Fox Tucson Theatre
Arizona| Posted: 09/25/2006
The Fox Tucson Theatre is located in the heart of downtown Tucson, Arizona. The theatre, a 1,200 seat 30,000 square foot structure, is the only known example of a Southwestern Art Deco movie palace. It opened on April 11, 1930, and closed on June 18, 1974. Original programming at the theatre included; movies, community events, vaudeville performances and the Tucson chapter of the Mickey Mouse Club. The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Nationally Significant Structure is so listed due to its unique decor and special acoustical treatment, designed due to the advent of "Talkie" movies, and is the only known example of the material in existence.
After sitting empty for 25 years, the theatre, which had become home to over 40 homeless people, was nearly beyond restoration. Extensive water damage, vandalism, and neglect had conspired to keep the building dark. The owners, who had planned to demolish the Fox for a future office building, had decided to let the building slowly decay and had little interest in selling the property to anyone. Following a two-year negotiation with the property owner, the non-profit Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation was able to purchase the building in 1999 for $250,000. Stabilization and planning for the rehabilitation/restoration began at once with a new roof being installed to stop further damage from the elements. Small restoration projects such as the repair and relighting of the original chandeliers kept the community engaged—through bi-annual open houses and special event fund-raisers. Following a six year, $13 million rehabilitation the theatre reopened on December 31st, 2005.
Elements of the restoration/rehabilitation included
- Decorative plaster and mural restoration throughout the building
- Repair to the unique original "Acoustone " acoustic material
- Recreation of original seat fabric, carpet pattern and light fixtures from surviving examples and photographs
- New theatrical systems (light, sound, projection) to better serve the performing arts community both locally and for touring productions
The Fox Tucson Theatre restoration was funded by a unique partnership of public and private dollars, and was only the second historic theatre in the country to utilize the combined Historic Preservation Tax Credits and New Markets Tax Credits. Additional funding came from the City of Tucson, the United States Government, the State of Arizona, TIF funding and private donations and grants. This unique combination of funding is a model for other historic properties to follow, and the key players are currently offering their experience from the Fox project to other projects through workshops and one-on-one consultations. Without these unique funding strategies, the Fox would still be dark today.
The community support for the project was another key aspect of its success. Over 200 volunteers were involved, and the all-volunteer Board of Directors of the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation worked tirelessly to complete the project in support of a small paid professional staff (three full-time positions). Faced with stiff competition from other local, worthy charity activities, and, National/International philanthropy needs, the project managed to raise just under $1 million annually towards its goal for five years. Rising construction cost escalated the cost by nearly $500,000 annually, at which point the final City of Tucson Bond funding package was completed and approved by a 6-0 vote by the Mayor and Council in order to finish the Fox in 2005.
The impact of the reopened of the Fox Tucson Theatre on downtown, the larger community of Tucson, as well as the impact on Southern Arizona is profound. The Fox is on track to host to over 100 events annually, and will see over 100,000 patrons each year. Associated sales tax revenue, increases in retail and restaurant business as well as parking revenue to the downtown area will be unmatched by any other preservation project to date.
Key personnel in the project included:
- Herb Stratford – Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation Executive Director, Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation Founder
- Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation Board of Directors
- City of Tucson, Arizona Mayor and Council
- Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District (City of Tucson TIF project)
- Congressman Jim Kolbe