and paid the mortgage in 1978, shortly before the repayment deadline. Since that time, the Fox has been financially successful as a multi-purpose performing arts center, and Atlanta Landmarks has spent more than $20 million restoring, rehabilitating, and maintaining the huge building. The Fox Theatre was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

The Fox Theatre is located at 660 Peachtree St. NE in Atlanta. Tours of the theater are usually held Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 10:00am and on Saturday at 10:00am and 11:00am; there is a fee. However, due to production and performance schedules, tours are sometimes canceled. Please confirm tour availability with the Atlanta Preservation Center at 404-522-4345. For further information you can also visit the Fox Theatre website.

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