‘Phantom' misinformed, says Fox Theatre

The Fox Theatre, in a public letter issued today, told 83-year-old resident Joe Patten that the creation of a new lease is not an attempt to evict him from his apartment.

The letter, posted on the theater's Facebook page, says "It appears Joe has been misinformed by his advisors. To be clear -- Joe is welcome to live here at the Fox for as long as he is able."

At a 4 p.m. press conference, officials said they wanted to keep any new deal with Patten private, and have had an ongoing conversation with Patten about his home for a couple of years. They will deliver a new lease to Patten in the next few days.

Patten, known as the "Phantom of the Fox," did not sign the new lease the Fox Theatre's board drew up for him Monday and said he will likely be leaving his apartment in the historic theater.

Patten had been living in the apartment for 30 years and planned to remain there for the rest of his life. The Fox's board on Monday terminated that lease and offered him a new one  -- that said he could remain there rent-free until he needs round-the-clock care.

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"The thing is with Joe, for the last two years, we’ve had to make preparations for when he gets older. And so there needed to be some changes made to the lease," Fox spokeswoman Kristen Delaney told reporters after the closed board meeting. "He could live there for as long as he’s able, but we are not equipped to handle 24-7 elder care. We’re a theater, first and foremost."

Patten's attorney, Emmet Bondurant, told reporters he advised his client not to sign the new lease.

"He will not sign it, not now, not ever," Bondurant said.

This means Patten has 90 days to stay at his apartment -- after Fox's board gives him formal notice to vacate, Bondurant said.

"The 90-day clock will then run, and he will have to make formal arrangements," he said, calling the board's decision "high handed."

Patten came out of the Fox’s front office twice: once to tell his attorney that he had been removed from the meeting so the board could vote and then a second time, shortly after 7 p.m., to say that he would be moving out at some point.

He said he needed time to absorb the information and that he was angry.

"Saving the Fox was the worst mistake I ever made," Patten said. "I made a serious mistake in saving this building. It wasn't worth it."

“I’m out. I’m ready to leave now,” he said. “It’s really upsetting.”

Patten's sister and a friend then walked with him around the corner and through the gates to the entrance of his Ponce de Leon apartment.

His sister, Patti Patten-Carlen, said she was stunned at the board's decision.

"How could anybody do that to somebody who's 83?" Patten-Carlen said through tears.

Delaney said the new lease offered to Patten "prepares for the point in time he would need 24-7 care." It would be up to the board to decide that, she said.

Patten's attorney was not at the meeting with him. Bondurant was escorted out of the boardroom with a police officer shortly before the meeting was called to order at 5 p.m. Two attorneys for Fox's board remained at the meeting, according to reports.

"He has a right to be represented by counsel," said Bondurant, standing outside of the Fox Theatre.

The board said it was meeting to draw up a new lease for Patten, the man credited with twice saving the historic Fox Theatre.

He has lived quietly in a stately 3,640-square-foot apartment inside the Peachtree Street landmark for about three decades. His original lease, signed Dec. 28, 1979, says he can live there rent-free for the rest of his life.

Patten is a diabetic and spent time in the hospital and a rehabilitation center this summer. An hour after he returned home, he received a letter from the president of Atlanta Landmarks, the nonprofit that runs the Fox, suggesting he find a nursing home.

Officials at the Fox said there had been a misunderstanding and that the board wanted to create a new lease for Patten. He is not being evicted, a spokeswoman said last week.

Friends of Joe Patten began gathering outside the Fox Theatre to put "positive peer pressure" on officials to let the man known as the "Phantom of the Fox" stay in his longtime home.

Standing behind a hand-written placard that read "Save the Phantom of the Fox; Please don't make Joe go," Barry Graham said he hoped the group would allow Patten to stay inside the historic theater.

Graham, a friend of Patten's, organized a small protest in front of the theater.

"It’s like giving someone a lifetime achievement award and saying, ‘You did great, but since you’re getting really old ... ‘" Graham said about the board.

Bondurant said it would take a two-thirds vote of the board to break the current lease and draw up a new one.

"I will be shocked if two-thirds of the board will vote to kick Joe out of what has been his home for 30 years," Bondurant told the AJC before the meeting.

Patten spent his childhood in Lakeland, Fla. It was there that he became fascinated with organs -- something that proved useful to the Fox. He talked the theater’s management into letting him recondition the pipe organ for free if they provided the materials.

That was in 1963. Eleven years later, he was on staff as the Fox’s technical director. It was that same year -- 1974 -- that he formed Atlanta Landmarks as a nonprofit to oversee the Fox, which was in line to be demolished to make way for the former Southern Bell.

Patten, a lifelong bachelor, retired from his job as technical director in 2004. By then, he had renovated an old office for the Shriners -- who initially built the Fox to be their meeting place -- into a three-story showplace for his family's antiques, an organ and a player piano.

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