The Fox Tucson Theatre opened on April 11, 1930, as a dual vaudeville/movie house. The Fox featured a stage, full fly-loft, and dressing rooms beneath the stage. The combined effects of “talkies” and the Depression limited the opportunities for live performance, and the dressing rooms were never completed.
Opening night, April 11, 1930, proved to be the biggest party the small community of Tucson had ever seen. With Congress Street closed and waxed for dancing, four live bands, a live radio broadcast and free trolley rides downtown, the party was not-to-be-missed. So began the Fox Tucson’s 40-year reign as the “crown jewel” of downtown Tucson’s entertainment world. Over the years the theatre served as Tucson’s most revered “Classic Movie Palace,” while also occasionally hosting community events, vaudeville performances and more. In the 1950s The Fox was particularly renowned as the venue for Saturday morning screenings put on by the Tucson Chapter of the Mickey Mouse Club!
Competition from new theaters and the decline of downtown shopping led to the theatre’s closing in 1974.
After sitting empty for 25 years, the theater was nearly beyond restoration. Extensive water damage, vandalism, and neglect had conspired to make the theatre a mere shadow of its former self. In the late 1990s, however, following a two-year negotiation process, 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—as well as occasional open houses and special event fundraisers, kept the community engaged and hopeful that the theatre might actually be restored to its original glory.
Following a six-year, $14+ million rehabilitation, led by its tireless Executive Director, Herb Stratford, along with many dedicated volunteers, the theatre reopened on New Year’s Eve 2006 (12/31/05). The Foundation was finally able to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its unique “Southwestern Art Deco” decor as well as its world-class acoustics. The impact of the re-opened historic theatre on downtown, the larger community of Tucson, and on Southern Arizona as a whole, has been profound.
The Fox hosts approximately 150-160 events each year and sees over 75,000 patrons through its doors. The 1164 seat audience capacity is big enough to attract national and international talent, yet small enough to boast an intimate entertainment experience. Once again the Fox is a premier live performance venue, a classic film buff’s dream (showing classic films on the big screen “the way they were meant to be seen”), and a multi-purpose, elegant rental facility for corporate, non-profit and private events.