The Fox Theatre originally opened on April 11, 1930 as a movie house called "The Tower." Built by Nicholas Diamos as one of his chain of theaters in Southern Arizona, it was then taken over by Fox. It had a full stage, dressing rooms, and a fly-loft. However, due to the depression, the dressing rooms were never finished and there was a limited budget for live performances. The budget reached over $300,000 to finish the original building because of details such as the furnishings. It opened as a movie theater and a place for the Tucson community to gather for live events. It has since then been known as the "crown jewel" of downtown Tucson's entertainment. On opening night, there was one of the biggest celebrations that downtown Tucson had ever seen. Over 3,000 people bought tickets to see a show on opening night as local bands and free trolley rides filled the streets. The Mickey Mouse Club was one of the first shows ever to be performed in the Fox Theatre. There was much competition between the Fox Theatre and other theaters in Tucson, but times eventually got tough. Although the Fox Theatre was a hit when it first opened, as more theaters began to open as competition, it caused the Fox Theatre to close down in 1974. After sitting unused for 25 years, the idea of restoration did not phase the owners. In 1999, the nonprofit, Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation purchased the property for $250,000. After a lengthy restoration process, it opened back up on New Years Eve in 2006. Today, the Fox Theatre serves as a multipurpose performance venue that seats over 1000 people.
For over 25 years, the Fox Theatre remained vacant and home to over 40 homeless people. There were extreme amounts of damage from water, vandalism, and neglect that needed to be fixed, it was nearly beyond restoration. The owners, who had planned to demolish the theater for a future office building, had decided to let the building decay on its own and had little interest of selling it to anyone. However, after a two year negotiation with the property owner, once the roof was fixed, rehabilitation on the inside could begin. Fortunately, the Fox Tucson Theater Foundation stepped in and in 1999 and bought the building for $250,000. From there, the restoration process could begin. Starting with building a new roof, the Fox theater was slowly starting to come together again. in 2006 and $14 million later, the theater reopened on New Years Eve of 2006. As plywood was removed, amazing discoveries were found. The original columns with 1930's tile had been covered up on the outside in 1956, and the original ceilings with colorful freeze trim had been covered up in 1956 as well. Fox has been a touchstone of memories for many in early childhood, so this project became a personal mission to many. Not only would it reminisce memories, but it would be a landmark that can aid in downtown revitilization and encourage additional intel in the retail segment of downtown Tucson. Craig Samberg, director of Tucson Fox Foundation said, "We reopened back to opening night in 1930, so when you walk into the doors at The Fox Theater in 2018, you feel like you are walking back into the theater in 1930." Elements of restoration included:
- Decorative plaster and mural restoration
- Repair to acoustic material
- Recreation of original seat fabric, carpet pattern, and light fixtures
- New theatrical systems (light, sound, projection) to better serve performing arts communities
- Programming includes dance, theater, music, and the showing of occasional films
With sold out performances and a rich history, the Fox Theatre has been able to create a substantial revenue that has benefited downtown Tucson and all of its residents. The Theatre brings over $3.4 million into downtown annually, including local restaurants and bars. On top of this, the Fox Theatre has raised money through fundraising during annual events as well. In 2013, the Fox Theater hosted over 150 events and held over 70,000 people throughout this time. In 2017, Fox patrons collectively spent over a million dollars at retails stores, lodging, arts, entertainment and recreation places, and other downtown service establishments. That is in addition to nearly $3.2 million for tickets, concessions and other expenditures (including memberships and donations). Nearly 80% of Fox Theatre patrons visit Downtown Tucson primarily to attend events, but also visit other businesses while there, with average spending of $104.07 per party or $41.33 per person. The biggest beneficiaries are downtown restaurants and bars, which saw average spending of $68.43 per party ($27.18 per person) from Fox Theatre patrons in 2017.
During the restoration process, there were over 200 volunteers. Having volunteers help to restore the theater was a way to bring the community together. It wasn't easy volunteer work, it involved gloves, goggles, and breathing masks which is not for the faint of heart. The theatre now hosts over 100 events annually and seats more than 100,000 people a year. The Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation (FTTF) was incorporated in July 1999 and was formed for the express purpose of returning the theatre to the community. The Foundation is an Arizona non-profit organization formed out of the citizen's group known as the Fox Theatre Revival Committee, which began looking at ways to save the theater in 1997. This group was composed of people who wanted to see the theater restored, and re-opened. The stated mission of the Foundation is the purchase, restoration, renovation, and operation of the historic Fox Tucson Theatre. The Foundation is guided by a professional staff and is overseen by a volunteer Board of Directors.
What to Know Before Your Next Visit
Three ways to buy tickets
2. Over the phone
3. Box office (Open Tues-Fri 11am- 6pm)
Where to eat dinner before the show: There are plenty of restaurants and bars in downtown Tucson that are just walking distance from the Fox Theatre. The nightlife is available for before and after the show.
Opportunities to see the inside of the Fox Theatre outside of showtimes: There are guided tours once a month offered by Tom Skinner, the resident historian. On this tour, people can learn and see things that are not available outside of these select guided tours. Private tours can be scheduled by contacting the House Manager.
Kinds of shows offered: Live music (country, jazz, rock), dance performances, as well as world renowned musicians. Over the past few years artists such as Willie Nelson and Weird Al have performed. Every month, different classic films are played to follow the tradition of the Fox Theatre as well.
Food and drinks offered: Inside the Fox Theatre, there are concession stands filled with candy, popcorn, and Pepsi products. There is also a full service bar that offers many different options for visitors.
Photos from Tucson Citizen: https://feelslikehometucson.com/news/local/photos-fox-tucson-theatre-through-the-years/collection_89ca48d6-756b-55fe-888b-e9e11d2fc21b.html#4