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.
"The Fabulous Fox"
Photo of the arcade by Jody Cook; others by Michael Portman,
courtesy of the Fox Theatre
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.
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.
Historic postcard of the Fox Theatre
Courtesy of Jody Cook
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
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