Fox Tucson Theatre: The King of Tucson Concerts Since 1930
In pre-1930s Tucson, concerts were hard to come by. Perhaps ironically, there weren’t many joyous things to do in Tucson at all until the Great Depression hit. But in those fateful years when dust bowls were filled with wrathful grapes, brand-new realms of entertainment emerged to distract Americans from their Steinbeckian surroundings. For the residents of the formerly tiny village of Tucson, the most depression-busting moment of 1930 came on April 11, when the Fox Tucson Theatre opened its doors for the first time.
Part One: The 40-Year Reign
How grand was the grand opening of downtown Tucson’s first vaudeville theater and movie palace? There were no fewer than four live bands, and Congress Street was waxed for the occasion to ensure that people could literally dance in the streets. It was the biggest party the city had ever seen, and easy to find thanks to the theater’s towering sign.
The theater’s interior was even more impressive. It featured an art deco design packed with decorative plaster and murals, a fancy new stage, a fly loft, and an underground dressing room. A lucky group of 3,000 saw the movie screen christened by a Jack Benny romantic comedy, a Movietone short, and a Mickey Mouse cartoon.
Even though Congress Street didn’t stay waxed for long, Fox Tucson Theatre remained the city’s crown jewel for years. But after four decades as the town’s top movie and vaudeville palace, the great lifter of the Great Depression found itself shuddered in 1974, thanks to television, multiplexes, downtown retail declines, and the fact that 1974 was no good for anybody. Over the course of the next 25 years, the majestic theater fell into disrepair.
Part Two: The Fox Becomes Foxy Again
The gorgeous landmark would likely have been pawned for nickels and left for dead, were it not for a group of preservationists who refused to let the theater go. It took six years, $14 million, and a lot of love to rehabilitate and restore the Fox, but most of Southern Arizona will tell you it was worth the effort. Redressed in a Southwestern art deco style inspired by the original design, the new Fox has restored murals, decorative plaster, and lighting fixtures painstakingly recreated from surviving examples and photographs.
Today, you can’t just see where all that money went—you can hear it. The venue has become known for its diverse slate of concerts; its calendar features everything from popular rock and comedy acts to the National Circus and Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China. And if the surplus of live talent gets exhausting, the Fox sticks to it roots as a movie house with weekly screenings of classic movies projected in their original 35mm format.
Epilogue: Rave Reviews
Why do most of the best Tucson concerts happen at Fox Tucson Theatre? It’s not just because they treat their patrons right. It’s because they treat their artists right. And those artists keep coming back for more. Here are some kind things they have to say about the Fox:
“The Fox Theatre in Tucson, Arizona is magical. An exquisite theater with the most harmonic sound and a fabulous audience. Sometimes, there is kind of a mystical feeling in the air at a gig, and it was present at The Fox!” – Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues
“The Fox Theatre is the best experience I’ve had in a city. I like very much. They couldn’t have taken better care of me or their audience.” – Randy Newman
“I love playing beautifully refurbished vintage theaters, and the Fox Theatre in Tucson is one of the best!” – Roger McGuinn of The Birds
Enjoy the show, and check Groupon to keep tabs on upcoming concerts in Tucson.
Roy left The Polyphonic Spree choir and his punk band The Tah-Dahs to become a balding Chicago writer and folksinger. Find him on Twitter @RoyIvy.