SPOKANE, Wash. The elegant Fox Theater, which was scheduled to be torn down for a parking garage seven years ago, reopened last month after a $31 million makeover that restored its art deco glory.
The decrepit theater, which had devolved into a budget movie house in a rundown part of downtown, was restored with a combination of private donations and $8 million in state funds and will be the new home of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra.
It's part of a growing area called the Davenport Arts District that includes the restored Davenport Hotel, the 800-seat Bing Crosby Theater, The Big Easy concert hall, and numerous nightclubs and art galleries.
It gives Spokanites the option of seeing the likes of the Gonzaga Wind Symphony, Rob Zombie or Tony Bennett along a two-block stretch of Sprague Avenue.
That doesn't mean the area is becoming saturated with venues, said Brenda Nienhouse, executive director of the Spokane Symphony and the theater.
"It's the wealth of abundance," Nienhouse said. "When vitality is happening, more and more people will come down."
The theater opened in 1931 as one of the more opulent examples of the Fox theater chain, seating some 2,000 people. The architect was Robert Reamer and the interior designer was Anthony Heinsbergen, both masters of the art deco movement. The walls, floors and ceilings used a variety of media to depict underwater flora on the first floor, rising to fantasy landscapes of castles and clouds on the second, with a giant sunburst on the ceiling.
It was the first building in Spokane to have air conditioning.
Movie stars who attended the grand opening included George O'Brien, Victor McLaglen, Anita Page and child star Mitzi Green.
After decades as a first-run movie palace, the Fox began its slow decline.
The restoration work included removing years of dirt, grime and popcorn grease, along with paint that covered Depression-era murals.
It will now seat about 1,700 people for live shows, with extensive lobby and meeting spaces.
The state kicked in nearly a quarter of the restoration budget under various programs.
"The Fox Theater is an historic icon of this region," said Gov. Chris Gregoire, who attended law school in Spokane.
Gregoire noted the theater's high-speed Internet connections will allow it to conduct real-time arts education programs from around the world.
"With this technology, a composer in China can see and hear her symphony performed in actual-time and offer comments from Beijing during rehearsals," Nienhouse said. "Students on the stage can be adjudicated by experts in New York and Europe with the clarity and immediacy of being right in the hall."
The rebirth began in 2000, when the nearby Spokane Club sought to buy the theater from Regal Cinemas to build a new parking garage for its members. That produced an outcry from preservation advocates.
At the same time, the Spokane Symphony was looking for a home of its own after performing for years in the Spokane Opera House. Symphony leaders persuaded the Spokane Club to sell them the theater, and started raising money for the restoration.
Officially, the building will be called the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. An early day railroad construction contractor, Woldson died in 1958 and is being commemorated as a result of a $3 million donation from his daughter, Myrtle Woldson.
Her father, she said earlier this year, loved music.