Jayne Singleton remembers the first time she entered the Fox Theater in downtown Spokane. It was during the 1980s and she was going to see the movie “Alien.”
Now, Singleton can share her memories of the art deco theater with patrons of the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, where she is director. Until May 13 the museum is displaying a model showing the renovated Fox to help drum up support for the theater’s $22 million renovation project. On May 16 the replica will travel to the Spokane Public Library’s downtown branch, where it will be displayed for at least three weeks.
“People have been coming in and sharing their memories,” Singleton said. After looking at the model, they say, ‘I was there. I remember that.’ “
Since its closure in 2000, $14.5 million in public and private money has been raised to restore the Fox. The project involves a lot of behind-the-scenes work, such as updating the electrical system and adding more toilets. But it also entails expanding the lobby, removing layers of cigarette smoke and dirt to reveal the unique artwork that adorns the walls and repairing some of the building’s aluminum details that prompted newspapers to call the Fox “futuristic and bizarre” when it opened in 1931.
“Back then, people would dress up to go to the movies,” said Elizabeth Thompson, one of two employees working on the renovation project. “The experience started when you walked in the door.”
The Spokane Symphony will call the Fox home once the work is completed, but the theater will be home to a variety of other performances as well. Betsy Godlewski, development director for the Fox, envisions drawing pop music acts like Norah Jones and Lyle Lovett to the 1,700-seat venue.
The theater once hosted vaudeville acts and served as a movie house for decades. Stars such as Katharine Hepburn and Bing Crosby performed there and Frank Sinatra is rumored to have been arrested for fighting after a gig at the Fox, Thompson said.
“These will be the best seats in the house,” Godlewski said standing in the theater’s balcony. The balcony was converted into two small movie theaters in 1974, making the Fox a triplex. All that remains of the walls that divided the space now, though, are marks on the ceiling.
The model on display at the museum was built by Dustin Hoffman, a student in Washington State University’s Interdisciplinary Design Institute. It shows a roofless Fox Theater, allowing onlookers a bird’s eye view of the seating, stage and lobby areas. Hoffman included details from bathroom stalls to the building’s colorful art.
The Valley museum already had on display the Fox’s first program from 1931, so Singleton said displaying the model “struck a chord” with her.
While seeing the model offers a unique perspective, Godlewski also encourages people to visit the actual theater.
“If people come in this building, they really understand,” she said.
Regular tours are held on Wednesdays at noon, but special tours can be arranged by calling 624-5992. The Fox also will be open Friday for First Friday, the monthly art walk held downtown.
Godlewski said she’s optimistic the renovation work will begin this year.
“Spokane needs this building,” she said, adding that it will help boost the renaissance already under way downtown.
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