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Design Rediscovered: The Fabulous Fox - Ladue News: Design

Design Rediscovered: The Fabulous Fox

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Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 1:24 pm | Updated: 3:38 pm, Thu Aug 2, 2012.

I hope everyone who reads this has had the opportunity to attend an event and create a memory at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. Maybe it was a show in its Broadway series, an evening of music performed by a favorite artist or a movie from its beloved Monday Night at the Movies series years ago. This year celebrates the 30th anniversary of the theater’s rebirth. With thanks to Mary and the late Leon Strauss, our city still can enjoy the Theatre as conceived by William Fox and designed by C. Howard Crane.

Fox Associates purchased the building in 1981, after it closed in 1978, suffering badly from years of neglect and decay. Pantheon Construction Company was in charge of the physical restoration, with Mary Strauss at the helm of the creative and hands-on advising aspect of what would become her ‘baby.’ With a cost of $3 million (that’s 1981 dollars), there virtually is not an area that was not touched for the restoration of this St. Louis treasure!

The beginning of this building was no less grand than its restoration. William Fox (1879-1952) was a Hungarian immigrant who came to America and founded the Fox Film Corporation at age 26. Going bankrupt in 1936 as a result of the Great Depression and other issues, the business ventures he founded would go on to become 20th Century Fox. As you know, Darryl Zanuck led the new studio to great successes!

C. Howard Crane (1885-1952) was the genius behind the architectural and interior design of the Fox Theatre. With the onset of the movie industry, the young architect realized there was a need for venues, and he decided to answer that need. By my count, he designed more than 35 movie palaces, many of which were Fox properties, between the years of 1911 and 1935. Our St. Louis theater is a slightly smaller, albeit just-as-grand, version of a theater he designed for Fox in Detroit.

Crane’s style was exotic and a little absurd for many. Remember, world travel was not as common then as it is today. This Siamese-Byzantine style, which marries Moorish, Far Eastern, Egyptian, Babylonian and Indian elements, amazed the theatergoers, giving them much to discuss before the fi lm began. By example, the Fox has a stained glass chandelier that is 12 feet in diameter and glimmers with all the colors of the rainbow. Another avant-garde design element is the 7,300 yards of carpet, which features a playful elephant motif. I would imagine that the plaster molds used to create the various pilaster, column, ceiling and wall decoration outnumber the stars who have appeared on the stage. Painstaking attempts were made to carefully recreate all of the trompe l’oeil and special painting effects that were part of the original design.

I was 20 years old when I first attended an event at the newly restored Fox Theatre. I still remember an effervescent Mary Strauss crossing the stage to welcome the audience. She still has that same enthusiasm today, guiding her ‘baby’ with style, class and often, the unexpected. Here’s to another 30 years of wonderful memories at the Fabulous Fox!

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