The 'Fabulous' Fox Theatre and Atlanta, 1929-1975
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The Fox Theatre, currently one of Atlanta’s most prestigious performance venues and architectural icons, has stood at the corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue since its construction in 1929. Its fantastical aesthetic combines a monumental Arabesque exterior with various Middle Eastern interior decorative motifs. The opulence of the Fox was common to movie palaces around the country during their brief heyday in the 1920s. Relatively few of these palaces, however, have survived to become icons of their city like Atlanta’s “Fabulous” Fox. The Fox was originally conceived as a Shriners headquarters and community center, but spiraling construction costs forced the fraternal organization to lease the building’s auditorium to William Fox, which he would operate as a first-run movie theater. Economic troubles during the Great Depression bankrupted both William Fox and the Shriners, casting doubt over the future of the theater, but under new ownership and stable management in the mid-1930s it performed strongly. Both Atlanta and the Fox boomed during World War II, with the city assuming major military and industrial importance during wartime. Highlighting the importance of movies and theaters to the American war effort, the Fox served as Atlanta’s largest wartime community center. The war years served as the high watermark of the Fox’s success as a movie theater. During the postwar years, suburbanization sapped the vibrancy and vitality from central Atlanta, while at the same causing (along with organizational changes within the film industry) declining box office numbers at the Fox. Desegregation in the early 1960s precipitated further “white flight” from the city’s central core, and although the Fox was desegregated peacefully, middle class whites abandoned the theater by 1970. In its final years, the Fox and much of central Atlanta had fallen into serious neglect. A grassroots campaign to “Save the Fox” in 1975 saved the theater from the wrecking ball, the first such preservation effort in Atlanta. The successful campaign reflected both the importance of the theater to many Atlantans, and the perceived importance of restored theaters to a lively central city.