The Fox Theatre
The National Landmark Fox Theatre was not originally planned nor designed to be a movie theater. In fact, the building was originally designed as a shrine temple, for the Shriners organization, a masonic society established in 1870. The architect Oliveier Vinour of Marye, Alger and Vinour, was selected by the Shriners to build an elaborate temple, inspired by both Islamic and Egyptian architecture. Islamic architecture can be seen in the building exterior, auditorium, Grand Salon, mezzanine Gentlemen's Lounge and lower Ladies Lounge while the Egyptian architecture can be seen in the Egyptian Ballroom, mezzanine Ladies Lounge and lower Gentlemen's Lounge. When the project exceeded the Shriners’ budget, they made the decision to lease the large auditorium in the building to William Fox, a motion picture executive, who at the time was building theaters around the country. The building’s foundation was laid on June 14, 1928 and the auditorium opened to the public on Christmas day in 1929.
Due to the Great Depression and stock market crash, the Shriners and William Fox were forced to close their doors in December of 1932. A private company called Mosque Inc. then purchased the Fox. In the 1940’s the Fox prospered and quickly became one of the best movie theaters in Atlanta. By the late 1960’s things started to go downhill, as people became disinterested and were moving out of the city. There was a point where the building was up for demolition. Luckily, a group came together to save the building. The group created a non-profit called Atlanta Landmarks, who raised money to save the Fox. In 1975, after undergoing major restoration efforts, the Fox was able to open their doors again. The Atlanta Landmarks group, now renamed Fox Theatre, Inc., continues to run the theatre today.
Fox Theatre is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and is an Atlanta Landmark Building. It currently operates as a performing arts venue in the Fox Theatre Historic District. The Fox Theatre’s auditorium holds 4,665 seats. The Fox Theatre typically hosts more than 150 performances a year ranging from Broadway to rock to comedy to movies. In December 2009, Billboard Magazine ranked the Fox Theatre in Atlanta as “The #1 non-residency venue worldwide for the decade (5,000 seats or less).” In addition to the world-famous theatre, the Fox’s spectacular ballrooms have hosted everything from sweet 16 parties to weddings to corporate events.
After the Fox Theatre was saved in the 1970s, a sustained campaign of conservation and restoration was conducted by the theatre’s in-house Restoration Department. Now, nearly 46 years later, the job of Josslyn Stiner, the Project Manager for the Restoration and Operations Departments and Leigh Burns, the Director of the Fox Theatre Institute is to continue their mission of protecting the Fox Theatre’s original features, historic fabric, furniture and light fixtures. This is often challenging since the building is used as an event venue. But these challenges allow them to be creative in devising solutions that protect the building and its contents while incorporating modern needs.
John Canning & Co. was able to assist with two of these restoration projects at the Fox Theatre. The first project consisted of the Plaster Consolidation for the Open-Air Ticket Lobby Ceiling and Plaster Hexagon Panels, using Historic Plaster Conservation Services (HPCS) plaster consolidation and reattachment system. The HPCS plaster consolidation offers an array of specialty products, techniques and tools, designed to strengthen and re-attach existing plaster on ceilings and walls. The second project consisted of the Conservation Cleaning and Restoration of the canopy above the balcony in the Fox Theatre Auditorium.
If you are interested in learning more about plaster consolidation and everything plaster, check out our plaster blogs.
Plaster Consolidation for the Open-Air Ticket Lobby Ceiling and Plaster Hexagon Panels Project:
In January 2020, for the Open-Air Ticket Lobby Ceiling, Canning spot repaired approximately 600 sq. ft. of 3 coat plaster from the attic side at areas of plaster with the most deterioration. The process of for fibrous plaster treatment requires the cleaning and vacuuming of the areas, then the spraying a consolidant on to fibrous plaster with a HPCS CO 20/50/100 mix and then applying the HPCS Aramid Gel with Kevlar by spraying as well.
HPCS consolidation in progress.
(Cleaning back side of plaster, CO Consolidant being sprayed, panel after wetting applying Aramid Gel)
CO R-100 Base and converter are the primary building blocks for HPCS consolidation products. The CO converter is a concentrated formula that give the CO base the ability to deeply penetrate plaster while also allowing for a stable mixture with water that prohibits mold and bacteria growth. The CO R-100 base is mixed with the CO Converter to create C) S-20 primer, Co s-50 primer and CO R-100 consolidation agent.
RE Aramid Gel, gets used with the CO and is a Fiber Reinforced plaster rebuilder reinforced with DuPont Kevlar which is used to reinforce cast fibrous plaster panels in a suspended ceiling system. The Gel is ideal for rebuilding damaged cast plaster ceiling panels & establishing new structural support hooks without causing surface damage.
Six Fibrous Plaster Hexagon Panels received the same process. All dust and debris were cleaned from the back side of the panels, including jute connections and then the spraying of HPCS consolidant and Aramid Gel was performed.
Plaster consolidation for the Open-Air Ticket Lobby ceiling and plaster hexagon panels completed.
Conservation Cleaning and Restoration of the Canopy above the Balcony in the Fox Theatre Auditorium Project:
The Canopy Restoration project was one Josslyn’s favorite projects because it included a 90-year-old architectural feature which was so difficult to access that it had never even been cleaned. Josslyn also commented that they certainly encountered many challenges with this project but the results were well worth it.
When constructed, the Fox Theatre followed in the tradition of “atmospheric” theatres, designed to transport guests into a fantasy world of an Arabian courtyard at twilight. Part of this affect was created by a stunning canopy above the balcony seats in the auditorium. Constructed of a suspended plaster ceiling on a steel frame superstructure, the canopy resembled a Bedouin tent made of colorful striped fabric and interspersed with several intricately decorated carpets. In addition to its ornamental appearance, the canopy also served a practical function by drawing sound to the back of the auditorium, so all guests could hear the performance on stage.
Over the years, the canopy became stained from dirt, debris, and smoke. It easily disappeared into the shadows, overlooked by guests and staff alike.
Canopy conditions before cleaning & restoration.
In May 2020, Canning. was selected to perform a full conservation cleaning of the canopy. The canopy itself was designed after a giant Bedouin canopy, and was constructed out of plaster and steel rods. The canopy was intended to help funnel sound to the farthest balcony in the auditorium. Canning began investigative work in early May. During the course of the project, it was decided that the canopy be rejuvenated to its original appearance. At that point, the project turned into a full restoration.
The Fox Theatre plaster canopy was in overall good condition. The condition of the canopy was documented in its entirety before work began. Any areas of loss, staining, patching, previous repair, drip marks, cracks, scratch marks, and overpaint were noted. After preliminary testing onsite, a conservation cleaning method was selected. Work was performed in thirds, starting on house center, moving to house left, and ending at house right. Access was provided via scaffolding.
Conservation cleaning tests.
Conservation cleaning at the majority of the canopy was performed using an acetic acid gel. Lances and fringe sections were cleaned using an ammonia citrate formula, diluted to a neutral ph. The canopy peaks were cleaned using another cleaning formula. A coat of conservation varnish was applied to all canopy surfaces, after cleaning was complete. In general, areas of loss and damage were small, and could be filled. Any larger areas of loss and/or damage were repaired using moulding Plaster. At house right there was as large area of water damage in the peak, that required a full plaster repair. There was also a missing tassel, that was later found by the Owners. This tassel was reinstalled using moulding plaster. An existing tassel that had been damaged was repaired using moulding plaster as well.
Stencil before and after cleaning.
This project was originally a conservation project where we were to just do conservation cleanings but the Owners decided half way through they wanted to turn it into a restoration project. So that’s when in-painting and reconstruction came in. This required that we extracted multiple paint samples first to perform a paint analysis. The historic paint analysis allowed the samples to be analyzed so the original paint layers could be determined and the final colors to be used confirmed. Once colors were verified, we could then reinstated where needed. The process also included the preparation of multiple mockups for review.
Canopy cleaning and restoration completed.
Josslyn states “Now, after cleaning and restoring the plaster surface, it catches you eye when you walk into the auditorium, whether on stage or in the audience. The colorful stripes are clearly delineated, the decorative stenciled sections are brighter, and the aluminum-leafed fringe shimmers when the light hits it. Recent staff, board members, and visitors have all remarked on the canopy’s beautiful transformation. The Canopy is such a significant feature in the auditorium that its restoration allows it to really stand out. The results are amazing. We can’t wait to add architectural lighting so all visitors and staff can see the full transformation."
Even after years of historic restoration of the country’s most prestigious landmarks, we remain awestruck by the grandeur and history that these buildings hold, and are most honored to help keep their history alive when given the opportunity. We are proud to have been a part of these restoration projects for the landmark Fox Theatre and hope that more visitors get to see the beautiful transformation in the near future.
The Fox Theatre along with John Canning & Co. are members of The League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT), which is a great resource for historic theatres and entertainment venues. John Canning & Co. is committed to be a part of preserving the elegance of historic theatres, concert halls, opera houses and other entertainment venues for today’s performers and audiences. If you have a project you would like to discuss, please contact us.