By Hal Doby
Originally written, March 1996, last revision: April 2, 2013
While the "Save the Fox" campaign was in full swing to pay off the Fox's mortgage, there were some restoration projects going on behind the scenes the public did not get to see for some time. Since the Fox's owner were primarily concentrated on it running as movie house, all of its maintenance was concentrating on that and keeping the auditorium and its attached public areas in decent shape. Little regard was given to the other areas of the Fox and as time progressed, those areas had become rather run down. The "public areas" of the Fox refers to the various rooms the public would have access to when they came to see an event at the Fox Complex. This not only included the auditorium, but the Grand Salon and Banquet Hall/Egyptian Ballroom. Like other rooms and areas in the complex, they were decorated with elaborate stencil work on the walls and ceilings when the Fox was built.
We have no idea when this happened, but according to legend, for some unknown reason, the house carpenter/maintenance man felt that it was best that he remove the stencils from the Fox and securely store them at his private residence. The legend goes on to say that the person's wife learned that her husband was cheating on her. In a fit of rage, she gathered all of his belongings, including the Fox stencils and burned them in a campfire in their front lawn.
Making stencils takes a considerable amount of time and considering the vast number of individual stencils in the Fox. its owners never allowed the staff to recreate what was lost. As time marched on and the existing stencilwork began to look shabby, it was decided that the best thing to do would be to paint over the stencils with a block of solid color. In the case of the Egyptian Ballroom, this was brown paint that went from the floor to about eight feet in height.
While a good series of photographs were taken of the Fox and its interior rooms just prior to its opening, all of these images were in black and white. To my knowledge there were no close-up detail shots of the walls. The only way to discover the exact size and coloration of the stencils that were painted over was to use solvents, scrapers, and heat guns to carefully remove the several layers of paint that had been built up in order to get down to the original stencils. As this worked progressed, the workers were able to get down to the stencil layer. Once there, careful tracings were made along with precise color matching. New stencils were then made in the Fox's workshop. Once the entire wall was cleared, a new base coat could be applied and then new stencil work could be placed on the wall. It took a number of years, but finally, the Fox's restoration staff created an entire set of stencils for every decoration in the Fox. The work on the walls in the Egyptian Ballroom took over a year to get the walls back to a presentable condition so the room could once again be used for public events.
Another interesting tidbit is when GTC began to use the Fox as its headquarters, the Grand Salon and Spanish Room areas were used as the company's corporate offices. In the Grand Salon, the stained glass sky light was removed and then office dividers were placed in the room. The Terazzo floor was drilled into so fasteners could be anchored to the office dividers. When Atlanta Landmarks took over the Fox, the original skylight was found sitting against the building on the retail's space roof. To everyone amazement, all but one small pane was intact.
GTC decided to do some modernization to the Spanish Room. They removed the tile from the Arcade entrance and glued down a very cheap grade of carpet directly to the concrete floor and stairs that led to the room. They put up cheap home paneling on the walls of the hallway and installed a drop ceiling with modern flourescent light fixtures. The floor of the Spanish Room was solid wood boards, so I imagine that if they used the same style of office dividers in the Spanish Room, they were secured by screws into the wood floor. I was involved in removing the carpet, ceiling, and paneling from the hallway, then lent a hand painting the Spanish Room walls from a stark white to an orange-ish color that was popular in the 1970s. Later on, Rick Flinn repainted the room a more pleasing color and re-worked the entrance hallway into something more appropriate for a room that could be rented. When the room was re-purposed in 1988, the entranceway was completely revised, complete with a new set of double doors.
To everyone's surprise, not only was the money raised to pay off the Fox's mortgage six months early, there was actually a surplus that could be re-invested back into the Fox to begin work on repairs and other restoration needs. From the beginning of Atlanta Landmark's ownership until the mortgage was paid off, only the most essential work and as much volunteer work and donations was used as possible. But once the number one priority had been accomplished, the work of truly restoring the Fox back to how it was on opening day, 1929 could commence. Project by project, the Fox began to take on new life and vibrancy.
During the summer of 1978, Loew's Inc. made the decision to shutter its Atlanta flagship theater, the Loew's Grand, in the fall of that year. A month or two after it was shuttered, a very suspicious fire broke out in one of the closed business offices located above the auditorium. The fire ravaged the building, but to everyone's surprise, it had left the actual auditorium fairly intact. It and its projection room only suffered from smoke and water damage. Unfortunately, the building was so badly damaged structurally, the entire building had to be razed. This turned out to be a great opportunity for the Fox.
The Fox did not recieve many renovations or improvements since the major renovations performed in 1953. The Grand was the flagship of the Loew's theater chain in Atlanta and because of that, it continued to receive constant upgrades and improvements right up to before it was shuttered. The projection room housed a modern and highly desirable pair of Todd-AO DP65 film projectors. With funds left after the Fox's mortgage was paid off, Atlanta Landmarks arranged to purchase equipment and fittings it could use out of the Loew's Grand to better the Fox. This included extra auditiorium chairs, 125 of which are now located in the Gallery at the top right-hand side of the balcony. These chairs can easily be identified by the lack of ornate cast end caps on the ends of each row of seats.
In 1978 one of the most prestigeous performance events took place at the Fox. earlier that year, the Rolling Stones released their fourteenth (sixteenth in the US) album, entitled Some Girls. to promote the album, the group made plans to tour the world. In the United States, the group decided to do something quite different. Instead of playing all the huge venues that the group was now accustom to perfoming at, they decided that they wanted to also play in some of the more intimate venues they had heard about. One of those was the Atlanta Fox Theatre. The group's agent called local Atlanta concert producer Alex Cooley and when Alex was told the Rolling Stones wanted to play the Fox, he could not believe his ears. After telling their agent they "had to play a larger venue like the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium", the agent told him "I don't think you quite understand. The Stones WANT to play the Fox Theatre and if they are not able to do that, then they will not come to Atlanta".
All of a sudden, this became a very important event. One of the truly legendary bands that can sell out a venue with over 85,000 seats demanded to play a 4,500 seat theater. Cooley, despite knowing it would cost more to stage the event than it would make revenue, agreed to make the arrangements. The Fox was booked for June 12, 1978 under much secrecy. Because of the stir it would create knowing the Rolling Stones were to play the Fox, the band's name was kept secret and the booking was done under the false name of "The Cockroaches". On a Friday afternoon, Alex Cooley himself made the announcement that the Rolling Stones were to play the Fox. Tickets were to go on sale the next day at the Municipal Auditorium's box office. The line for the tickets formed immendiately and based on the number of people in line, the concert was sold out in under forty-five minutes.
The day came for the concert and the Fox had security like it had never seen before. The air was electric as Patti Smythe took to the stage as the opening act. Finally the Stones took the stage for a 90 minute performance that was truly magical. Afterwards, the Stones and the Fox Staff traveled across the street to the Agora Ballroom for an after-concert party. The Rolling Stones enjoyed themselves so much, they decided to return to the Fox for a second concert five years later in 1981. The conccert was booked for what was to be Ed Niess' first day as General Manager and as you can imagine, there was a major crisis. The Stones decided to stop in Savannah, Georgia to visit and site see. Bad weather developed between Savannah and Atlanta and they could not fly from city to city, so they had to come up via a rental bus. What was an hour's flight turned into a five hour bus ride and that delayed the show by about two hours, but finally they did arrive and they gave another stellar show.
One of Ed Niess' plans for the Fox was for it to self-promote itself for performance events. One of the first of these was a month-long run of "The King and I" with Yul Brynner in the lead role he created. Every performance was a sold-out event. It was truly unforgettable and made even more special because not long after, Mr. Bynner died of lung cancer, which made his time at that Fox one of his last performances, but you would have never known it.
In 1981 a volunteer restoration group was formed called Friends of the Fox (FOF), which I became a member of and eventually led. The group came about from a meeting with the Atlanta Women's Chamber of Commerce, Fine Arts Division Chair, Jo Ann White and the Fox's new General Manager, Ed Niess. The group of volunteers from all walks of life would meet monthly on a Saturday and undertake restoration and clerical projects to help the Fox Staff any way it could. It was placed under the direction of Rick Flinn, the Fox Restoration Director and operated for over ten years.
One of the first major projects that FOF undertook was working on the Arcade area. We first tackled the task of polishing the brass kiosk that stands at the entranceway of the Arcade. Myth claimed the kiosk came from France when actually it was made in Indiana and ordered out of a catalog! Regardless of its source, it was masterfully constructed of several types of brass that was intended to age in different tones or hues. Rick Flinn estimated that it had been well over thirty years since the kiosk may have been last cleaned and polished. It took several months of work with electric polishers and hand brushes to remove the dirt and grime away.
Later, we were back in the Arcade with heat guns, chemicals, and scraper blades removing layers of paint from the plasterwork on the walls and ceilings. By allowing us, the volunteers, to do this type of "grunt work", it carved the path for the more experienced and artistic house staff to come behind us and quickly complete a project. Another amazing project discovery we undertook was something that was my very first project at the Fox. Some of the hand rails were removed from the auditorium and FOF members were tasked with removing the layers of black paint that had been painted on to them. Joe Patten and Rick thought the rails had been painted black in order conceal damage from mis-use. But to our surprise, as each rail was stripped to bare wood, we could not find a single rail that had any significant damage. When they were returned back to service, the decision was made to return them back to a natural wood finish that was much better looking than the black laquer paint.
In 1981, one of the first major restoration projects to the auditorium and public areas was addressed. Back in 1953, the original carpets were worn out and replaced by a single carpet pattern called the "Paramount Swirl" by Fox Staff. While there were pictures of the original carpet, they all were in black and white. I believe in 1980, Joe Patten discovered an original swatch under a filing cabinet. From that, Rick Flinn was able to reconstruct the colors needed to create new carpets to replicate what was once there. That pattern was used in all of the auditorium isles, and all three lobby levels with a matching border. Different carpet patterns were used in the two ladies lounges along with a unique border. An Irish firm was selected to hand make the replacement carpet at a cost of nearly $250,000. Incredibly, a single contirbutor donated the full amount for the carpet. The carpet was almost fully installed in time for the world premiere of the Burt Reynold's film, "Sharky's Machine" in the fall of 1981.
Once the carpet was in place, we immediately noticed that the interior of the Fox was beginning to look much more vibrant and alive. The old dirty maroon and grey carpet had been given the theatre a very sad and run-down appearance. But now with it removed and a brand new carpet in place, the theatre was almost transformed overnight.
Over time, many of the store front "bays" were given some form of modification from how they looked back in 1929. A couple of the bay fronts were totally removed and changed for an Italian restaurant and a drug store. In 1982, with all but one of the bays empty, it was decided it was time to restore the bay fronts back to their original 1929 appearance. At the same time, it was decided that it was well past time for the Fox to have new and expanded offices to operate out of.Up to that point, you had to pound on the main doors of the lobby in the Arcade in order to get someone to let you in so you could go to the office that was located off the main lobby. Bay one on Ponce deLeon next to the grand entranceway was selected as the location of the new office entrance, At last, the Fox had a proper office entrance from the street with real office space for all its officers as well as a conference room to hold meetings in. These projects were funded in part by a $200,000 grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Fox was doing quite well under Ed Niess' managment. It was becoming one of a few theaters in the nation that became known for presenting not only performing arts, but very special events. In 1982, the Fox hosted a regional premiere of the musical "Annie", directed by John Huston. That same year, The Egyptian Ballroom provided the venue for a travelling artistic installation, "Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party. The Dinner Party is an installation artwork by feminist artist Judy Chicago that is a three sided table with multiple place settings representing 39 mythical and historical famous women. The Dinner Party debuted in 1979 as a collaborative effort. Subsequently, despite art world resistance, it toured to 16 venues in 6 countries on 3 continents to a viewing audience of 15 million. Since 2007 it has been on permanent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, New York.It's Atlanta presentation was funded in part by local feminist groups.In 1983, the Fox was host to a televised live Democratic Presidential Debate. It was moderated by John Chancellor and sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Later that same year, it once again hosted the regional premiere for the film "The Right Stuff". It brought out many celebrities and historical people of interest, including 3 of the original Mercury Astronauts and Chuck Yeager. With the Fox now acting as an omnibus theatre, it now found itself in direct competition with other venues vieing to host performances. In the beginning, the Fox seated about the same amount of people as the Atlanta Civic Center, The pecking order for the number of seats was:
The Fox was very close to the auditorium size of the Civic Center. They often found themselves in competition between themselves. Adding the 125 or so seats from the Loew's Grand helped the Fox, but not by that much. Being a National Historic Landmark meant that the Fox needs to be restored back to the way it was back in 1929. In 1953, the Fox's orchestra level seats were replaced with much larger units that reduced the orchestral seating capacity by about 500.
Before new ones were sourced, a search was performed to see if the originals still existed somewhere. It was possible that they could have found their way into another theater, auditorium, or even a church and might be re-aquired. Amazingly, the seats were found. Unfortunately, they were sitting in a pasture in a terrible state of decomposition and were not salvageable. Bids went out for exact copies to be made and as it turned out, the original manufacturer of the Fox's original seats were still in business. As luck had it, they made the lowest bid. But replacing the seats wasn't just a case of ordering news ones and bolting them in. When the original seats were removed, the concrete floor had to be re-worked in order to accommodate the configuration of the additional rows. In order to restore the auditorium back, that whole process had to be done once again. The process took over two months, but when it was done, the Fox could now seat over 5,000 patrons.
While the orchestra seats were replaced, the seats in the balcony were the original units but during the 1953 renovation, the seat upholstery was replaced with a material that matched that on the new seats. As the new replacement seats were being installed in the orchestra level, worked went seat by seat through the balcony and recovered each seat. As it was with the carpet, the seat upholstery was unique and extra material was made when the new lower seats were manufactured so the upstairs seats could be restored. (Please note, I do not know if the actual pattern on the seats is unique to the Atlanta Fox or was used in the other 4 Super-Foxes.)
In 1987, Bob Van Camp, the Fox's house organist retired from that position. Van Camp had served in that capacity since November 1963.
In 1986, the only major alteration to the public areas of the Fox auditorium was performed to the complex by incorporating the Shriner's musical rehersal hall, called the Spanish Room into the main concession area for the auditorium. The project took over a year to do and cost nearly a million dollars. It had to be done with much care and a great attention to detail. As the Fox was being saved, it was named a National Historical Landmark and with that designation, great care has to be taken to keep the structure as it was originally intended. Only vital changes that basically improve its structural integrity or safety are usually accepted and the building allowed to retain its historical designation. But the Fox is unique in that unlike most historical landmarks, the Fox continues to operated as an operating theater.
The problem the Fox faced was the large, round concession stand (that was not part of the original design) was in need of replacement. Not only was is causing damage to the Fox through leaking pipes, but it had become a huge creator to traffic congestion in the main lobby because of its size. Back when it was built in 1953 and through the rest of its life as a movie theater, the Fox was rarely sold out and patron foot traffic was not really an issue. Once the Fox was consistently having sold out shows on most occassions, traffic congrestion and noise was now a serious issue. The noise level was now starting to annoy patrons in the auditorium and that had to be addressed.
The solution was very ambitious. A portion of the wall between the lobby and the Spanish Room would be removed to allow access to the former Shrine musical unit rehersal area. In order to make this work, there were four individual rehearsal rooms and a small private hallway between the room and the auditorium. The hallway and rehersal rooms would be eliminated and that portion of the floor would be torn out and a new one built thirty-eight inches lower in order to match the lobby floor. Once completed, when you entered into this space, there would be a staircase to assend into the new concession area while an ADA hanidcapped-accessible ramp was constructed further down the new walkway. A series of individual windowed concession stands would line three of the walls in the Spanish Room. Three were built where restrooms once were and another where there was a pathway to a minor kitchen area. Along the outside wall, a new exterior wall would be constructed about six feet further out from the existing wall. Between the new and old walls would be the service area for three concession areas. On the new ouside wall, in addition to the new wall portion, the exterior exitways from the auditorium would be updated and improved. At the same time, one thing the Fox sorely needed was ADA-accessible restrooms on the main level. By taking up a portion of the areas in retail "bays" seven and eight, the lobby would finally have those much-needed restrooms.
It was truly ambitious and to our delight the board of review of National Historical Landmarks gave their approval to the plans. It took a little more than a year to be completed, but it was well worth the effort. Since the area was separated by a wall from the auditorium, the work took place for the longest time with the patrons in the auditorium unaware of what was going on. When the room was completed in 1988, it was dedicated to the Fox's most generous contributor back when the Fox was being saved, Ben Massell. He had personnally donated over $400,000 to the Fox during the Dark Days under the agreement that his donation reman anonymous. Rick Flinn took painstaking measures to make sure the renovation appeared to be original to the building. When it opened to the public, unless you knew what had been there, you would have been hard pressed to tell where the old ended and new began.
With the Spanish Room concessions in operation, the restoration crew and FOF both took delight in tearing out the old round concession stand. As luck would have it, there was enough of the new carpet left in storage that could cover the huge hole where the concession stand once sat. When all the work was completed and the carpet was in place, the lobby was a much-changed space. Although it remained a pretty busy place, the lobby was cleared of obstacles and people could easily walk about. During performances, the concessions could stay open and most conversations were kept in the Spanish Room.
Later in the decade, an elevator was built to give lift service to the Egyptian Ballroom and Grand Salon. Before that was put in place, you had to use the auditorium elevators to get up to the mezzanine area, but you still had to go up a small flight of stairs to gain access into the Grand Salon and Ballroom. Also, the restrooms were one floor above the ballroom and salon and thus had no ADA access. The new elevator was placed where there was a small office space that was once a small ballet studio. I believe it was once used as a coat room back when the Mosque area opened. As it was with the Spanish Room, the integration of the elevator was seemless and it looks like it was there since 1929.
During the 1980s, Friends of the Fox continued on doing various restoration and clerical projects at the Fox. In 1986, the Atlanta Women's Chamber of Commerce, Fine Arts Division, made the decision to end their association with Friends of the Fox. Their original intention was to help create the group and then allow it to become self-managed and it was felt that had been accomplished. Hal Doby was named the first non-Chamber officer to assume the Chairmanship of the group.
When the group was founded, it established a bank account and held a fundraising campaign so it could raise enough money that it could take care of its own needs. After gaining its independence from the WCOC, a review of FOF financial needs determined that the bank account had much more money in the account than the group actually needed. The group made the determination that the vast bulk of the money in the account should be donated to the Fox for its restoration needs. Thinking about this, the group made the decision that they would like to see the money go towards one of FOF's very first projects. We had spent months removing dirt and tarnish from the Kiosk in the arcade and once again, it was in need of cleaning. Thanks to new modern technologies that were not available when the Fox was built and through FOF's hard work years earlier, the Kiosk now could be easily professionally polished, then given a coat of clear polyurethane sealant that would stop the brass from tarnishing for many years to come, perhaps even decades. The cost of such work cost approximately $2,400, almost exactly what we were thinking of donating. Rick Flinn discussed our donation with Ed Niess and he agreed to what we were requesting.
Since its founding, FOF's membership grew to a peak of about 150 members. Over the next four years, the membership reduced down to a core membership of about 20 or so individuals. Of those remaining, the Fox chose to recognize those individuals by placing their name on seats in the auditorium as a way of thanking them for their service and our donation to polish the Kiosk. The seats are located in both the orchestra level as well as the balcony.
In late January of 1990, Bob Van Camp, the former Fox Organist, died. A memorial service for Bob was held in the Fox auditorium on February 5, 1990.
As time progressed and Fox became more profitable, it started to become more efficient for a permanent staff to perform all the various restoration and renovation jobs at the Fox. The restoration work FOF had been doing was now being done by the paid staff. Since FOF only met once a month, it was no longer reasonable for a project to take several months when Fox staff could do the same work in a bout a week's time. For a few years, FOF turned it efforts to help work on the Fox's massive archive collection. To that time, the archives were nothing more than a couple of spare rooms in the upper basement. They had become a repository for stuff people from time to time thought should be saved for future reference. FOF, along with a college intern, Fran Mulcahy, worked for quite a while attempting to bring structure to the chaos. During this time, Hal Doby stepped down as FOF Chairman and was replaced by Dr, Beth Ruddiman. FOF then began to perfom a bit of historical research by going to the Atlanta Public Library and spending hours looking over microfiche of Atlanta newspapers, looking for any mention of the Fox and what was going on inside it.
Rick Flinn decided to leave the Fox in 1992. He was directly responsible for most of the major work performed during the restoration of the Fox and his work has influeneced the on-going preservation of the Fox. While he could never be replaced, Mary Catharine-Martin joined the Fox, now as the Preservation Director. In time, she was replaced by the current Preservation Director, Molly Fortune, who has been in that position for well over ten years. Rick remains an honorary board member of Atlanta Landmarks.
When Rick Flinn left Fox, his sucessor, May Catharine-Martin, made the decision that FOF was no longer needed. The group was never officialy disbanded, rather all of Dr. Ruddiman's called to Ms. Martin were not returned. Friends of the Fox still exists to this day as a group of friends that gather on a regular basis for Saturday brunches to catch up with each other and talk about the Fox and what has gone on in their individual lives.
Another highly visible project took place in 1994. From looking at pictures of the Fox's marquee taken from the higher floors of the Georgian Terrace and Cox-Carlton hotels, the original marquee board was changed by using poles from above the marquee. Above the Arcade in the front of the building, there was an open terrace that was accessible from the Grand Banquet Hall/ Egyptian Ballroom, as well as via a walkway that led to another larger terrace in front of the Grand Salon. At the street end of this terrace, there was a small room the we believe was used to store the marquee lettering when they were not in use. On the street side of that room, there was a tiny door and ladder that led down to the top surface of the marquee. Men would lean over the sides of the marquee with their poles to remove and replace the marquee lettering. In 1946, the marquee was first replaced. It changed from, a dark backgound with lit-up lettering to a bright white back panel that used translucent red letters. The entire marquee was replaced at that time. The original marquee used standard incandescent bulbs that were placed in an artistic pattern to illuminate the space below it. The new marquee replaced those bulbs with a long row of exposed flourescent tubes.
I do not know why, but by the time Atlanta Landmarks took over the Fox, the only way the marquee was changed was by putting up a high rolling scaffold that had to be set up on the sidewalk, then moved onto Peachtree Street in order to change the front of the marquee. This proved to be a gigantic ordeal to do. When the Fox was showing movies, this had to be done a couple of times each month. Now that the Fox was an omnibus theatre, it was having many different shows each week, so the marquee had to be constantly changed. Not only was it a pain for the Fox staff, but it also caused traffic congestion as lanes of Peachtree Street had to be shut down when the marquee was changed.
Thanks to modern technology, the restoration staff wanted to replace the 1946 marquee with a modern electronic marquee. The lights were composed of tiny lights that were comptuer controlled and could not only display text, but graphics as well. As an added benefit, with the black background with white lights, the panels would somewhat replicate how the marquee looked in 1929! When the plan was presented to the City of Atlanta, it took some time to get the City to agree to the change. They contended that a modern marque when used with graphics, could present a distraction to traffic and potentially cause accidents. It took a while, but finally the City approved the change. A sign company in Lithonia, Georgia removed the iconic marquee with a new one in a very short time. It is now controlled by a remote computer so all the changes are performed in the comfort of the Fox offices. Several years later, the black and white panels were replaced with newer-technology that allow full color images and pictures to be displayed.Early on after Atlanta Landmarks took ownership of the Fox, in order to help reduce traffic in the lobby, a new second concession stand was built on the mezzanine level. As it was with the main lobby, traffic congestion began to become an issue on the mezzanine level towards the end of the 1990s. In order to improve the situation, it was decided to use the open space inside the hollow balcony structure so the concession stand could be recessed into the wall. At the same time a secondary concession stand was built under the staircase that led up to the Dress Circle area, between the stairs and the elevator. Things continued to thrive at the Fox until April 1996 when a fire, started by an electrical short in a ceiling junction box, broke out in the Fox's restaurant, "Adams at the Fox" on the Peachtree and Ponce corner. Thanks to Joe Patten living at the Fox, the fire was detected early. The Fire Department arrived quickly, but the fire grew to a four-alarm fire in a very short time. the Atlanta Fire Department valiantly fought the fire and was determined to prevent it from spreading into the auditorium. Firemen were placed in the auditorium with firehoses in case the fire did break through. Thanks to its original design, there was a solid brick wall that ran from the bottom basement floor right up to the Grand Salon that acted as a firewall between the auditorium and where the fire was raging. This ultimately prevented the fire from entering the auditorium. The damage was massive as it literally destroyed the front quarter of the building. Thanks to the hard work of the Atlanta Fire Department, the only damage to the auditorium was confined to smoke soot. There was a bit of water damage on the beams of the ceiling in the Spanish Room. With a lot of elbow grease and hard effort by the employees of the Fox, the auditorium was cleaned and open for business the very next day so Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat could open as scheduled.
In 2005, Edgar Neiss announced his retirement as General Manager of the Fox Theater after a 24 year tenure at the end of that year. Mr. Neiss has the distinction of being the longest-tenured GM of the Atlanta Fox, surpassing Arnold Noble's tenure of 19 years. It is without question that during Mr. Neiss' tenure, the Atlanta Fox enjoyed its most profitable and successful period of operation to date. After an extensive search process for Mr. Neiss's replacment, On March 20th, 2006 it was announced that Allan C. Vella, former general manager of Ford Park in Beaumont, Texas, would assume the position of General Manager of the Atlanta Fox Theatre effective July 1 when Ed Niess officially retired. Previously, Vella managed the Fox Theatre in Detroit for four years. Mr. Neiss, was retained by the Fox as a consultant for two years in order to help with the transition from his tenure to Mr. Vella's.
It was around this time that it was decided to carpet the Grand Salon and Egyptian Ballroom. Both rooms were designed with bare floors. Where the Salon had a Terazzo floor, the Ballroom had a wooden floor. Both floors with their reflective surfaces acted in such a way that they amplified any noise that was made in the room. When it opened, the Salon had smaller area rugs in it to help with noise reduction, but those were long gone. It was decided to cover the majority of both floors and a new custom made carpet for each room. Unlike the carpet in the auditorium that replaced what was an existing pattern, there was nothing to go by for these carpets. The preservation staff designed new patterns for each room that were meant to compliment the environment of each room.
In the summer of 2010 Joe Patten, then 83, was not properly in control of his Diabetes and this was beginning to cause health issues. He was found in "distress" by Fox staff members three times. On the third time, he found unconcious and was taken to Emory Midtown/Crawford Long Hospital where he was diagnosed as having suffered a very minor stroke. Fortunately, there were no lasting effects or complications, but as a precaution he was kept in healthcare for 20 days as a precaution.
For some time prior to his stroke, people the knew Joe had been calling the office to get people to check on Joe when they could not get him on the phone. This had turned into a serious nusance issue for the office staff. After Joe's stroke, the management staff of the Fox felt that Joe needed to be placed into a senior care living center. Both Joe's personal doctors as well as the hospital staff told Joe there since there was no damage to his mind or body, he could easily return to all of his activities, provided he take better care of monitoring his blood sugar levels.
During his hospital stay, Members of the Fox staff and the Landmarks Board visited Joe. One person claimed that they had gone to visit Joe and he was utterly incoherant. This person claimed Joe did not know what was going on, nor what had happened. They further claimed that they had spoken to an attending physician that stated Joe's mental and physical state was so bad, he could not return to his apartment at the Fox. None of these claims were ever proved and Joe and his sister Patti contended that Joe was always fully aware of what was going on. Patti was told by the hospital that none of their staff ever talked to anyone about Joe's condition, care, or prognosis. After these claimed were told to others, Atlanta Landmark officials told Joe he could not return to his apartment for fear of him being in need of more serious structured "elder care".Joe was determined to remain in his home. He refused to move from his home of over 31 years. When he did return to his apartment, he was immediately given a hand-delivered letter from the President of Atlanta Landmarks, "Woody" White, giving him formal notice him he had to move. In that letter, Mr. White openly stated that the Fox was in great need to use the area his apartment occupied.
On September 2nd, The Atlanta Landmarks Board held an emergency meeting to decide the fate of Joe and his apartment. Joe was not allowed to defend himself as he and his lawyer were removed from the meeting by police escort. A one-sided presentation was given to the board members in attendence. The person that made the claims of how bad Joe was and what the doctor's said testified to the board. Joe and his lawyer were never given an opportunity to refute these claims and the presentation was extremely one-sided.
There was a clause in the lease that stipulated how to handle Joe being evicted from the apartment due to health concerns. That clause stated that in order for this to happen, an independent trio of doctors had to examine Joe and review his medical history. Two of the three doctors had to give the opinon that Joe was not in good enough shape to continue living in his apartment. Throughout the whole ordeal, no one representing the Fox staff or Atlanta Landmarks attempted to speak with Joe's doctors about his condition.
Since no one bothered to to even attempt to invoke the panel review about Joe's health, the Landmarks Board elected to use a general termination clause that was in the lease as a "catch all" that allowed his eviction should a majority in attendence of a board meeting voted in favor to terminate the lease. This clause was put in the lease to cover any unforeseen issue that had not been thought off.
As an example, say Joe had married later in life, then died, leaving his wife as a widow. The lease would be transferred from Joe to his wife as matter of estate law. Since this apartment was a special grant to Joe himself in his continuing capacity of servitude to the Fox, it was not intended to be handed down to a wife and continue on as a private residence in perpretuity. Should that have occurred, the Board could have used this clause to terminate the lease and make some other arrangement with his widow.
Since the presentation was very one-sided with nothing allowed for
Joe's defense, the vote was infavor of Joe's lease being
terminated. Joe was
extremely heartbroken. He lamented while the television cameras
were recording him that he should have let the building burn
to the ground back in 1996. In place of the original lease, the
Board offered Joe a new alternative lease that would have
allowed him to live at the Fox with strict limitations that
efffectively confined him to his apartment. One of the more more
troublesome issues with this new lease was that
it allowed the
lease to be terminated at any time if that was the will of Atlanta
Joe Patten had previously retained Emmet Bondurant, a prominent Atlanta attorney to represent him in the battle to retain his home. Mr. Bondurant instructed Joe not to sign the new lease agreement. After a month of non-productive negotiations, Mr. Bondurant filed a law suit against the Fox Theatre and Atlanta Landmarks. In his filing, he contended that the termination of Joe's lease violated several federal and state laws that prevented handicap and age discrimination. He further claimed how the Board ignored the medical review clause had violated corporate law. Mr. Bondurant also filed for an immediate "emergency" injunction to nullify any eviction order and put back in place the original lease to prevent the Fox management to do anything that would further harm Joe or his apartment. On October 27th, The judge allowed the injunctions to be put in effect and ordered Atlanta Landmarks to enter into earnest negotiations with Joe and his lawyer to resolve the matter before a hearing date was scheduled.
In the Fall of 2011, it was announced that a private agreement had been reached that allowed Joe to continue living in his Fox apartment for the foreseeable future. The agreement was to be kept confidential as a private matter between Mr. Patten and the Fox, so very little of what the agreement states is known to the public. As of April, 2013, Joe still resides at the Fox and is in good health. He celebrated his 86th birthday in February and now is has a day time assistant to keep him company.
After this ordeal, I have personally spoken with two Board Members of Atlanta regarding Joe. They felt extremely bad about what happened and how Joe was treated. They claimed this got out of hand because they were given false information about Joe's health. For what it is worth, I do believe them and had Joe been allowed to have been proprerly defended at that emergency meeting, I think the outcome would have been much different.