Fox Tucson Theatre
The Fox Theatre is a Tucson landmark. The theatre first opened with a bang in 1930, inspiring one of the biggest block parties the city’s ever seen. Fox Theatre first opened as a moviehouse and vaudeville performance venue and became the mecca of Tucson’s arts and entertainment scene. Unfortunately, it all went downhill in the 1970s, when competition from other movie theatres as well as the decline of Downtown forced the Fox Tucson Theatre to close. The building remained boarded up for 26 years and served as a squat for the city’s homeless population. It wasn’t until 1999 that the city and local non-profit organizations decided to restore the Fox Tucson Theatre to its former glory. Six years and $14 million later, the hard work paid off; the Fox is once again the crown jewel of Downtown. But the restoration didn’t just bring the theatre back from the dead, it awakened a few slumbering spirits too. Staff and regular patrons of the theatre have become all too familiar with the Fox Theatre’s resident ghosts. The ghost of a homeless panhandler is often seen hanging just outside the theatre, and he sometimes wanders into the lobby. He asks for change just before disappearing in front of the confused guests. The ghost of a young girl has been seen jumping on the couches in the theatre’s lower lobby. Guests are alerted to her presence by her giggling and childish laughter right before she appears. The projection booth is also haunted by an unseen spirit. It likes to give the technicians a scare by jostling the equipment and causing it to malfunction. Quite a few projectionists have quit because of it.
History of the Fox Tucson Theatre
The Fox Theatre was built in 1929 by Nicolas Diamos, whose family ran a few other theatres in Arizona. The theatre was built to host vaudeville acts as well as show films, and there were plans to build a large stage, full fly loft, and dressing rooms underneath the stage. The combination of the Great Depression along with the advent of talkies meant that Diamos’ vision simply wasn’t possible. The costs were too high.
Diamos originally intended his theatre to be called the Tower Theatre, until Fox Studios approached him with a deal. They wanted to buy the theatre outright, and if Diamos didn’t sell, they threatened him with building a bigger theatre across the street and revoking the rights for any of their films to be shown at the Tower. Diamos couldn’t refuse, and Fox agreed to let the Diamos family manage and operate the theatre. From that moment forward, the Tower Theatre became the Fox Theatre.
The Fox Theatre opened on April 11th, 1930. The grand opening was a huge deal. Downtown Tucson lit up with festivities. Congress Street was closed down to traffic, and the streets were waxed to accommodate dancers. There were also four live bands and a radio broadcast, as well as free trolley rides Downtown to keep the crowds moving. About 3,000 people bought tickets to the Fox Theatre’s first movie premier. The movie Chasing Rainbows and an animated Mickey Mouse short were the first features at the Fox.
The Fox Theatre became the centerpiece of Tucson’s thriving entertainment scene. In addition to films, the theatre also hosted vaudeville performances, community events, and live plays. In the 1950s, the Fox became most known for its Saturday morning screenings of the local chapter of the Mickey Mouse Club, which was a hit with the children of Tucson. In 1956, the theatre got an $80,000 overhaul which remodeled the marquee and box office, and gave the lobby an all-glass entrance.
Decline and Abandonment
In the 1960s and 70s, Downtown Tucson had succumbed to urban decay. Housing was scarce, and people had stopped going Downtown to shop as more residents left for the suburbs. With the rising popularity of drive-in movie theatres, the Fox just couldn’t compete. The historic theatre was forced to close its doors in 1974.
The Fox Theatre’s front entrance was boarded up, and the building itself became a squat for the local homeless population. The owners at the time had plans to knock down the theatre and build an office building, they decided to let the theatre slowly crumble, which it did. Part of the roof caved in, exposing the theatre to the elements. The theatre suffered extensive water damage, and vandals had their way with the walls and interior. By the 1980s and 90s, the Fox Theatre was just another bus stop in Downtown Tucson.
Restoring the Fox Tucson
The Fox Theatre was headed straight for the wrecking ball. It was almost beyond repair, but some Tucsonians still saw the cultural value in the theatre. The Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation was formed, and negotiated with the property owners to buy the building for $250,000 in 1999. They raised over $14 million over the next six years as they began renovating and restoring the theatre.
The restoration was a huge success. The Fox Theatre hosts over 150 events every year, pulling in almost 100,000 visitors annually. The theatre hosts concerts, plays, films, private receptions, and much more.
Ghosts of the Fox Tucson Theatre
When the Fox Tucson Theatre was restored, the spirits which were long at rest were reawakened. No word on whether the Fox Theatre was haunted during its heyday, but it’s a well-known fact that ghosts live in the theatre today.
The ghost patrons seem to encounter the most is that of a homeless panhandler. He tends to hang out near the theatre entrance, either just outside on the sidewalk, or inside the lobby. At first glance, he seems pretty earthly, fooling many guests and passersby who believe that he’s a living person. The trick is when he approaches someone and asks for some change. The homeless ghost disappears when someone gives him some money, leaving the coins to drop down to the ground. He’s given quite a few people a good scare, many of whom thought the ghost was a living, breathing person.
No one knows where the homeless ghost came from, but most suspect that he stems from the dark days of the theatre’s abandonment, back when the building was nothing more than a rundown squat. Many homeless camped out in the building, and the ghost could be the spirit of a man who died while squatting in the abandoned theatre.
A more lively spirit is that of a young girl who hangs out in the theatre’s lower lobby. Like the homeless man, nobody seems to know who she was, or her connection to the theatre. They do know that she’s quite the energetic young child. She only seems to inhabit the lower lobby, and guests and staff alike often see her jumping on the couches and running around the lobby before disappearing into thin air. Sometimes she remains invisible, though the sound of her childish laughter and giggling can still be heard. Paranormal investigators claim to have captured multiple photos and ESP readings of the childish ghost.
The theatre’s projection room is haunted by an unseen force, which some describe as projecting a shadowy presence. Though it’s not completely malevolent, it is quite mischievous. The ghost often messes around with the projection equipment, occasionally causing it to malfunction. Technicians and projectionists have reported strange noises, shadow people, and a strange glow emanating from the projection room. According to the theatre manager, quite a few projectionists have quit due to the strange phenomena.
When the Fox Tucson was originally under construction in 1929, a worker died when he was crushed by heavy machinery. The builders paid tribute to him by installing a stone arrow near the stage, which points in the opposite direction of the other decorations.
Learn more about the haunted history of Arizona!
Arizona is a beautiful place, with a blend of cultures, wide-open landscapes, and nice people. It’s also haunted by its bloody history of coal mining, cowboys, and Native American genocide. Down the street from the Fox Tucson is the Congress Hotel. The historic hotel is one of the most haunted in the country, being home to dozens of ghosts. John Dillinger even used it as a hideout while on the lam. Check out another one of Arizona’s haunted theatres, the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. The Orpheum is haunted by the ghost of a young girl named Maddie, who often jabs the patrons if they’re being too loud. And did you know that Arizona is home to the Old London Bridge? Centuries of history have left a dark aura over the bridge, and residents of Lake Havasu City are often chased by evil spirits when they’re just trying to get across town. You should also read up on the top ten most haunted spots in Phoenix before your next visit!
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