This summer, I was digging in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle “morgue” for information on one of Brooklyn’s long lost movie palaces, the Fox Theater. The morgue can be overwhelming, with thousands upon thousands of tiny clippings in equally tiny envelopes housed in rows of rather ominous looking file cabinets. That said, the multitude of clippings is exactly what makes morgue exploration so exciting. While digging for one thing you, can’t help but stumble across thousands of other things you didn’t even know you were looking for. Like this:
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 28 Feb 1930.
I found this really outstanding. "Wired Seats at the Fox Help Deaf Hear Talkies"; assisted listening devices in 1930! And how cutting edge!
“A number of choice seats in the mezzanine,” reads the article, “have been equipped with the device, which consists of a telephone headpiece and receiver and an adjustable hand switch by which the person using it can control the volume of the sound coming through the instrument.” What other innovations did the Fox champion? What other cool stuff was showing at the Fox?
The Fox Theater opened in 1928 inside a triangle block bordered by Flatbush, Nevins, and Livingston Streets.
Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn, 1929.
It was one of the “big four” movie palaces in the Fulton-Flatbush theater district, along with the Lowe’s Metropolitan, RKO Albee, and Brooklyn Paramount.
Fox Theater. 1935. Print. Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library.
At the time the largest theater in Brooklyn, the Fox had a seating capacity of 5,000 and was decked out with an undersea motif. The architect had “planned the large edifice to represent an undersea palace. The inside shell of the dome and the mural decorations carry out a theme as does the combination of green and tan marble in the lobby” (Brooklyn Daily Eagle 9 June 1946).
Not only was the Fox the biggest, but it was also one of the early hot spots to stay cool during the summer months.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2 June 1929.
A complicated cooling system (at least it sounds complicated to me) was installed in 1929. “An enormous fan,” reads the article “draws 80,000 cubic feet of air per minute.” The air was drawn in from vents in the ceiling, headed to the basement where it was cleaned of dust by jets of cool water, refrigerated with some sort of extreme chemical concoction, and then pumped up from the floor. Now that's fancy.
William Fox was a movie palace mogul and the theater’s namesake. He was hit hard by the Great Depression and ended up leasing the theater to new management in 1934, a Mr. Jacob Fabian and his Fabian Enterprises. The radio station WBNY moved into what had been William Fox's apartment on the eighth floor, which provided a direct line to the screen for radio broadcasts. This innovation diversified the theater's programming.
The Theater Historical Society - Annual No. 9. The Brooklyn Fox Theater. 1982. Print.
The radio connection wasn't always spot on. Early on the theater showed a championship boxing match but, for the first few minutes, piped in the audio from a completely different match. Eventually, to keep up with the rise in home television sales, the theater started showing televised broadcasts of a number of things: State of the Union addresses, operas, football games, etc. On November 22nd, 1949, 4,000 junior high school students went to the Fox to watch the first televised broadcast of the United Nations Assembly proceedings. It was said to be the first time a theater had been used for educational purposes.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 22 Nov 1949.
Early in the Fox’s life, vaudeville and amateur shows were all the rage. In 1943, the theater hosted a series of “Victory Amateur Shows” in which all the participants were local defense workers. There were also visiting DJs, all Irish shows, and other famous musical acts. The shows were cancelled in 1945, however, in a “drive against bobby-sox juvenile delinquency in movie theaters.”
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 22 March 1945.
It seems that 35 arrests had been made over a period of a few weeks and students were using their lunch money for movie tickets! Scandal! There was even a local law that barred unaccompanied minors under 16 between the hours of 3:00pm and 6:00pm in an effort to combat this issue.
Ultimately, it wasn't bobby soxers but multiplexes that did the Fox Theater in. After being skipped over by big blockbusters, the theater was limited to B movies that didn’t pull in a sustaining crowd. On February 6th, 1966, the theater stopped showing films. The next four years saw a smattering of concerts and events, but in 1971 the theater was demolished and the ConEdison building built atop.
Though the Fox theater is gone, you can still visit a movie palace of old here in Brooklyn. The recently renovated Kings Theater, which you can tour, can give you a glimpse of what it might have felt like to see a show in that extravagant undersea palace that was the Fox Theater.