‘Phantom’ of the Fox Theatre dies

The “Phantom of the Fox” has died, the historic Fox Theatre said Thursday.

Joe Patten, 89, died at Emory University Hospital at Midtown Thursday. He was among family and friends, Vince Dollard, a spokesman for the family said.

RELATED: Public Memorial planned for Fox Theatre' caretaker Joe Patten

“Mr. Joe Patten, also known as the Phantom of the Fox Theater, entered into rest today surrounded by family and friends and listening to his favorite organ music,” Dollard wrote.

Patten lived in a renovated office space inside the Fox for more than 35 years.

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He spent his childhood in Lakeland, Fla., where he became fascinated with organs — something that proved useful to the Fox. In 1963, he talked the theater’s management into letting him recondition the pipe organ for free if they provided the materials.

Eleven years later, he was on staff as the Fox’s technical director. He formed Atlanta Landmarks as a nonprofit in 1974 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.

He lived quietly in a 3,640-square-foot apartment inside the Peachtree Street landmark since original lease, signed Dec. 28, 1979, which said he could live there rent-free for the rest of his life.

In 2010, the board voted to terminate that lease and offer the then 83-year-old a new deal.

The new lease said Patten could live there as long as he is “able” or until he needed around-the-clock care.

Patten had medical issues, but has contended he’s able to live alone in the space he’s called home for more than three decades.

After suffering a stroke two weeks ago, family members took Patten off life support, according to media reports.

Ken Double, president and chief executive of the American Theatre Organ Society, called Patten one of the most significant and influential people in the world of the pipe organ.

“A true trailblazer, his work in the 1960’s in bringing the great Moller organ back to life was inspirational to our movement across the country,” Double said. “That those beginnings with the organ helped generate his work toward saving the great theatre itself is testament to the man’s energy, dedication and foresight.”

The Fox Theatre posted a statement to it Twitter account saying they are deeply saddened by Patten’s passing.

“We offer our sincerest condolences to his family during this time,” the Fox Theatre wrote.

In an emailed statement, the theater called Patten a dedicated caretaker.

“We thank him for his service and recognize the significant role he played in preserving this beloved landmark,” the statement said. “Mr. Patten was a man of great character, and his legacy will endure as future generations experience the Fox Theatre for years to come.”

Private family services and a public memorial will be held at a time and location to be determined, Dollard said.

Anyone who wishes to sign the online guest book may do so here.

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