Designated: Landmark Building Exterior
660 Peachtree Street, N.W.
The Fox Theatre is one of the best known and most unique structures in the city. Located on the northwest corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue, it dominates the broad intersection that includes the Georgian Terrace Hotel and the Ponce de Leon Apartments.
Designed in the Middle Eastern Revival style by the prominent local architectural firm of Marye, Alger and Vinour, it has been an entertainment magnet for Atlantans since its opening on Christmas Day, 1929.
As a movie palace, a theatre and as a monumental architectural achievement, this structure is justly deserving of its name, "The Fabulous Fox." The size of a city block, it was one of the largest theatres built during the height of the golden age of the movie palace.
The Fox was originally planned by the Yaarab Temple Building Company as a shriners mosque for use by the approximately 5,000 members of the Yaarab Temple of the Mystic Shrine. However, apparently at the suggestion of movie industry magnate William Fox, the temple was expanded into a plan that included several stores surrounding the periphery of the building and a theatre auditorium, all of which were to be leased. In these leased areas the shriners could maintain offices in the building and use the main auditorium for ceremonial and initiation purposes six times a year. The original design of the building had its entrance on Ponce de Leon with the great onion dome above; but, when the theatre and shop additions to the plans were made, the Peachtree Street side became the primary entrance. Revenue collected from the leased auditorium and stores was used to pay for the increased one and a half million dollar building expense. According to some sources, William Fox was to pay a rental fee of approximately three million dollars over a twenty year period. The final building and furnishing costs have been placed from two and one half million to five million dollars.
The design for the Fox was chosen from a group of six competing Atlanta architectural firms; the design submitted by the firm of Marye, Alger and Vinour was selected. The building was constructed in less than three years, from 1927 to 1929. It was a grand success, opening with a live, on-stage performance of "Beach Night" by Fanchon and Marco and their Sunkist beauties. But the Depression forced many of the shops to give up their leases and by June of 1932, the Fox, too, had closed its doors. A few months later it was auctioned off for $75,000. In 1935, Mosque Inc. was formed and bought the Fox. The owners changed over the years and in January of 1975, the Fox again was closed. The site was to be sold to Southern Bell, which planned to demolish the Fox for their new midtown office tower.
If any one event can claim to be the impetus for the beginning of preservation advocacy in Atlanta, the threatened demolition of the Fox is it. "Save the Fox" became the rallying cry, and the newly formed Atlanta Landmarks, Inc. did just that. Thanks to the efforts of thousands of Atlanta's citizens the Fox was bought, refurbished and re-opened.
Today the events that take place in the Fox have been expanded. The films and organ concerts continue. There is hope that if the Metropolitan Opera tours again, it will return to the Fox where it performed from 1947 to 1968. There are plays, ballets, parties, high school graduations and high-decibel, high-profit rock music concerts at the Fox.
Atlanta Landmarks continues an ongoing campaign to renovate the vast building, which is an extremely costly enterprise to maintain. The Fox continues to be the magical entertainment palace for new generations of Atlantans, as it had been for their grandparents.
THE FOX THEATRE
From the exterior, the Fox appears not as a single structure, but as a group of several buildings tied together on a city block by the continuity of its building material - the ribbons of creme and buff brick that accent and play against the broad surfaces of exterior walls, its towers and minarets. On the Ponce de Leon side, this originally planned front facade portion is flanked by two square towers with a copper onion dome in the center. Horseshoe and lancet arched windows pierce the brick surface. Here, as elsewhere, the exterior details of the building are predominantly the horizontal bands of creme and buff brick, used together with square and circular geometric brick designs along the fire stairs, tile work at the entrances, and castellated and dentiled motifs along the "cornice" edges of the building. To the left of the entrance is a gently descending exterior staircase - functionally placed for use as a fire escape from the main auditorium area. The Peachtree facade - the main theatre entrance side - is introduced at first glance by a marquee with two minarets that rise above the long interior entrance corridor with its small, ornate kiosk that serves as the theatre ticket booth. The theatre marquee has recently been restored and the message board updated. The theatre is being renovated and brought up to current code standards in a manner that is compatible with the existing design.
The main approach to the theatre on Peachtree Street is by the long terrazzo paved corridor, through the six pairs of minaret shaped glazed doors into the lobby area. Along the sides of this open corridor accessway are display cases and doors that lead to small offices, stores and on the left, to the Egyptian Ballroom, which for many years was the largest ballroom in Atlanta. This ballroom, with the kitchen that serves it, was originally planned to be used for ceremonial activities by the shriners. Again, all along the open corridor, the ceiling is paneled with varying colors of blue, red, and green on a beige field, which is reflected in the terrazzo floor beneath. A series of hanging, heavily filagreed fixtures lights this open hall.
The largest amount of interior space is, of course, devoted to the auditorium and stage area. Beside and behind the stage and in the catacomb-like basement space are, in a few areas, as many as four levels below the street level, and as many as seven levels above. This space is made up of dressing rooms (there are about thirty), workshops, originally a laundry-dry cleaners, wig room, tailor's room, paint shop, music library, librarian office, sound proof orchestra practice rooms, a small theatre for reviewing purposes, a fully equipped hospital room, as well as the mechanical and storage rooms which for the most part are behind the stage area.
The mechanical system alone is a tremendous operation. It includes a 100 line telephone system, a central vacuum system, a 375 ton air conditioning unit, gas and coal furnaces, an air circulation system, 3 power systems, as well as the intricate light and sound systems including most importantly the Moller organ. The electrical power originally came from three different generating plants so as to minimize the possibility of failure. When this system was installed in 1929, the electrical power serving the Fox was equal to that serving all of Greenville, S.C.
On the stage there are elevators capable of raising 100 persons standing side by side and two other elevators in the orchestra pit. The Moller organ also has its own elevator, which can raise it to stage level or lower it below the stage. This organ made by M. P. Moller Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, rivals the largest of organs, even today, in the U. S. Its system of pipes number over 3,500 and its console is indisputably the largest with 376 stops, four keyboards, and 42 ranks. The stops range from exotic animal sounds to thunder as well as a lengthy list of musical instruments including some two dozen percussion instruments. When this organ was restored in the 1970s, it took seven miles of cable to rewire it. The organ works on a wind pressure system. Its keyboard operates an electro magnetic switch which in turn will open or shut ducts that trigger the particular mechanism (drums, gongs, etc.) that produces the desired sound.
The main control panel for the stage curtain, lights and sounds is comparable in size to a large garage roof. There are over 400 rheostats, levers, dials and steering mechanisms that can produce, by the mere press of a button, a sunrise or sunset.
Originally clouds, sunset and sunrise effects were produced on the sky-like ceiling by a master brenograph machine, which, by the use of slides, spots, and various light effects, could simulate fire, rain and snow as well.
The architectural firm responsible for the design of the Fox Theatre had as its major partners P. Thornton Marye, Richard W. Alger, and Olivier J. Vinour. Vinour, the principal designer for the Fox project, was a native of Paris, France, and had studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. According to Mr. A. P. Almond (who assisted Mr. Vinour in researching the design), three large white leather bound books, one entitled Nubia and another Holy Land were the primary reference sources for the design. Another design reference source was the collection of postcards that Mr. Sam Cooper, a local architect, brought back from a world tour. Some fifty of these were borrowed by Vinour and used in his design scheme. Mr. Vinour's daughter, Lydia Miller, however, has been quoted as saying that not all of his ideas were derived from the sources mentioned above. In a letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Magazine she wrote:
Besides being an avid fan of the Carnegie Library, making ultimate use of it and any sources to which it gave him access, he used to scoop up anything that had a bearing on work he was doing at the time. His den was usually a disaster area! I have in my home today a print of a patio within the Alhambra that dates from the time he was working on the Fox.
In an interview in the Atlanta Journal Magazine of February 16, 1930, P. Thornton Marye also elaborated on the inspirations for the design:
The purpose was to retain the spirit of Islam throughout , and yet to use all types of Mohammedan architecture that might be seen by a pilgrim on his journey to Mecca, whether he came to the Holy City from the east, north or south. Thus the arcade entrance with shops on either side was designed after the fashion of a Persian bazaar.
Although the building is in no way a copy of any one Oriental structure it tries to embody the entire scope of Mohammedan Art.
The firm of Marye, Alger and Vinour produced one other important structure, the Southern Bell Building (AT & T Communications) on Ivy Street before the death of Mr. Marye in 1935.
Architectural Forum, May, 1930.
Atlanta Historical Bulletin, Vol. VII, No. 28, September, 1943.
Butcher, J., "The Fabulous Fox," Georgia Tech Engineer, January, 1957, p. 26.
City Builder, The, April 1930.
Hedgepath, William, "A Love Song to the Fabulous Fox," Georgia Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 3.
Macgregor, Elizabeth, "The Fox Theatre," National Register of Historic Places Property Information Form, 1974.
Stevens, Carole. Staff researcher of Courthouse records.
Stewart, Allen, The Technique, (Series of articles on the Fox) July 20, 1973, August 3, 1973, August 17, 1973.
Group I (3)
The proposed nomination of the Fox meets the above-referenced criteria for a Landmark Building or Site as set out in Section 16-20.004 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta.