Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Saturday, March 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 41° Partly Cloudy
News >  Spokane

A Showplace shines

Bill and Phyllis Kelsch take their seats in the front row of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox for the opening night concert.
 (The Spokesman-Review)
Bill and Phyllis Kelsch take their seats in the front row of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox for the opening night concert. (The Spokesman-Review)
By Story by John Craig i Photos by Dan Pelle The Spokesman-Review

It’s great to go to the governor’s gala, better still to have the governor come to yours.

Spokane’s Fox Theater resumed her place Saturday among glamorous hostesses whose invitations are prized even by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“Isn’t this just a great day for the city of Spokane?” Gregoire exclaimed in the newly restored theater’s elegant lobby.

Gregoire had just cut a ribbon at the front door and ceremoniously turned on the marquee lights. It was she who turned out the lights in November 2005 when a $31 million restoration of the historic art deco theater got under way.

About 100 people huddled under umbrellas outside the entrance while Gregoire cleared the way for them to come in from a cold drizzle.

Two years ago, the governor said, it was difficult to come up with something to say about the “down-in-the-heels movie theater” she and her husband, Mike, remembered from the days when their first child was born in Spokane.

Words came more easily Saturday when Gregoire called the Fox a “national treasure” and said Spokane residents have given their children “a gift of unbelievable value.”

The governor marveled at the theater’s restored murals, its “opulent” light fixtures and some modern additions.

“Downstairs, ladies, are 18 or 19 stalls in the restroom,” she said. “And that’s important, you know.”

Mayor Dennis Hession, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and state Sen. Lisa Brown added praise of their own: “a key element in the new Spokane,” “a magical day,” a project legislators were “so privileged” to support.

What started as a moist and modest crowd swelled to 460 by the time a sold-out dinner was served in the also-restored Davenport Hotel Hall of Doges.

“What a good idea to do it here,” said Kylie Lewis, one 10 young women in dazzling flapper costumes and two men in vintage suits who lined the Davenport hallways as guides.

A sales clerk at Finders Keepers vintage clothing and jewelry store, Lewis said she “was so excited” when she and her colleagues at the store got to tour the restored theater before their stint as volunteer ushers in the colorful dresses, sparkling necklaces, neon boas and flashy headbands with feathers.

One of the volunteers was Nyla Beck Pipes, who married Don Pipes in the Fox on Aug. 13, 2005, in only the second wedding ceremony ever conducted at the theater. The couple turned out to help Beck Pipes’ friend, Finders Keepers owner Deena Moe-Caruso.

Whitworth University President Bill Robinson said he got to hear the Spokane Symphony rehearse for the first performance in its new home at the Fox because his wife, Bonnie, was hired to play the organ and the celeste, a small keyboard instrument with a tinkling sound.

Robinson called the symphony’s sound “smashing” and the theater visually “alive, exciting and elegant.”

“The whole air is full of joy and accomplishment,” said arts patron Elizabeth Welty, a retired medical doctor. “There have been marvelous people who were tremendously convinced it was the right thing to do, and they carried the rest of us along with their enthusiasm.”

Bill Simer, who was president of the Fox Theater Trustees when the restoration was conceived, named a number of major donors who helped get the project off the ground. None, he said, was more influential than Myrtle Woldson, who donated $3 million in memory of her father, Martin Woldson.

“Without her, we wouldn’t be here,” Simer said.

After dinner, the well-dressed army marched to what is now the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, passing under a congratulatory message at the already-restored Bing Crosby Theater.

The procession was on red carpet laid between a row of vintage cars and the Sprague Avenue curb.

In front of the Fox marquee, Welty paused for a photo with her foot on the running board of Gene and Theresa McKay’s 1930 Cord rumble-seat coupe.

Then she took her seat and the symphony played.

Wordcount: 632

Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email