Mr. Fox's Neighborhood

Written by Hal Doby
April 2005, Last Updated February 2, 2013

The Yaarab Temple Mosque that became known as the Fox Theatre was built in the section of Metropolitan Atlanta that is now called Midtown. This area is located next to and north of Atlanta's Downtown business district. coming north on Peachtree Street. The Midtown District generally begins around Emory Midtown Hosptial, formerly called Crawford Long Hospital, and contiues just past Fourteenth Street. From along the Downtown Connector (the junction of I-75 and I-85) it travels east along Ponce de Leon Avenue, going towards Decatur and ends at the intersection of Moreland Avenue.

It was composed of a lot of small old businesses and many fashionable houses. During the time the Fox was built, it was considered to be Northern Suburban Atlanta. It was a fringe area that many considered to be outside the Downtown area and just far out enough to be within range to work in the city and live outside of it. In Midtown you would see a typical suburban setting with small businesses lining the main roads with the houses being a block or so down from. that on the smaller side streets.

As time marched forward, the area continued to grow and expanded into multiple suburban districts. A Peachtree Street became the major road that big business were built on as well as West Peachtree Street, Spring Street, Juniper Street, and Piedmont Avenue. Major Businesses eventually continued down Peachtree Street while Piedmont became more residential once it past Fourteenth Street.  If you continued on Peachtreet Street, past Fourteenth it continued on to the Brookhaven suburb on the way to Buckhead, which turned into a third major business district for the City of Atlanta.

But at the the Fox was built, there were no interstate highways and the area in which the Downtown Connector was built was full of fashionable houses. It was suburbia.

When I became involved with the Fox, Midtown had turned into an area that had fallen into hard times.  Urban sprawl had caused most people to move out of the city of Atlanta to homes outside the City Limits due in part to the establishment of the Eisenhower Interstate System that allowed people to live far outside the city and yet be able to travel at relatively high speed to and from their homes to where they worked in the City of Atlanta. Ponce de Leon Avenue was once a very prestigeous place to own a home at one point in time, but by the mid-70s, most of these huge homes had been turned into apartment houses, office buildings, or were in very run-down condition. From Peachtree Street down to Moreland Avenue, Ponce deLeon was the place for drifters, homeless, and vagrants to congregate. the crime rate was high and very rampant. 

When the Fox Theatre was spared the wrecking ball, many acknowledged the Fox's success caused a domino effect around it. After the Fox was saved, the area around the Fox began to flourish and prosper. 

But before the Fox's cornerstone was laid, four prominent buildings had already been erected across the street and in close proximity to the Yaarab Temple's property. In the 1970s and 1980s, four were named as National Historic Landmarks just as the Fox had been honored. As far as I know, no other place in the United States are there four large buildings on the National Historic Trust's register and that makes Mr. Fox's Neighborhood very special. Let's take a look at those neighbors.

The Georgian Terrace Hotel
The Georgian Terrace Hotel opened for business in 1911. For many years, the hotel enjoys the distinction of the most luxurious and prestigious hotel in Atlanta well into the second half of the 20th Century before falling into decline. During its heyday, the Terrace was the place to stay for any person of distinction. When Gone with the Wind premiered at the Loew's Grand, all the stars and dignitaries stayed at the Terrace. In 1968, John Wayne, who directed and starred in the Green Berets, premiered the movie at the Fox Theatre. His entourage stayed at the Terrace.

By 1980, the hotel had fallen hard into decline and decay. The decision was made to close the Terrace. The hotel was boarded up, but that didn't stop transient drifters, drug addicts, and the homeless from breaking into the hotel to find a place to stay. Repeatedly, people set fires in attempts to stay warm which repeatedly got out of control set the building on fire. The Atlanta City Fire Department was able to quickly put out the fires and prevent the building from suffering major structural damage.


In 1987, a row of small shops and a small music club that resided between the Georgian Terrace and the Cox-Carlton Hotel was destroyed by fire. Of note, in the rear of that building was the Agora Ballroom, a popular music venue that a lot of performers that played the Fox as well as members of the Fox House Staff would frequent after events. One such occasion was when the Rolling Stones  played the Fox in 1981. The 1987 fire damage was so bad, what remained had to be down, After which, the property was cleared. .

After nearly eight years of sitting vacant, in 1988 a Japanese-American joint venture of Sato Kogyo America Corporation and E.F. Howington Company, purchased the Georgian Terrace. Their plan was to not only renovate and restore the Terrace, but to create a complex more than twice the hotel's original size. they built an expansion to the original structure on the adjacent property where once the Agora Ballroom sat between the Georgian Terrace and what was the Cox-Carlton Hotel, then a Days Inn. Architectural details were removed from the original building, restored, and then copied for incorporation into the new addition. The result was a stunning blend that is almost indistinguishable from the 1911 structure that reopened in 1991. Once the project was completed, it contained: 294 apartments, 52,000 square feet of retail space, and a 700 space parking deck.

After a few years of operation, the business model was considered a failure and building was sold. The new owners resumed operation as a hotel and have enjoyed good success ever since.

The Ponce Apartments

The Ponce DeLeon Avenue Apartmentswere built in 1913 on the other side of Ponce DeLeon from the Georgian Terrace Hotel.  Prior to conctruction, the building was concieved to be about double the size it wound up being. It was conceived to be a luxurious home for the well to do, complete with servent quarters on premises. The Atlanta Preservation Center reports the building's original configuration had one or two huge apartments with up to 5 bedrooms each and servant quarters on each floor. On the last two floors were efficiency apartments for single men. On the roof are to magnificent loft-style apartments. It was commonplace for fantastic parties to be thrown on the roof of the building in its heyday. The building has undergone several changes and reconfigurations in its lifetime. In the early 1980s, the building was renovated into condominiums.

The Cox-Carlton Hotel
The Cox-Carlton Hotel was constructed in 1926 across Peachtree Street just down from the Georgian Terrace Hotel. The hotel originally operated a residential hotel for single men. It had matrons stationed on each floor to help its male occupants that were unfamiliar with doing day to day chores that were once considered the exclusive domain of women. They also were there to make sure no "hanky-panky" went on inside the hotel!

In later life, The Cox-Carlton later went on to become a standard hotel. In the 1970s the hotel became part of the Days Inn hotel/motel chain. In the early 2000s, the hotel closed, then went through one or two owners that attempted to operate the hotel independently  Around 2005, the hotel was renovated and started operations as the Hotel Indigo, a designer boutique hotel. It continues to operate as that today and seems to be very successful.

Erlanger Opera House
Also known as: Tower Theater, Atlanta Theater, Martin's Cinerama, and Columbia Theater
583 Peachtree St,  Opened: approximately 1890, Razed: 1995

Located at 583 Peachtree Street, The Erlanger Opera House was locared next door to the North Avenue Presbyterian Church. It started life in 1890 as a playhouse with a main stage and  four floors of backstage dressing rooms. There were 672 seats on the main orchestra level, 190 in the first balcony, and 128 in the second balcony. Later in life, the theater was renamed the Tower Theater

In the 1950's, the Martin Theater chain took over the theater and completely renovated the auditorium. They removed the stage to accomodate a 164 foot by 34 foot curved Cinerama ribbon screen. They added a new projection booth to house the three-projector Cinerama system. Speakers were placed around the auditorium for the 7-track Cinerama multi-channel surround sound system. The lobby was paneled and the entire building was recarpeted with gold colored carpet. A false ceiling that was hung between the first and second balconies. This reduced the theater's seating capacity to 862.

It was renamed Martin's Cinerama and was the only theatre in Atlanta equipped to show three projector Cinerama films. Later, the Atlanta Roxy was also converted into a Cinerama theater. Cinerama was a unqiue film format owned by the Cinerama Corporation. From 1953 to 1962, only ten Cinerama movies were produced and each one was shown for exttended runs at each Cinerama theater. The three film strip Cineramam process was a technical nightmare for the time and was not only hard to present, but hard to film. Yet the pure spectacle of a Cinerama film was so amazing, it was quite popular and worth the problems it presented. 

In the early 1960s, Cinerama adopted a single projector film system and the theater quickly adapted. They replaced the three projector system with two dedicated 70MM projectors with carbon arc lamps and prescription ground lenses. This produced a bright, beautiful picture and the Martin became the #1 place for big epic movies. "Mary Poppins", "The Sound of Music", and "Camelot" were among the attractions. In a time that most movies come and go in 4 weeks, "The Sound of Music" played for an amazing 18 months and over four decades later, I clearly remember my father taking me to see it there.

In 1968, the Walter Reade Organization was looking for a venue to show their two-part six-hour "War and Peace" epic, and took over the lease. The theater was renamed the Atlanta Theater. "2001: A Space Odyssey" enjoyed a spectacular 70MM run. Prior to opening "Fiddler on the Roof" in 1972, they had removed the Cinerama ribbon screen and installed a much smaller 145 foot by 19 foot solid screen to meet the technical requirements of the 'experts' from United Artists pictures. "Fiddler" was a big box-office disappointment.

In February of 1973, prior to exhibiting "Man of LaMancha", the smaller screen was replaced with a larger one, 123 foot by 46 foot, though still not the size of the original Cinerama screen. Reade decided to give quality one last chance and booked in "This Is Cinerama" in 70mm. Since the old three projector Cinerama system were long gone, the movie was shown with one projector using a special anamorphic projection lens. The new screen was once again replaced after only six weeks with a huge 195 foot by 35 foot curved screen. It was the larger than the original Cinerama screen than Martin installed. The curve was so deep that when you stood in the middle, even with the edges of the screen, it was 15' to the center. "This Is Cinerama" looked great but did almost no business.

The Reade Organization closed the Atlanta Theater in the late 1970s after over ten years of inconsistent and often low patronage. It is unknown when it happened, but the building became the property of the North Avenue Presbyterian Church whose sanctuary was located next door at the corner of Peachtree Street and North Avenue. In 1982, the church leased the theater to a private entrepreneur who reopened the theater as the Columbia Theater. It reopened with a 70MM run of the musical "Annie". 

The Columbia made a name for itself by featuring first-run science fiction and fantasy films that would do justice being shown on the large Cinerama style screen .Fans of those genres flocked to the theater to see these films on the largest screen in the Southeast. Sadly, business would severely drop off after the first few weeks of a film's run but the studios would demand conttacts that required the exhubutor to run the film for a number of months. So while the Columbia did terrific business during the first half of a contracted run, it did very lttle business from the remainder of the run. This dilluted its profits to almost zero.  After several years, the theater was not profitable to operate. I believe the the theater changed hands one last time, but its fortunes did not change, and the theater eventually was permanently shuttered. In April 1995 the church demolished the building and constructed a parking lot on the site. The 70mm projectors, lenses, and other equipment were purchased by the (Atlanta) Fox Theatre. this was the last major theater to be razed in Atlanta. After the Columbia was gone, none of the original major movie houses besides the Fox and the Rialto remained in downtown Atlanta. 

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