A Visit to The Fabulous Fox Theatre, St. Louis, MO, USA
When I first stepped into the opulent lobby of the Fabulous Fox Theatre for my very first show, I was blow away by the grand staircase and extravagant décor. As I returned to do the shoot for this piece, even though I had just been there a couple months before, for Phantom of the Opera, I am still impressed with the exquisite beauty of this show palace. Each time I visit, I see something new.
A Historic Theatre
The Fox was designed by architect C. Howard Crane (who also designed the LeVeque Tower in Columbus, OH, and four other Fox Theatres including its architectural sister, in Detroit, MI) and built by movie pioneer, William Fox. When it opened on January 31, 1929, it was one of the first theatres in the nation to have Movietone equipment for sound or “talkie” pictures. The first movie shown however, was a silent film, accompanied by one of only five Wurlitzer organs of its kind. This majestic instrument was often played by the popular Stan Kann, who became a nationally known TV personality.
For years, it was part of the film/theatrical district of St. Louis, with Powell Hall (now home of the St. Louis symphony), The Sun Theatre, and The Grandel. But by the 1970’s, almost all of these grand houses of theatre and film were closed or had sparse attendance. Even the elegant Fox had to survive several turnovers.
In 1936, William Fox was bankrupt as the country struggled to recover from the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. Businessmen Fanchon and Marco agreed to a 25 year lease of the building with Harry Arthur as their General Manager. In the 1950’s, the Arthur family gained more control over the Fox properties, but by the 1970’s, resorted to B movies and rock concerts to keep the Fox open. Despite their best efforts, it closed in 1978.
It was purchased in 1981 by Fox Associates, a group determined to bring the extraordinary building back to its glorious splendor. Spearheaded by Mary Strauss, the grand dame of Grand Avenue underwent a complete $2 million renovation.
- An overhaul of the brilliant chandelier in the theatre.
- 7,300 yards of carpeting was rewoven into the original elephant pattern.
- Missing jewels and art glass was lovingly reproduced.
- All seating restored for estimated capacity of 4,500.
- A complete update of the stage for modern theatrical sound, lighting, and stage production.
- Renovation/addition of Peacock Alley, an area that celebrates the over 1,700 shows and stars that have played at the Fox.
The Fox reopened on September 7, 1982. The musical Barnum, drew a standing ovation, and the Fox was soon accepted into the National Register of Historic Places.
Fox Associates have continued to update the Fabulous Fox.
Timeline of Renovations
- 1995-A $2 million, 20 foot stage addition drew in the Phantom of the Opera national tour.
- 2000-The ceiling mural was restored.
- 2005-Addition of the Fox Club, the Marquee Room, and a video marquee.
- 2008-Addition of a historically accurate blade sign.
- 2011-New air conditioning, LED lighting, and a new front façade.
- 2013-Restoration of the auditorium ceiling.
- 2015-The opening of the Curtain Call Lounge
- 2017-A new parking garage was added directly north of the theatre.
The Grand Staircase and Lobby
After passing through the double set of brass doors, the breath-taking lobby features a carpeted grand staircase with a pair of electric eyed lions guarding its handrails at the bottom. A rich tapestry of a swami gazes down from the three story interior east wall at the arriving guests.
The unique “Siamese Byzantine” architecture has the feel of a far-away palace with ornate animals and figures carved into walls, columns, and trim. Even the elevator has been restored with leather walls and brass fixtures. You can either walk into ground floor level of the auditorium or go upstairs to the balconies.
The Main Auditorium
The Auditorium is simply stunning. Rows of plush red seats are surrounded by golden entities, alcoves lit by a kaleidoscope of colors, and a massive stage, crowned by an exceptional piece of architecture much like the roof of an East Indian kingdom.
The 12 foot in diameter chandelier is an immense orb made of gilded pot metal, lit with 259 light bulbs, and decorated with 2,264 pieces of art glass. This gem of the theatre weighs 5,280 pounds.
The Fox Club and Balconies
A trip up the wide winding spiral staircases or the intricate elevator will take you upstairs to the Fox Club private seats or the upper balcony.
After entering through engraved, frosted-glass French doors, The Fox Club seats give the viewer a marvelous view of the extensive stage and theatre while providing private service to its patrons.
The upper balcony is not just the “cheap seats”. Even at the top row, where I once sat for Sunset Boulevard, one is only brought closer the theatre ceiling that is illuminated like a byzantine paradise.
On this lovely day at the Fox, we shot not only these lavish photos and fashions, but we also recorded a couple promos, a book trailer, and some behind the scenes footage of how to cram so much creativity in only two hours in a massive, majestic building.
Over 20 million people have visited the Fox Theatre since it reopened in 1982. I can’t wait to go back for another show!
The Fox Theatre is open for tours on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, at 10:30 a.m. They last about 90 minutes. Tickets can purchased at the box office where the tours commence. For information on private tours and group rates call 314-657-5068. Show schedules and tickets can be viewed/purchased at FabulousFox.com
A special thank you to the Fox Theatre for hosting the shoot and Playbill and the Fox Theatre for information on this article. Photos: Kim Ackerman/Vogue Portrait Studios, Kyana Gilliam, Victoria L. Szulc, Artist/Designer/Stylist/Location Specialist: Victoria L. Szulc, Models: Jacqueline Brown and Ashley Meyer, Lighting Assistant: Ray Ochs. Historical photos courtesy of the Missouri History Museum and St. Louis Central Library.
Victoria L. Szulc is a multi-media Steampunk artist/writer working her fourth Steampunk novel, “Lafayette to London”. You can follow her works at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com