It started as a Yaarab Shriner’s Temple (cornerstone, left), but went on to become a movie palace. For children of today, brought up in a world of screens, the idea of these Shangri Las are as fantastic as something out of the Grimm Brothers. The world is somewhere else, and most of these relics were lost or destroyed fifty years ago. The building itself was to be taken over by Southern Bell, and thrown down, but for the people of Atlanta who found a new calling to protect it, as if Sherman had reentered Atlanta.
A wonderful tour is to be had on off days in Atlanta. Compared to the King Foundation, which is free, this at $10 a head, will seem a ripoff, but in the end, I was happy to do it. Our Fox guide, unlike the wonderful tour guide who was a Park Ranger at the King birth house, was an unpaid volunteer. But she. too, was also just as wonderful. She seemed to have a love for the place, and the right kind of fascination, which made it that more interesting. We were there on a great day, so Kathy Griffin’s night performance did not stipulate we could not see the interior theater area, and the house lights were up full, so we could see everything.
She explained how the Shriner’s ran out of money with this venture, and how William Fox, from the original Fox movie studios (later 20th Century Fox) became interested in the structure. So we saw areas that the Shriners had planned as receptions rooms which had recently been refurbished. The theme had been sort of Moorish/Egyptian, which is not exactly the same thing.
The beauty in detail to this reception room involved Egyptian motifs repeated in column painting, a large rug design and light coverings, similar to Egyptian friezes (above). The beauty of Moorish design in the exterior penthouse reception area, as well as details of the reception room (below).
The most elaborate theater where I lived had been an opera house first. It was done Italianate, with stucco and putti. But it’s bathrooms were housed within a lounge area, which permitted smoking. The Fox ladies lounge (four shots below) contained a sitting room, a toilet area, a phone booth area and an actual powder room. While men smoked in their lounge area (three shots under), women had a separate door which led them out into a smoking area.
The lobby area is large compared to even large centroplex theaters, the lighting is soft, so I had to use a flash at point to pick up on the detail. In some ways one might think of this as the ultimate in bad taste, but this is a period which follows the Victorian, and figure, many of the designers on this and craftspeople came out of the period. Horror vacui, the fear of empty spaces. Yet the furnishing aren’t overstuffed horrors, but it is made up of the same mentality which one see at Ringling in the wagons of the circus, carousels, etc. Here, it is still beautiful when kept at a minimum, with colors, more the ceiling designs, which do not jump out but keep a semblance of analogous and greyed hues. But that is for the actual viewer to decide. Contrast this with Wright, who was operating at the same time! Even Victorian in Oak Park, side by side, with Wright seems sedate to much of this.
The Auditorium dwarfs anything we have seen before all of this. As said before, we were lucky to see it with the house lights up. What a fairy tale for an age before special effects. Twinkling tiny bulbs on the ceiling served as real stars. Under a canopy amid a make believe castle setting.
It is a Terrific thing Atlanta has done to perserve this old structure.
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