A History of the Atlanta Fox Theatre
Part Three
"Golden Years"
Midlife 1936-1970

By Hal Doby
Originally written, March 1996, last revision: February 14, 2014

As it was while the Yaarab Temple was in bankruptcy, that the Fox Theatre remained in operation during the entire debacle with the City of Atlanta. Lucas & Jenkins continued to operate the Fox during the nine months the Fox's ownership was in the City's hands. Once Mosque was left as the owner of the Fox Complex, the first thing it did was to see if Lucas & Jenkins would continue to operate the theater. As luck would have it, they were quite happy to do so. They signed a twenty-year lease on the auditorium for $2,500 a month, totalling $30,000 a year. On September 1, 1937, the Yaarab Temple signed a new lease that allowed the Temple to remain in the Fox for only the cost of the utilities they use. This allowed Mosque, Inc. to take a significant tax right-off as a "donation" to a non-profit organization. 

One of the bigger questions about the history of the Fox is that when the City of Atlanta returned the Fox to Mosque, Inc., what was done in order to pay the remainder of the $615,000 debt owed to the shareholders of the Theater Holding Company? There is no clear documentation that shows how this was handled. From my research, it would appear that Mosque, Inc. most likely issued shares of stock in the newly-formed company as a way to help pay off the members of Theater Holding Company. Shares of stock were issued to the THC members. I also imagine other shares were also sold to other investors. Since Mosque was profitable, some of the money earned was used to pay off the shareholders that wanted their money back. Other shareholders were free to trade or sell the shares they were issued as they pleased. This would go far to explain how Mosque, Inc. continued to exist in some form and was the listed owner of the Fox Complex until it was sold to Southern Bell in 1974.

Another part of the puzzle is that the City of Atlanta "owned" the Fox for approximately eight and a half months before it was turned back over to Mosque, Inc. We do not know if any of the bonds the city was going to issue for the $615,000 purchase of the Fox were issued by the City.

The only trace of some form of city entanglement with Mosque that I know of was an agreement that the City of Atlanta and Mosque had an arrangement with the Fox that it could use the auditorium with a reasonable amount of notice served. This agreement supposedly remained in place right up to 1974 when Mosque finally sold the Fox to Southern Bell. This odd arrangement, considering the City owned the much-larger Municipal Auditorium, indicates to me that Mosque was in debt to the City of Atlanta for something. That could have been some form of tax forgiveness or an arrangement to pay back-owed taxes, or perhaps the City did pay a portion of the $615,000 owed for the building, but it would apprear we may never know the exact reasons why.

Returning to 1936, Lucas & Jenkins were doing very well running the Fox Theatre ever since they first took over management of the auditorium in 1934. In 1939, they renamed their company the Georgia Theater Company (GTC). Paramount Studios became a partner and the company began operating other theaters around Atlanta and the Southeast. While I do not know when (or even if) Lucas and Jenkins began to purchase shares of Mosque, Inc, but it is about this time that I believe they (now through GTC) gained a majority share of Mosque, Inc and through that, control of the Fox Complex.

GTC needed office space to base its operations from. I feel because of their controling ownership of Mosque, Inc shares, the decision was made to base their headquarter offices inside the Fox Complex.  As this took place, the Yaarab Temple was told they could continue to operate out of the Fox rent free, but they had to move out of the desirable upper areas of the building and relocate into a portion of the 60+ rooms that were in the lower basement floors of the complex. The Potentate and Recorders Offices, the Grand Salon and the Spanish Room were then used as GTC offices.

I suppose I need to bring up the World Premiere of "Gone With The Wind" (GWTW) because it is such a huge event in the history of Atlanta. Many people do not understand why the film did not have its world premiere at the Atlanta Fox Theatre. Without question, the Fox was considered to be Atlanta's finest and largest movie theater. At the time, it could seat over 2,500 more patrons than the Loew's Grand. Not only that, but all the stars that had come to the premiere from Hollywood were staying accross the street from the Fox at the Georgian Terrace Hotel. Atlanta's Mayor, William B. Hartsfield, had heavily campaigned for the film to be premiered in Atlanta and he had strongly championed the film be shown at the Fox. But the reason GWTW premiered at the Loew's Grand is very simple. The film was a co-production of Selznick International Studios and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). MGM was owned by Loew's, Inc. and because that, it was dictated that any premiere had to be done at the flagship theater of the Loew's theater chain in whatever city the premiere was held. In Atlanta, that was the Loew's Grand.  While there were numerous GWTW premiere events that were held around the City of Atlanta, the Fox was not involved with any of them.

While World War II had begun overseas in 1938,  The United States had tried to maintain neutrality, but on December 7, 1941, the United States found itself declaring a State of War on the Japanese Empire and it's allies. To most Americans, the attack on Pearl Harbor came suddenly and without warning desptie fears of such an attack happening in the halls of government and the military. The attack prompted a massive surge of American patriotism, never before seen with long lines forming at military recruitment offices.

For those that did not or could not serve in the military, almost every aspect of life was touched by the war effort. Unlike, World War One, there was now radio and even live broadcasts from overseas carried by underwater cables that spanned the oceans. Theaters became more popular once more as people filled the halls not only for the latest newsreels from the battle fronts, but also to serve as excapes from the daily grind. The Fox did rather well during this period and it continually was doing its part for the war effort by promoting the sale of War Bonds and staging dances for both incoming and outgoing troops.

The Fox was successfully managed by GTC as it was with Lucas & Jenkins for well over a decade. In 1946, it was announced the Fox was going to have a major renovation that updated and modernize the interior and exterior of the Fox Complex. About this time, Trust Company Bank of Georgia issued shares of Mosque stock at five dollars each. It is speculated that this was done as an effort to help raise funds for the renovation project. An architect was hired and plans presented for the renovation. From what I have been told, those plans have been lost, so we do not know the exact scale of the plans, or what would have been changed.

It would appear that not enough funds were available to complete the entire project as envisioned. The exterior facade of the Fox recieved a light renocation to spruce up the outer appearance of the building.  One of the most visible changes was the Marquee was altered to have a white translucent background that used red translucent lettering. Another change was the addition of a large marquee stand located above the corner of Ponce and Peachtree that faced the Ponce Apartments that was used to display the current movie being shown in the auditorium. This was visible for many blocks down Peachtree Street coming north from the downtown district. The banquet hall was officially renamed the Egyptian Ballroom and continued to be the site of public dances and social affairs, but now these dances were being hosted by others than just Shriner musical units. A neon sign for The Egyptian Ballroom was installed above the Grand Staircase entranceway to the ballroom.

Parking had been an issue in Atlanta since the 1920s. Street parking regulations were haphazardly enforced around the city, and with an increasing number of Fox patrons driving to the theater to see movies, this had developed into a serious problem. Based on correspondence, it would appear that Lucas and Jenkins anticipated the ubiquity of the automobile in postwar Atlanta. Lucas and Jenkins began planning for a very large parking lot as early as late 1942. By the time of the planning renovation work in 1946, it would appear they purchased almost all of the land adjacent to the Fox Complex on the same block, framed by Peachtree Street, Kimball St/Ponce deLeon Ave, West Peachtree Street, and Third Street.

The photo above was taken on opening day of the parking lot on July 25, 1946. If you notice, there is an elevated area that runs along the side of the Fox  and in front of it, what looks to be an early Krystal hamburger restaurant on Peachtree Street.  The large white building in the middle of the picture was the parking lot's "office" building. There was a smaller entrance kiosk located behind the Fox Complex on Ponce deLeon Avenue, pictured below..

While the parking lot was referred to as the Fox Theatre Parking Lot, it was never intended to be for the exclusive use of Fox Patrons. Lucas and Jenkins recognized that the immediate area surrounding the Fox contained  many businesses as well as 2 other movie houses that were in need of convenient parking. By taking advantage of that need, the lot generated a good bit of income providing secure neighborhood parking for all of the Fox's neighbors.


A special demonstration took place in February 1947 when a helicopter from the Greyhound Skyways fleet (Of Greyhound Bus fame) landed in the Fox Theatre parking lot carrying Mayor Hartsfield, Mrs. Eugene Talmadge, and Mrs. Herman Talmadge on board as seen in the above picture. It was announced that Greyhound was planning daily scheduled helicopter flights from the airport to the Fox parking lot for easy access to downtown Atlanta and its environs, but it would appear this was the only time a helicopter ever landed at the Fox Parking Lot.

On November 12, 1946, the Fox hosted the World Premiere of what is most likely the most important and controversial film the Fox ever had the honor to premiere. The Atlanta Fox Theatre was chosen to host the premiere of Walt Disney's "Song of the South" that was being released by its partner, RKO studios (At that time, Disney was not in the film distribution business and released its films through RKO Studios). As it was in 1939 with Gone With the Wind, a huge amount of fanfare was generated for this telling of the Uncle Remus tales as told by Georgian native and Atlanta resident Joel Chandler Harris in newpaper articles and books he had written he had learned from former slaves during his youth.

As was Disney's tradition, he couldn't sit in the audience and watch the film for fear that his work would be a public flop. So after making a grand entrance with the film's actors, and giving an introduction speach before the film began, Disney quietly slipped out the stage door on Ponce deLeon and walked back to the Georgian Terrace Hotel across the street, where he nervously waited for the film to end. As the film drew towards its end, Disney made the walk back inside the Fox and to his delight, the film was a great success.  Later in 1947, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences bestowed an Oscar to the film for its best song, "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" which continues to be a popular children's song to this day.  

As a side note: Because of negative perceptions regarding slavery and the relationships between the races during and after the War Between the States, while this film has been released on home video in other parts of the world, it remains unavailable to the general American public. It now has the distinction of being the most requested film that has not been offered on home video in America. During the film's 60th anniversary in 2006, there was talk that Disney was finally willing to consider the movie's release to home video. It was thought it would be "politically correct" to release it, if Disney got a well-respected and prominent Black actor or actress such as Whoopie Goldberg, Morgan Freeman, or Bill Cosby to do a introduction video putting the story into historical context along with a more in-depth documentary further explaining the times and the film. Alas, nothing ever became of it and Song of the South remains "in the vault".

The Yaarab Temple continued to reside at the Fox trough the 1940s. Once the war was over and life began to finally return to normal, they began to look for other places to base their operations. The temple's financial standing recovered from its.Depression-era plummet, albeit never as it once was, and in 1948, the Temple purchased property about a mile from the Fox on Ponce DeLeon Avenue that was formerly the the home of the Standard Club (pictured below). The Standard Club is a social group that still exists as one of Atlanta's most prestigeous private social clubs. Once the Temple relocated into its new home, this ended the Yaarab Temple's 19 year involvement with the Fox Complex.

Meanwhile, shares of Mosque stock changed hands many times. This gave Mosque many share owners over the years, including Paramount Studios, which GTC had partnered with to exhibit their films. In the early days of the cinema industry, many people had complained and filed lawsuits against the big film studios claiming they were running illegal monopolies just as Thomas Edison had originally done. In 1944, the federal government decided to take back up the issue now that the depression was over and the War effort was nearly over. It took years for this to wind its way through the court system. In 1948 it was finally heard by the United States Supreme Court. In the summer of that year, their opinion was made known. The practice that was called "vertical Integration" was deemed by the court to indeed be an illegal monopoly. Their ruling is known as "The Paramount Decree" since the law suit named the Paramount Studios as the first of five studios listed in the complaint. .

In order to end the monpoly, the courts ruled that the studios had sell off their theater holdings in order to make them fully independent from the film studios. Because GTC was a partial owner of the Fox through its ownership of Mosque, Inc. stock along with Paramount Studios, GTC ironically could no longer operate the Fox Theatre. The only option was for Mosque, Inc. to lease the Fox auditorium to another film exhibitor. It took some time for the changes the court ordered to happen. In 1951, the Wilby - Kincey Service Organization was selected by Mosque to operate the Fox auditorium.

This was the same Mr. Wilby that unsuccessfully leased the Fox in 1932. Learning from that experience, Wilby had partnered with Kincey and that became a very successful partnership. They managed many theaters in Alabma, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. Wilby-Kincey Service Organization eventually became a part of the ABC Theater group and ABC eventually aquired a share of Mosque, Inc.

Mr. Noble Arnold was selected to be the General Manager of the Atlanta Fox. He was a prominent theater manager and known for his strict business sense. Arnold put in place a set of very strict rules and policies that forced the staff to keep the Fox in pristine condition. He was renowned for his white glove inspections. Even the basement service areas were kept "white glove" clean! Staff was required to wear spotless uniforms and comply with restaurant-grade levels of personal hygene. If you failed an inspection, you were sent home until you comply to the regulations imposed by Mr. Arnold.

By this time, the United States was in the Halcyon Post-WWII days of the 1950s. Everyone liked Ike (President Eisenhower) and thanks to the new Interstate freeway system being developed, people were moving out of the big cities and into what was being called the suburbs. A trend was developing that people would come into the city, do theirs jobs, then leave for home. They would no longer stay in the city to dine or to take in a movie or show. Small, box-like theaters began to appear in the shopping districts of the new suburbs along with drive-in theaters. To top it all off, there was the number-one villian of the movie theaters; Television.  

Television actually began broadcasting in the 1930s, prior to the beginning of World War II. Because of the war, television took a back seat until after the war and it did not begin to be  accepted until the beginning of the 1950s. Compared to what was to come, television sets were rather primitive and were massive while the actual television screen was very small, usually under 12" inches in diameter. They were housed in gigantic heavy wood cabinets and if there was one thing they were not, they were not cheap!  Once mass production took hold, prices began to drop to a point where it became affordable for the average home to buy a television set. For the longest time, it was big news when a delivery truck arrived at a neighbor's door with their new TV set.

During this period, Theater patronage was in decline and the Movie Industry became desperate to find ways to stem the tide and get people to return back to the Cinemas. In 1953, the motion picture industry as a whole began efforts to make going to the movies more of an event and give an experience to patrons they could not have at home.

Color films actually began well before silents films were replaced by talkies, but because of cost, the majority of films were still shot in black and white, leaving color film to big epic "Road Show" pictures. A concerted effort was made to produce more films in color than ever before since Color TV had yet to be developed. Stereo multi-track soundtracks began to be commonplace. Once again, multi-channel soundtracks had been tested for decades with the first public use being Walt Disney's "Fantasound" used in select theaters for the road show exhibition of "Fantasia".  Television had adopted a screen format that was similar to that used in motion pictures; nearly a 3:4 aspect ratio. Movie makers responded with new "widescreen" formats, the largest of all being Cinerama which needed a purpose-built cinema to be shown. Finally local exhibitors also began special promotions, the most popular was "Dish Night" where each patron recieved one piece of a dinner place setting. Each week, the exhibitor would offer a different item, so patrons would have to bring out the whole family for weeks on end in order to complete the table setting!

In 1953, The Fox received major renovation work in an attempt to improve the auditorium. The original orchestra seats were removed and replaced with thicker, wider, and more comfortable seats. It reduced the seating capaciaty of the Fox auditorium by about 800-900 seats. In order to do this, all the original seats had to first be removed, then the concrete floor resurfaced so the new seats could be properly set in the proper position. The original carpets were now over twenty four years old and quite worn. The original carpet had been custom made for the building with some carpet being unique to where they lay. The old carpet was replaced throughout with a single generic design that became known at the Fox as the "Paramount Swirl" design. When the Fox opened in 1929, there was no concessions offered inside the Fox. Later on a small stand (considering the size of the theater) was installed along side the right-hand side wall as you entered the auditorium's lobby. A very large circular concession stand was constructed in the center of the main lobby directly in front of the steps leading to the lower lounges.

A multi-channel audio system was added to the auditorium and a new curved "Cinemascope" wide screen replaced the much smaller flat original movie screen. One of the features of the Fox's auditorium has is its unusually wide stage. The stage measures about 95 feet from edge to edge and I have been told the curved Cinemascope screen was the largest in the Southeast, if not, the country! Taking into account the curvature of the screen, it measured from side to side over 100 feet! (Because of the curvature, this is how it fit within the 95 foot stage area.) The renovated auditorium debuted with the premeire showing of "The Robe" with much fanfare and rave reviews.

While the overall theater business saw a mild up-tick in ticket sales with all the "new and improved" features, the newness eventually wore off. As the 1950s ended and the 1960s began, overall cinema attendence at the movies went into a slow decline. The large movie palaces located in the cities downtown areas were especially hit hard. This presented a serious issue now that the movie Studio's "Vertical Integration" was no longer a factor. Prior to that, the film studios looked at their bottom line and as long as there was a profit, everything was fine. What losses the palaces were incurring were covered by the much-higher profits made by the new smaller suburban theaters. Because of the majesty and opulence of the old palaces, they were considered to be jewels and flagships of the operations. However, as the theater divisions were sold off, their new owners immediately looked for way to cut costs in order to increase profits. The Movie Palaces became a very easy target. Not only did they take large amounts of money to operate, they usually lost money that had to be made up by other theaters in the chain thanks to declining attendence. Since most of the movie palaces sat on large patches of dense urban real estate, the value of the ground they sat on was becoming more valuable than the actual theater and was now very much in demand. It was quite logical for the movie chains to sell off their movie palaces for a great deal of money. At its Zenith in the mid-1930s, there were over 5,000 movie palaces. By the mid-1960s, that was rediced down to a few hundred. No regard was given to the old Movie Palaces as important historical or architectural significance. A lot of theaters were torn down completely, while others had been built in buildings that housed other things such as offices. Some of those had the theater portion taken out and re-purposed into more offices or even parking decks.

Noble began a policy to show family-oriented movies, primarily films from Walt Disney Studios, in an effort to get people who grew up going to the Fox, to come back out to bring their children to see something special. The idea worked and the Fox was once again making money. While the other "in town" theaters were clearly in decline, Noble kept the Fox spruced up and immaculately clean, which did a lot to bring families back to the Fox.

When the Fox was built, the M.P. Moller Company of Maryland built what was the biggest theater organ in the world. It was also its last. It was so massive, a portion of a wall had to be knocked down in order to get the console out of the factory. It was constantly played during most performances once the Fox opened, but over time, problems developed with it playing certain notes. Accomplished organists were able to play the "Mighty Mo" by avoiding certain notes in certain keys, but by 1954, the Fox's Moller organ had fallen into such disrepair, it could no longer be played. In 1962, a man by the name of Joe Patten appeared at the Fox's doorstep. A native of Florida, Joe had moved to Atlanta to work as an engineer for Westinghouse. Two of his favorite past times were automobiles and theater organs. Patten was an active member of the Atlanta chapter of the American Theater Organ Society (ATOS), group dedicated to the preservation of theater organs throughout the country.

Mr. Patten and the ATOS wanted to make an offer to the Fox. The group wanted to tackle the Moller organ as a restoration project. They would donate their own time and some materials to repair the organ in return for the management of the Fox to purchase what other materials they needed to complete the restoration. Once the organ was repaired, the ATOS wanted access to the organ in order to hear it and to have meeting at the Fox when it was not exhibiting a movie. Noble Arnold immediately recognized what an incredible offer this was and instantly agreed to it.

Several ATOS members began the massive project, but it seems that the driving person behind the entire project was Joe Patten. because of the noise factor, most of the work had to be done when the theater was not showing a film. This usually meant there was a time window from about midnight to around 10am the next day that the ATOS could work. It took nine months of hard work including running miles of new wires from the console to the rest of the organ, but in November of 1963, the work was completed.

Bob Van Camp was a local Atlanta radio broadcaster that worked for WSB (AM) radio. He was also a very accomplished organist. After more than two decades of silence, Van Camp was to be the first to play the reborn Mighty Mo. However on the scheduled date of it's premiere, Novermber 22, 1963, earlier in the day, President John F. Kennedy had been assasinated. The concert was quickly cancelled in respect to the dead president and rescheduled for the Thanksgiving weekened. When the beautiful music poured out of the organ chambers as the Bob rode up playing the console, people cheered!!! Bob became the regular organist for the Fox and continued in that capacity until his death in the 1980s. Joe Patten continued his love affair relationship with the Fox organ and remained a staple at the Fox, caring for the organ. A few years after its restoration, Joe personally purchased a grand piano that could be played remotely via the Moller console. At his expense it was purchased, and removed from the Picadilly Theatre in Chicago. He had it transported to Atlanta where he installed at the Fox and integrated it into Moller organ system.

While Noble's family-friendly policies were a huge factor in the success of the Fox Theatre in the 1960s, another thing the Fox had going for it was it's location just outside the downtown distrtict. This was a serious issue for most in-town theaters because a lot of urban areas were getting a reputation of not being safe or family-friendly areas to visit, especially with young children. Admittedly, in some areas, this may have been true, but for the most part, I feel that was not the case for the downtown major theaters in Atlanta. The Fox's location also provided an additional benefit. It was outside the downtown district in what was now being called "Mid-Town". The area was more residential than business and was located in-between the downtown district and a new growing area of business locations that were forming along Peachtree from Fourteenth Street to the I-85 overpass. Where real estate was in high demand in the business districts, where the Fox sat, real estate was still readily available and relatively cheap. As an example, a parcel of property about the same size of the Fox itself was located two blocks away between Ponce deLeon and North Avenue with a house located on it called Ivy Hall. The property sold in the late 1970s for approximately $100,000.

In Atlanta, the destruction of the original downtown theaters did not begin until the 1960s. The Capitol was first to go as it was absorbed into what was the downtown Davison's department store. The Paramount went next, followed by the Roxy when it was torn down so the Peachtree Plaza Hotel could be built. The Loew's Grand was destroyed by fire in 1979 a few months after it was shuttered. Of the large Atlanta theaters, all that was left were the shuttered Rialto, the Erlanger, formerly known as Martin's Cinerama, with the Fox remaining as the only big theater in operation. Martin's Cinerama reopened in the 1980s as the Columbia but it was eventually shuttered then razed in 1996 just prior to the Olympics. The Rialto was eventually purchased by Georgia State University. After undergoing a major renovation it reopened as the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts. There were smaller and newer theaters in the immediate city limits, such as the twins "Coronet and Baronette" theaters located between the Fox and the Erlanger, but each one was eventually shuttered, then razed. The only theater to survive and remain open beside the Fox has been the Plaza Theater located a few miles down from the Fox on Ponce deLeon Ave. But that too has been a struggle to keep open.

In 1964, the Yaarab Temple's Shrine Mosque suffered a serious fire. The fire damage rendered the building a total loss. During the fire, a good amount of the Temple's records that included their files on the Fox Complex were heavily damaged or destroyed. This is one of the reasons we have such a large hole regarding the Fox in the historical record. A new Shrine Mosque was constructed on the same site which still stands todays and continues to serve the Temple's needs to this day. Unlike the Fox/Shrine Mosque, the new Mosque is much more "sedate" in its design although its design theme was kept in the Arabic/Morrish/Middle Eastern tradition. The entrance is topped with a large onion dome similar to that above the original main entrance to the Fox on Ponce deLeon Avenue.

Noble Arnold eventually decided to retire in 1970. At the time, he was the longest serving General Manager and most successful during the Fox's pre-Atlanta Landmark's ownership. His successors were George Deavours and then Mike Spirtous. Once Mr. Noble retired, his strict cleanliness policies were soon dropped and even the theater staff uniforms quickly dissappeared. Starting with Mr. Deavours, the Fox stopped showing family friendly films and began to show films more adult in  nature. Many were what  was termed exploitation films that usually emphasized some sexual allure or catered to what was referred to as the counter-culture. All these films were sub-standard films that were made on shoestring budgets. Attendence plummeted to near nothing. The Cinemascope screen was removed and replaced with a common flat screen. The balcony was closed off for use so it did not have to be cleaned or maintained in order to reduce costs.

The Fox was clearly in serious decline.

This concludes Part Three of our story. Please continue one to read Part Four ThreeThe Dark Days 1970-1979.

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