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Saturday, March 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Fox Theater restoration to be recognized nationally

The Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox is being recognized nationally with a preservation honor award following completion of $31 million restoration in 2007.

The Fox at Sprague Avenue and Monroe Street in downtown Spokane is one of 23 projects nationwide to win honors from the national trust.

A Spokane delegation involved in the restoration is expected to be in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 29 when the award will be presented during the 2010 National Preservation Conference.

The Fox Theater restoration is an offshoot of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, which now uses the theater as its permanent home through a separate non-profit theater board.

A combination of grants, private donations and tax incentives were used to finance the project, including a $3 million gift from Spokane businesswoman Myrtle Woldson in honor of her father, Martin Woldson.

An early-day railroad construction contractor, Woldson died in 1958. His daughter amassed her own fortune through business investments.

The theater project also benefited from 900 individual donations totaling $1.1 million in a community-wide Save the Fox drive in 2000.

The art deco theater opened in 1931 as a first-run movie house, but with its stage, it also served as a venue for live performances that frequently attracted Hollywood celebrities.

During restoration, floor-to-ceiling scaffolding filled the theater for months, protecting ceilings and fixtures from damage. Huge hunks of foam were fastened around ornate furnishings such as staircase railings.

The addition of an inner lobby on the main floor, which can be used for private events, reduced the seating from an original configuration of 2,350 to 1,727.

William Fox of Fox West Coast Studios, later to become 20th Century Fox, presided over construction of nearly 280 Fox theaters around the country, using teams of designers and artisans in each city.

Fox theaters in Atlanta, St. Louis and Stockton, Calif., are among those that have been restored.

The Spokane Fox was among the most elegant of the new theaters, and opened even as the Great Depression was taking down the national economy.

The Fox motif in Spokane is derived from a Hollywood interpretation of art deco style, a distillation of modernist and art nouveau movements in Europe in the late 1800s.

The theater’s Dutch-born designer, Anthony Heinsbergen, combined the flowing classical forms of art nouveau with the rectilinear geometry commonly associated with art deco in the United States.

Receipt of the award later this month comes two years before the national trust brings its annual National Preservation Conference to Spokane in 2012.

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