The Great Crash in December 1929 left a lasting impact on the American economy--and on Spokane. Plans by Fox West Coast Studios to build a theater had been part of Spokane gossip since 1927. The million dollar project began in 1930, early in the Great Depression, and provided 200 jobs for out-of-work citizens, helping Spokane stay afloat during economic decline. Movies were hugely popular during the Depression, providing a cheap distraction from daily life. Movie studios were producing more films, as more visitors attended their showings in theaters.
Upon its completion, Spokane's citizens were shocked to see the stark concrete exterior of the Fox. The Spokesman-Review referred to the building as "unusual, so bizarre and so futuristic . . . certainly Spokane has seen nothing like it before." Its sleek concrete exterior, designed by John C. Reamer looked nothing like the drawings of an elaborate Italian-Spanish theater the Spokesman-Review published years earlier. The modernistic exterior with plain art-deco detailing signaled the dawn of a new modern era in Spokane. The theater's interior, designed by Anthony Heinsbergen, was filled with elaborate art-deco detailing. The theater also featured modern conveniences like air conditioning and smoking parlors near the restrooms. The Fox was the first motion picture theater built by a major motion picture company in Spokane.
As more movie theaters began to pop up in the city, the Fox Theater began to decline in popularity. In 1975 the theater divided its upper balcony into two smaller theaters in the hopes of competing with larger suburban multiplexes. The splendor and beauty of the facility faded and the theater's old age began to show and in 2000, the theater's doors finally closed. Rumors began to surface in 2000 that the Spokane Club was planning on buying the theater site to construct a parking plaza. Fortunately the Spokane Symphony purchased the Fox with the intent to restore it and make the theater the symphony's permanent home. In 2001 the theater was added to the Spokane Historic Register, and underwent a $31 million dollar restoration, which required $5 million in fundraising.
In 2007, the Fox Theater reopened its doors as the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox in recognition of the charitable donation made by Myrtle Edwidge Woldson in the name of her father, Martin Woldson, Scandinavian immigrant and successful pioneer-turned businessman. The theater today has been converted back to its original configuration and hosts many events for the community on top of its Spokane Symphony performances.
MAC 100 Stories: A Centennial Exhibition is told on the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture campus in Spokane's Browne's Addition, with additional highlights at 15 sites in Spokane and eastern Washington. The exhibit experience (February 22, 2014 - January 2016) weaves stories and programs about Inland Northwest people, places and events by capitalizing on the MAC's extraordinary collection. www.northwestmuseum.org
Spokane Historical presents 15 regional and city tours in partnership with the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture and its 100 Stories exhibition.
For more information about the Fox and events at the Fox, visit www.foxtheaterspokane.com.