Fox Theatre Hydrant

Fox Theatre Hydrant, AtlantaFox Theatre has long been considered by the fire hydrants to be the best location in Atlanta. A guaranteed front row seat to the stars. I am the 4th generation of Fox Theatre hydrants. My great grandpa remembers when the theatre was actually being built in 1927. It wasn't called a theatre then, but the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque. I know you have never heard of it either ! My great grandpa said the Shriners were a national fraternal organization which were founded in 1889 right here in Atlanta  and were a subgroup of the Masons. Their full name is the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, whew what a mouthful!. Evidently there was a lot of Shriners in Atlanta during the 1920's and they had an awful lot of money to spend. My Great grandpa couldn't believe his eyes when he saw those weird towers, arches and onion domes being built in midtown Atlanta. He wasn't too worried because it was the 1920's when eccentricity was the go and people were having the time of their lives. He said that people were calling it the "Roaring Twenties". Even so, Great Grandpa couldn't believe how big they were making the building and was how strange it was starting to look. In fact he thought it may have been Egyptians or Arabs who were behind the temple's design. He later discovered that it wasn't so. It was a local architectural firm of Marye, Alger and Vinour, who had won a design competition to build the Shriners headquarters. They had thought the Arabic look would go with the general theme of the Shriners (seeing they were from the Ancient Arabic Order and all). Plus there had been a great interest in eveything Egyptian at the time, following the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922. But it appears that the design was far too extravagantly pricey for the Shriners and they had to lease out part of the building just in order to finish it. Rumors around town was the Mosque cost a little over $2.75 million, that was a lot in those days. President of the Fox Theater Corporation and the Fox Film Corporation, Mr William Fox, loved the building so much he signed a 21 year lease for the 5,000 seat auditorium (soon to be Fox Theatre). When Great Grandpa heard this news he was so excited and all the other fire hydrants were green with envy. Everyone knew William Fox was involved in this knew thing called the 'talking movies' and great Grandpa was dying to see what all the fuss was about. The first talking movie, 'The Jazz Singer' had been released during the construction of the Yaarab Temple and the streets were abuzz with the promise that "talkies" would soon be playing in their new theatre. But the excitement of the opening was about to take second place. Two months before the grand opening, something dreadful happened. The most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, befell the country and it was called the Wall Street Crash of 1929 or to many "Black Tuesday". Grandpa said it was just so awful, it caused widespread panic the likes that had never been seen. The prosperity and excess of the 20's had led many to believe it was here to stay and they threw their money onto the stocks with wild abandonment. When the market crashed, fortunes were lost in an instant and those who thought it would right itself were sorely mistaken. The crash lasted a month but the damage had been done. Many investors soon dropped their carefree facade, they stopped going to dance halls and restaurants, sold their cars, sold their houses and some even took their own lives. It was a bad time in America and a general darkness descended over Atlanta.

Despite this, Great Grandpa said he would never forget the day of the grand opening, it was Christmas, the 25th of December, 1929, he thought no one would come as it was snowing. Boy, was he wrong, not the snow, not the Crash, not even it being Christmas could stop the people. The line he said went for over two blocks. It seemed as though the dark cloud had been lifted. Despite the Great Crash being only two months old, people were beginning to feel more optimistic. Even as a young hydrant I often quizzed Great Grandpa about that day, but no matter how much I question him (then and now), he can never remember what was showing at the theatre on that day. All he can remember was the glitz and glamour of it, the bands playing and people dressed up to the nines.

All was good for a while, but when the Great Depression hit, it hit hard. No one could afford to go to the theatre, they struggled just to get food on the table. The Great Depression was a real bad time and it forced the Fox Theatre into bankruptcy (even the Shriners went under).

In 1939 my great grandpa missed out on the greatest event of the year, the premier of the movie, Gone With the Wind. He cried for days. The event was held at Loew's Grand Theatre on the corner of Peachtree and Forsyth Streets in downtown Atlanta . The old theatre ain't there no more but it was abuzz that night. The only concilation great grandpa had was that Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh were staying across the road at the Georgian Terrace hotel. They walked right passed him. He used to tell us that Gable actually leaned on him when he was signing an autograph, but I think he made that bit up! The hydrants at Loew's Grand Theatre didn't half tease great grandpa, who was such a movie fan. But rumors abounded that the African American stars of the film weren't allowed to attend the event, nor were they even on the souvenir program. Loew's burnt down in 1978 and the rumor amongst the hydrants was it was deliberately lit.

During the 1940's the Fox Theatre became the place to be in Atlanta. It was the time of big bands and country & western swing bands. It also was the time that great grandpa was replaced. He was getting old and his joints were a bit leaky. We have always prayed he was recycled. My grandpa was a sparkling new hydrant when the Fox was in full swing. He was so proud that it was the only theatre in the city allowing both black and white patrons. Even though, it still had a separate ticket box and a seregation wall inside the theatre.

About the time my daddy took over in the 1960's, the theatre was in decline. That indoor sport, television, had arrived and people just weren't getting out as much. By the time the 70's arrived a company called Southern Bell had approached the owners to buy the building. Daddy was pretty excited, until he discovered the company wanted to pull down the Fox. The Fox Theatre hydrants had a proud heritage and it seemed they would soon be just like all the other hydrants, overseeing a highrise. Being a hydrant doesn't really give you a voice to protest, but as word soon spread and people began protesting, famous stars like Liberace began a campaign to save the Atlanta landmark.  When the fight was won and the Fox was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 74, my dad nearly burst his main!

For a hydrant there hadn't been much action in our family. No fires to report of, until that fateful morning of April the 15th, 1996. Click here to read more about that tragic day.