Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox History
Original Fox and Opening
On the evening of September 3, 1931, searchlights roamed the sky and the streets were jammed with 30,000 people celebrating Spokane's Golden Jubilee and the grand opening of the Theater.
Celebrities and movie stars greeted the crowd from the roof of the Theater before watching the world premiere of Merely Mary Ann on the big screen. Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor, stars of the film, were on hand, as were Anita Page, Will Rogers, and child star Rosemarie.
Built during the dark days of the Depression by Fox West Coast Theaters at a price of $1,000,000, the Theater was the largest in Spokane, at 2300 seats. Architect Robert Reamer, famous for his design of Yellowstone National Park's Old Faithful Inn, designed the Theater in the exuberant and modernistic Art Deco style.
Because the Theater was constructed during the transition between vaudeville and silent movies and the "talkies," the Theater was equipped with a full-height stage house, orchestra pit, and dressing rooms to accommodate a range of movies and live performances.
The Theater featured the most advanced movie technology of the day and was the first air-conditioned building in Spokane. The Theater was very proud of this distinction and had picture windows installed that overlooked the mechanical room so that passersby on the street could marvel at the oversized equipment.
The Theater is constructed of concrete and employs sleek modernity, while the flat surfaces and lack of ornamentation provide graceful simplicity. The local newspaper described the building as "the last word in beauty and efficiency."
Inside the Theater, fantastic murals created by Anthony Heinsbergen evolve from underwater floral patterns at the lobby level to landscapes of castles, rivers, and clouds on the mezzanine, culminating with a magnificent 60-foot wide sunburst that dominates the auditorium. Sunlight radiates across the ceiling and falls on a canopy of foliage representative of a forest under a starlit sky.
During its heyday, the Theater was the largest in Spokane, and besides its use as a movie theater, played host to countless stage performances, including Katharine Hepburn, in As You Like It, as well as Marian Anderson, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.
The Community Concerts subscription series brought performers such as Paderewski, Vladimir Horowitz, and Lily Pons to the stage.
From 1968-1974, the Spokane Symphony performed in the Theater as their principal venue, often rehearsing before the Sunday matinee began.
It was definitely the "Place to Go" for many years, but by the 1970s audiences had begun to move to the suburban movie theaters, and the Theater began a period of decline. In 1975, the balcony was divided into two small theaters, and the Theater became a triplex and entered a period of budget and second-run movies for the next twenty-five years. By 2000, the Theater, after being continuously open for nearly 70 years, was slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot.
Originally built in 1931 as a 2300-seat movie theater, Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox was fully renovated and reopened in November of 2007 and now seats approximately 1600 and serves as a mid-sized performance venue in the heart of the city. It is owned and operated by the Spokane Symphony and is the home of several other local performing arts organizations.
Mechanical, plumbing, electrical and ADA upgrades were essential to the Theater's new use as a performing arts venue. By reconfiguring the retail space that once ringed the building, the Theater gained much-needed space for additional dressing rooms, a staging area for catering, ticket office, storage, and an expanded lobby.
One of the Theater’s most stunning features is its intricate art deco wall murals and ceiling. Years of accumulated cigarette smoke and popcorn grease had obscured the original vibrant colors of the decorative painting throughout the Theater. In addition, many of the murals had been covered with red paint during an attempt to modernize the color scheme at some time in the recent past. Restoration of these priceless Art Deco murals was accomplished with the help of a Save America's Treasures grant.
The original hand-painted fire curtain was discovered in the Theater, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts aided in cleaning and restoring this magnificent piece of art.