The landmark Fox Theatre, located across Peachtree Street from Hotel Indigo Atlanta Midtown, seems lifted from another time — and place. Commissioned by the Shriners to mimic a Moorish village with ribbon-strip brickwork, onion domes, elaborate arches and a single, grand minaret, the building opened on Christmas Day, 1929. The Fox became a theater during construction when the Shrinersran into financial trouble. William Fox, who owned a chain of more than 500 movie palaces, offered to lease the building as a theater while allowing the Shriners to continue their activities there.
Still considered the largest movie palace in the Southeast, the Fox is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers a mix of pop and rock acts and musical productions. The 4,665-seat auditorium over the decades has played host to the likes of Elvis, Prince, Bjork and Lady Gaga , plus big Broadway shows like The Lion King, Les Misérables and Rent. Claiming to be the only historical theater in the U.S. to retain a full-time, in-house restoration department, the Fox shares the stories behind its elaborate design via hour-long, guided tours offered three days a week. Here are some highlights:
Middle Eastern Flavor
From its front entrance, a 14-foot terrazzo arcade guides guests to a plush lobby filled with custom, original furnishings and tiled fountains inspired by those in Middle Eastern mosques — and some of the most unusual public restrooms you will find. The nearby Mezzanine Men’s Lounge, originally designed for smoking breaks during intermission, takes its tiled cues from a Moorish coffee house. The Mezzanine Ladies’ lounge, meanwhile, features an Egyptian Art Deco theme with a sunburst design surrounding the fireplace, bas relief panels of King Tut’s parents, Queen Nefertiti and Pharaoh Akhenaten, and a carpet depicting the Nile River.
On the lower level, the Ladies’ Lounge draws inspiration from a Turkish “harem,” or a gathering place for courtiers, while the Gentlemen’s Lounge is decked out in Egyptian Art Deco style — an aesthetic craze that came in response to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922. (Scan the walls of the theater and you may spy classical Egyptian symbols such as the scarab, the lotus and a hodgepodge of hieroglyphs, as well as a likeness of Ramses II.)
Setting the Stage
At 80 feet, the stage claims to be the widest in the country, yet it’s only 35 feet deep—creating an ideal scenario for panoramic productions. Surrounding it is the fantastical optical illusion of an Arabian courtyard: castellated walls, towers, turrets and a proscenium arch punctuated by lanterns added in the 1980s based upon original drawings, while replicas of original rugs adorn the sides.
The restored sequin and rhinestone stage curtain was commissioned by Eva Leo Fox, wife of the owner, who personally chose and collected the theater’s furnishings. Above is the Bedouin canopy — actually an acoustical plaster component that has been painted to look like canvas. But the ceiling is the real stunner, with its 96 stars created from low-wattage light bulbs paired with three-inch crystals. A pair of Kliegl projectors project clouds onto the ceiling, a journey across the “sky” that takes nearly two hours to complete.
The Phantom of the Fox
A favorite Atlanta legend concerns the Fox Theatre “phantom” — actually a former technical director named Joe Patten who faithfully restored the pipe organ in the 1960s and famously lived rent-free in an apartment above the Fox from 1979 until his death in 2016. This dedicated caretaker even saved the Fox from destruction by a pre-dawn electrical fire in 1996. The organ, dubbed the “Mighty Mo’,” is a 22-karat-gold-clad Moller Opus 5566 theater organ that is one of only 40 remaining in American theaters; it’s also the nation’s second largest (trumped only by that of Radio City Music Hall).
Lighting Up the Night
When your tour takes you into the vast expanse of the Egyptian Ballroom, look up. The Fox helped lead the way in the transition to electric lighting, mixing old-fashioned oil and gas lamps with an array of custom-crafted, electric-powered lights. You’ll find several original fixtures here; others have been donated to the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The tour will take you to several spaces that are available for private events, including the Grand Salon and Terrace. In early 2018, the Fox is set to unveil its newest space, the 10,000 square-foot Marquee Club—a glamorous lounge and rooftop terrace that’s sure to light up Midtown’s nightlife scene.