Shared Stories: The Fox Theatre

As a child in Atlanta in the 1920’s and 30’s, Kay Halsey enjoyed going to the fabled Fox Theatre on weekends to see shows that included singing, dancing and an orchestra before the newsreels and main film were presented.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns


By Kay Halsey

Walking home from elementary school along Piedmont Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia, I had no idea that I passed the apartment where Margaret Mitchell was writing the novel “Gone With The Wind.” That was in the 1920’s.  The novel was later made into a movie which premiered in Atlanta and became the most watched movie in cinematic history.  

As a child I wasn’t thinking about the Great Depression - 900 banks failing, one out of four men not working, Hitler killing all of the Jews, some of whom escaped to America. Hitler was taking over all of the European countries.

In Atlanta, I looked forward to going to the Fox Theater on Saturdays. It cost 10¢. The building was originally planned by the Shriners. The Shriners had wanted to build an auditorium for their gatherings that was grand like the Alhambra Temple in Spain or the Karmak Temple in Egypt.

The Shriners building was gorgeous. The gold domes topped a huge building, and they bought an organ with 3,262 pipes costing $3 million, the largest in the world. But the Shriners couldn’t pay for it. 

The film industry needed a place to show their movies which were just developing and used the Shriners’ palace. The Shriners’ building became part of the Fox Theatres chain in 1929.  “Gone With The Wind” did not premiere at this fabulous Fox Theatre because of a deal involving a rival movie studio.  Instead, the movie premiered at Loew’s Theatre in Atlanta.
As you entered the Fox Theatre on marble floors, you saw posters promoting the coming attractions. A smartly dressed usher took tickets. Stepping inside you saw plush red carpets and stairs on both ends of the lobby. Taking a seat, one looked up to see stars in the sky, heavy velvet red curtains on the stage, and elaborate decorations on the walls.

A huge organ was raised up from the well of the orchestra pit. A screen came down and words to popular songs bounced as the great organ played the accompaniment for patrons to sing along.

When the organ went down, the curtain opened to a stage show of slapstick comedians, dancing dogs, or chorus girls dancing. Then the orchestra came up from the pit and played beautiful classical music.

Next a screen was opened for a newsreel, followed by a cowboy and Indian movie which was terminated at an exciting time to encourage you to come back for another show next week.
The major film, a mystery or drama, was the main event. Marie Drusler and Wallace Berry were filmed on Front Street, Norwalk, for one of the films. 

When all was over we walked back into the light or sundown. It was all over. Would I come next week? Yes! How could I miss it?!