Fox Theatre’s namesake, ownership part of its storied history

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Fox Theatre’s namesake, ownership part of its storied history

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September 23, 2014 - Atlanta - Jeff Foxworthy (from left), Mayor Kasim Reed, Valerie Jackson, Jay Myers, and Allan Vella were speakers at the press conference. 40 years ago the preservationist movement began in Atlanta with the Save the Fox campaign. On Tuesday, The Fox announced a year of events to celebrate that movement, with Jeff Foxworthy serving as a special guest at the press conference in The Fox Theatre Egyptian Ballroom. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Q: We recently attended The Fox Theatre for the first time. The show was great! Who built the theatre? Who now owns it? How did it get the name Fox Theatre? Also, does it get state or federal operation funds and donations or does it operate only on its ticket sales?

—Allen Trent, Canton

A: The Fox’s history alone is fabulous, just like some of the plot lines of the shows performed there now.

The Atlanta theater’s namesake was movie mogul William Fox, but the structure was originally designed to be a headquarters, banquet hall and civic auditorium for Atlanta’s Yaarab Temple Shrine.

The Shriners organization began construction in the late 1920s on what became the beloved Peachtree Street venue for national Broadway tours, concerts, the ballet and other events.

To create a headquarters “befitting the group’s prominent social status,” according to foxtheatre.org, the Shriners looked to the soaring domes, minarets and ornate designs of ancient mosque-style temples for inspiration.

The costs of realizing the Shriners’ grand vision, however, were staggering.

Before the magnificent structure was complete, the Shriners leased it to Fox, who “had launched his empire by building theatres across the country to meet America’s insatiable affection for the new moving pictures that were sweeping the nation,” according to the Fox’s website.

He completed the 250,000-square-foot “movie palace,” which opened on Christmas Day 1929.

But in 1932, Fox and the theater, still owned by the Shriners’ Yaraab Temple, declared bankruptcy and the property was sold.

Decades later, in 1974, the Fox’s owners, Mosque Inc. , decided to close the theater.

Upset residents swooped in to save the Fox, raising $3 million in donations and forming Atlanta Landmarks, a nonprofit organization. It purchased the Fox in 1975, and in 1976, the venue was designated a National Historic Landmark, according to nps.gov.

Atlanta Landmarks, now named Fox Theatre Inc., continues to own and operate the Fox, which hosts more than 250 shows and half a million visitors annually, according to foxtheatre.org. Upcoming shows include “Matilda” and “Mamma Mia,” comedians such as Billy Crystal, Jeff Foxworthy and Chris Rock, and concerts with Soundgarden and Carlos Vives.

“While the Fox Theatre is a 501c3 nonprofit, we receive no outside funding and operate on revenue generated from ticket sales,” writes Jamie Vosmeier, the Fox’s senior director of sales and marketing.

If you’re new in town or have questions about this special place we call home, ask us! E-mail q&a@ajc.com or call 404-222-2002.

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