The Auditorium

The auditorium of the Fox is the most talked about area of the Fox as it should be. The auditorium comprises an area 65,000 square feet large. The auditorium was intended to simulate a Moorish courtyard at night in Egypt. Rising from either side of the courtyard are huge stonewalls with various sized windows from which light can be seen coming from the faux rooms on the other side of the wall. Surmounting each wall is a complex of guard posts and battlement windows.

The organ chambers are concealed in the walls as private balcony boxes with heavy gold leaf screens in typical Moorish style. The walls are connected in the front by an arched bridge that is illuminated by lanterns, the bridge forming the proscenium arch. Everywhere realism is carried to its ultimate. A plaster, concrete, and steel "draped canopy" extends over the balcony that appears to be made of tent cloth. In the center below the the proscenium arch sits the original Fox Movietone speaker used to give sound to the first talking pictures. Movietone was a system that William Fox owned the United States Patent rights to and since this was a Fox theatre, it was used instead of the Vitaphone system. While the Vitaphone name is better known, Movietone became the predominant system thanks to Fox Movietone Newsreels that eventually was adopted by the industry and was used until digital projection replaced celluloid film.

When the Movietone system was advanced a bit further, the speaker box was not used in favor os a larger speaker system that sits behind the screen which projects the audio through it. In order to keep the Fox's capability of quickly converting from a movie stage to a performance stage, those speakers were mounted under the main stage riser lift that can be raise nearly 40 feet above stage level. The lift is raised up so the speakers can be used, then dropped back down to stage level in a matter of under 30 seconds when they are not needed. In 1953, when the Fox received its auditorium renovation and it's CinemaScope screen, multi-track audio was also added. In addition to the large center speaker, several side and rear speakers were hung on the walls. The cabinets are still in use today and are easily spotted along the walls.

In the late 1990s under the direction of the Fox's second Restoration Director, Mary Catherine Martin, a change was made to the proscenium arch. While the Fox's has great acoustics, some times the sound has been less than acceptable. The main reason for this is the traveling performances are required by Teamsters union requirements for their own workers to use their own audio equipment. The Fox enjoys being one of the largest theatric venues on the Traveling Broadway Circuit. It can be more than twice or even three times the size of the average performance hall. When these shows go on the road, their audio equipment is set up to work just fine with these smaller halls, but the Fox's huge size overwhelms the systems and the sound is not powerful enough nor properly set up to deal with the Fox's unique acoustics, so it often was less than adequate. In an attempt to correct this situation, the Fox installed a new state of the art audio system that the shows to connect into to aid it. Two large speakers were installed right into the proscenium arch and given concealed speaker grills that look like carpets that have been hung over the proscenium arch to air out, be cleaned, or to dry. Ms. Martin explained that in antiquity, this was a common practice, so the look was natural in a moorish setting. She claimed to have photos of the Fox that showed carpets once hung on the proscenium arch as she has placed them, although I have never see any photo to back up that claim. Regardless, this is how the  proscenium arch is today.

Hanging from the proscenium arch are eight huge chandeliers. If you came to the Fox before 1991, you may remember that these fixtures were not there before. Instead there were several odd-looking chandeliers located on the proscenium arch and from the each side of the canopy. You can barely see them in this photo taken for Life magazine in the early 1960s. There's a wonderful story about this. As you may know, the Fox opened its doors less than two months after the great stock market crash of 1929 that ushered in the Great Depression. Companies quickly found themselves out of business and a many orders that had been placed prior to the crash were made were never fulfilled. The Fox suffered from this problem and several items needed for the theater were never delivered. The main chandeliers for the auditorium were among those items. The original chandeliers were to have come from the Sterling Bronze Company of New York but never arrived. If you are familiar with some of the other Fox Theatres, the same type of lamps were installed in the Fox Theatres in Detroit, St. Louis, and San Francisco. But in Atlanta, by the week of the grand opening, there were no main lights in the auditorium and something had to be done.

The house electrician took matters into his own hands. He went down to the local hardware store and bought several large wash tubs. He cut out the bottoms and punched decorative holes in the sides. He then mounted electrical lights into the tubs and went about mounting them in the auditorium. They remained in use for over sixty years!

In 1990, the Fox secured chandeliers reproduced to look like the originals. I do not know how they were able to recreate them but a best guess would be the patterns were created from taking measurements from the fixtures in the other surviving Fox Theatres. The metal frames of the chandaliers were made in France while the stained glass and jeweled accents were created at the Fox in its workshop. After several months of hard work, they were mounted as the originally intended. Today, all of the original washbucket lamps have been retired.

The atmospheric ceiling is a true wonder that gives a startling realistic appearance of the nighttime sky. Stars twinkle in the midnight blue sky while soft white clouds drift slowly past. I am told the stars are placed in a correct astronomical pattern that one would see if they were looking towards the heavens in  Cairo, Egypt in the 1920s. The clouds actually move, which adds to the amazing realism of the sky effect. This is one of the Fox's most wondrous effects, yet so simply carried out. The stars are actually little 11-watt light bulbs that are in a reflective lamp fixture that sits just above a clear crystal that is mounted in the ceiling. Some flash on and off to give a twinkling effect while others are constantly lit. The "twinkling" effect is carried out by a time-tested disc that placed between the bulb and its screw mount. As the lamp heats a peice of metal in the disc distorts and its connection is cut off. It quickly cools down and re-establishes the electrical connection. Discs like this were used for decades in Christmas light displays.

There are 96 stars in the Fox's sky and as it so happened, when the Fox opens, there just so happened to be 96 toilets in the building. This gave rise to the inside joke that in the Fox "For every star in the sky, there is a moon!"

The cloud effect is what really makes the sky effect seem so real. The images of the clouds are painted on a mica disc that sits in a Brenograph Junior projector located above the canopy towards the back of the auditorium. The projected image of the clouds slowly rotates and gives the effect of the clouds in constant motion. It takes approximately 105 minutes for a cloud to travel full circle and about 45 minutes to traverse from one side of the sky to the other.

The original Brenograph Junior cloud projector was replaced with a new device that uses new technology to project the moving clouds on the ceiling. At the same time, the ceiling was restored and painted in 2004. Over a two week period, a scaffold was mounted to the ceiling and as the performance schedule permitted, the auditorium was draped in protective plastic as the painters repainted the ceiling. This was the first time since the auditorium was constructed that the entire ceiling was painted. At that time, the paint was a custom mixture that used pure ultramarine pigment and buttermilk. Buttermilk was used as a bonding agent, exactly like what is used in modern latex-based paints. There are still records in the Fox's archive that show bills paid to Atlanta Diaries for its daily deliveries of buttermilk.

While Buttermilk was not used and the paint came right out of its container, ready to use, there was one small problem. The paint used was created for theatrical use which normally meant it was used to paint sets, not large spaces such as the Fox's huge ceiling. Because of that, it only came from the manufacturer in quarts. It took over 100 quarts to paint the ceiling! The Preservation Department states that the new paint is the exact match of what was originally painted on the ceiling, but I have reservations about that. It is claimed that because of smoking, dirt, and age, by the time the ceiling was painted in 2004, it looked a lot darker than it was originally.

I'm sorry, but while I am not an admitted expert, nor do I have evidence to the contrary, I think the new paint has to be lighter than what was originally there. Why do I think this? Well, since I worked at the Fox for 17 years, I was in the auditorium quite a lot during performances. I was also there as a child in the 1960s and I never remember the sky being so bright as it is now. When the lights dimmed and the performance began, the Fox's sky looked like a dark night sky. Now, it looks "brighter" and not nearly as convincing as it was before. To my eyes, it looks more fake than ever. Perhaps it's me, but that's how I feel about it.

The Sunrise - Sunset system is almost as incredible as the stars and the clouds. The device was not used for many years as it had fallen into disrepair. No one knew about it until Joe Patten discovered the machine sitting derelect in the Fox complex. It took three years of volunteer work by members of the I.B.E.W. and Joe Patten to overhaul and restore the machine back to operational status. It was debuted during the Fox's 50th anniversary party in 1979.

At first, only a slight golden-pink glow is observed over the eastern corner of the courtyard wall. The glow increases in brilliance until the ceiling is lit up with the light from a golden Sun (you do not see the Sun directly). After reaching its apex, it begins to set on the western corner of the courtyard, behind the overhead bridge in a manner befitting the most gorgeous natural sunset.

I believe the way this system was originally intended to be used, the auditorium would be in "full Sunrise" at the beginning of an event. The Sunset would occur,  putting the auditorium into darkness, just prior to the beginning of the performance. When the performance ended or was about to end, the Sun would begin to rise and illuminate the auditorium for the patrons to egress back into the everyday world.

In material the Atlanta Preservation Center gave to its tour guides that worked at the Fox, it was stated the machine cannot create the simulated effects of Fire, Rain, and Snow it used to do.  This seems utterly fantastic, nor have I ever heard of such effects until it was mentioned in that literature.From my time in the 70s, it was always referred to as "the Sunrise-Sunset Machine" and did not do anything else.

Located above the balcony is a huge canopy. The canopy is one of the Fox's biggest illusions. Like the rest of the surfaces in the public areas, the canopy is made of Plaster of Paris. Exacting detail, including mould stains, were painted on the canopy to make it look like it was made of actual canvas. The edges of the canopy are also not real, but made with plaster and wood. The canopy is not only decorative, it conceals part of the inner workings of the Fox's magic and serves as an integral part of the theater's remarkable sound system. The auditorium was designed so that sound from the orchestra pit would reflect up onto the proscenium arch above pit, project into the canopy, return to the arch, and reflect down under the balcony. The organ grills are positioned so that they fire into the balcony area for the same effect.


The balcony itself is a true architectural wonder. For years, it was boasted that the balcony was the largest cantilevered balcony in existence in the world, but in actuality, the balcony is not cantilevered. It is however designed to actually bend and flex several inches as it takes on the full weight of patrons that are on it. During concerts such as the Rolling Stones in 1979, I actually felt it move up and down as people danced to the rhythm of the music. Unlike the downstairs seating, the seats in the balcony are the original 1929 units and are kept in remarkably great condition. When the orchestra level seats were replaced with the replicas of the originals, the balconies seats were re-padded and recovered with the same material used on the new seats that replicated the original design pattern. Prior to this, the balcony seats still had the original 1929 material, although faded and worn from time and use. 

The balcony is divided into four sections, the Loge, First Dress Circle, Second Dress Circle, and the Gallery, each with six segments or rows of seats.  The Loge section is considered the finest seats in the house and is comprised of the first six rows of the balcony. They are set in a steeper angle than the rest of the balcony to aid the view from the seats. The Dress Circles compose the main body of the balcony and are composed of 19 rows of seats with First Dress Circle taking the first 12 rows and Second Dress Circle composed of the last 7. The Gallery follows up the rear most seats of the auditorium with 3 rows of seats. In the 1980s, 125 additional seats were added tot the Gallery with the installation of seats removed from the Loew's Grand Theater prior to it being razed in 1979. When the Loews Grand building burned in 1978, the Fox was able to buy some of the equipment from the building since the fire did not damage the theatre. The Fox bought the Grand's 35mm projection and sound equipment from the Grand and some of its seating from the auditorium. Some of the Grand's seats now reside on the right side of the rear-most portion of the Gallery. You can easily distinguish these chairs from the Fox's originals because they are distinctly different and they do not have the ornate "FT" end caps at the end of each row of seats.

As you may notice, there is a wall that separates the Gallery from Second Dress Circle. This is where we touch the dark history of the Fox. The Fox was one of only four theaters in the Atlanta area that allowed people of color admittance, but like elsewhere, that admittance was segregated. The upper portion of the balcony, called the Gallery, was literally walled-off from the rest of the balcony seating. A second box-office for people of color was built into the base of one of the integral fire escapes. If you were a Black man or woman that wanted to see something at the Fox, that was where you'd purchase your ticket, then you had to walk up the fire escape steps to the very top to get to the door that accessed the Gallery. You were not permitted into the other portions of the Fox and because of that, there were a single set of spartan restrooms with no lounges in the rear of the Gallery for you to use. There was also no concession sales for patrons of the Gallery either! There were a pair of restrooms located directly off the Gallery directly under the projection booth. Notice I said restrooms and not lounges as they were nothing more than rooms for you to go to in order to relieve yourself. Function, no luxury. They are not decorated in any way and very basic restrooms.

When the Supreme Court ended segregation in the 1960s, the "Colored" box office was closed and the side ends of the brick wall were torn down and a crude step-up added to allow people access to the Gallery via the Dress Circle. The step-up to get into the Gallery is rather steep and I find it quite odd that with all the work and improvements performed on the Fox, nothing has ever been done to improve the access points into the Gallery. The one thing I will say about the segregated Fox is at least the people that had to watch movies in the Gallery had some of the best seats in the house as I love to watch a movie from up there. There's plenty of room with a spectacular view of the stage. Music never sounded so good up there! 

Orchestra Level

Since this is a cyber tour of the Fox, we can move magically about. Let's magically travel from the upper portion of the auditorium down to the main floor of the auditorium. From left to right, it is divided into five groups of seats; Right, Right Center, Center, Left Center, and Left. Those are divided front to back as being Orchestra and Rear Orchestra. In 1953, the original seats were removed in order to put in larger, more comfortable chairs. This reduced the seating of the auditorium by several hundred seats. In the mid-1980s, the Fox was closed for a month as those seats were replaced with reproductions of the original seats to return the Fox back to its original compliment on the main floor. It took so long because the concrete floor had to be partially torn up and re-cast in order to put back the correct number shelves needed to accomodate the increase in rows needed. Once all the concrete work was done, new ventilation ducts had to be installed on the floor. The Fox's auditorium fresh air vents are located on the floor, under the seats. New "mushroom domed" vents had to be installed under where the new seats would sit. Finally, the new seats had to be assembled and bolted to the floor. The air blows out from under the orchestra seats and is vented out from the auditorium at several other locations higher-up in the auditorium.

A little more than half of the downstairs level sits under the balcony and cannot see the stars. In place of the stars, they see several large stained glass lights that are fixed in the ceiling of the balcony. In recent times, these have been joined with many small spot lamps that illuminate the underside of the balcony before performances and more importantly during clean-up time.

You may have noticed that there are brass plaques on many of the seats in the auditorium. In 1990, the Fox had a fundraising event in that people could "buy" a seat in the Fox. You'll find names of note and everyday people adorning the seats, including the names of long-term members of Friends of the Fox, the volunteer restoration organization I was one of the first members of FOF and even though it no longers works with the Fox, the core group of FOF still meet on a quarterly basis to this day. 

Stage Area

Looking forward, the stage is very large, even by modern standards but is rather shallow. It spans 128 feet wide is just 35 feet deep from the rear wall of the Fox to the rear edge of the orchestra pit. This shallowness has been explained by one researcher of the Atlanta Fox that it was felt since there was an orchestra pit, the stage would only be used for Shrine functions, choral groups and the like. It was not envisioned the Fox would host plays or other now-common theatrical productions that would require a deep stage space. Despite the shallowness, most events at the Fox have been able to work around this minor consideration.

With the curtain open, 96 feet of stage can be revealed to the audience. It is one of the widest performance stages in America. Most Broadway shows that play at the Fox use about half of the stage area. For those shows, the curtains are partially drawn to cover the area not used. This is required because most performance troops have sets that are tailored for an average size of the auditoriums they perform at. This is usually about half the size of the Fox's stage and their sets can't be expanded out to take advantage of all the extra room. The stage floor is divided into two main sections with four minor sections having their own elevator lifts. At the very front of the stage is the Orchestra Pit. It is comprised of a main orchestra section with a separate center riser that can be individually raised or lower. To Stage Left is the Moeller Organ that is permanently mounted to its own riser. Should it be required, there is a floor section that can be mounted over the organ to conceal it that gives additional flooring to the Orchestra Pit. A 150-member symphony can be set up to perform in the Orchestra Pit and the lifts are powerful enough to raise and lower it while fully loaded. As it is called an orchestra pit, as the name infers, it is designed for the musicians performing on it to be performing while that portion of the stage is in a lower position to that of the main stage. This is also what the acoustics of the Fox were designed for. The orchestra would be performing essentially in the pit and the sound would be reflected straight up and out of that area. The sound would then reflect off the proscenium arch and up over the balcony. It would be reflected once again into the canopy and be sent back down towards the proscenium arch. This time, the sound would be reflected once more, but downwards under the balcony towards the orchestra level seating. Besides the obvious visual reasons, this is why sitting in the Loge and Balcony are so desirable to be seated there. I should mention the Fox is world-renown for its acoustics and to that, architects that designed the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. came to the Fox to study its acoustics in an attempt to replicate those properties into their new auditorium.

Directly behind the orchestra pit is the main performance area of the stage. It has one large center lift that contains the theater's Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater speakers. The center lift can rise approximately 20 feet above the stage floor to place the speakers directly behind the motion picture screen. Each lift can be lowered 40 feet into the stage basement or raised several feet above footlight level.

In 1953, the operators of the Fox installed a giant CinemaScope screen prior to the presentation of "The Robe". It was the easily the largest CinemaScope screen it the Southeast, if not in the United States. It required a 35-horsepower motor to pull it into the stage loft and to drop it back down. The screen was removed from the Fox in 1970 and was replaced by the current flat screen. There are other lifts that can raise and lower curtains, backdrops, and other stage decorations into the loft. By using the various lifts and platforms, the stage can go from a live performance setting to it full motion picture configuration in just a few of minutes.

The stage is complimented with a series of different curtains. The most ornate curtain is one that depicts the tales of the Arabian Nights. It is made out of a highly reflective material and is studded with faux gemstones. It is the most photographed of the Fox's curtains. The next curtain is the large red and gold velour curtain that is used most of the time during performances. There was another curtain that I have not seen. I am told it was a velour curtain with shiny accents that were made of several panels that were sewn together on the Fox's stage before it was eventually hung. I am told it took 4 days to hang the curtain into place. This curtain was referred to as the "Dress Curtain" that was used for big important events and replicates the look of the curtain shown in the picture taken of the stage in the 1930s. All of the curtains that were hung in the Fox when it opened have suffered from the effects of age. Unlike a lot of modern curtains, the Fox's curtains were made of totally natural organic materials. They were extremely heavy and over the decades, gravity has been a big enemy to them. As the materials age, they get more fragile and the weight begins to destroy the places where the curtains are hung. The original dress curtain was removed well before 1975 because of this and was removed from the Fox and relocated to the farm were the original orchestra seats were sent to. Upon inspection, the curtain (like the seats) was too badly deteriorated to be used for anything more than a template to copy the ornate patterns from.

Take A Closer Look At Mighty Mo, The Voice Of The Fox

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