“It was OK,” I said, “but we probably could have waited to see it at home on Netflix.”
The movie, whatever it was, was entertaining enough – in fact, I think it was pretty good – and we saw it at a megaplex with all the latest digital technology. The seats were comfortable, the audio clear and crisp and the popcorn was buttery. But something was missing.
For some reason, we left unfulfilled. Why had we gone out? Soon after, we fell into the habit of staying home to watch movies.
Today, with everything from Netflix to cable to Apple TV, staying in is easier than ever. We might not get the newest films right away, but we know they will be on our home screens soon enough. Why go out to the movies?
Then we found the historic Fox Theater.
On a clear and crisp Colorado evening, we walked downtown to catch the late showing of an action film at the historic theater in downtown Montrose.
Who knew that Montrose was home to a vintage movie palace, one of the last standing, from the Golden Age of American moviegoing?
A MONTROSE TEMPLE TO THE ARTS
From the beginning of its existence, the Fox Theater has provided a magical venue for escaping the oftentimes grim realities of the world around us.
It opened two days after Black Tuesday, the Wall Street crash that heralded the start of the Great Depression, on Thursday, Oct. 31, 1929.
Despite the ensuing financial crisis, the single-room, 410-seat Fox opened with great fanfare, bringing technical capabilities to screen “talkies.” Its first feature was They Had to See Paris, starring Will Rogers.
The entire front page of The Montrose Daily Press on Nov. 29, 1929, was dedicated to its opening. “New Theatre a Temple to the Arts” read one headline.
The Middle Eastern design of the Fox Theater, complete with arches, a dome and even a minaret, was popular at the time (seven years after the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt in 1922). Both the interior and exterior conveyed a feeling of mystery and culture. In time for opening day, The Press reported that genuine imported Oriental rugs and “hangings” were brought in, so it wouldn’t take much imagination “to convince one that they are really standing in the entranceway of some century old mosque in the Orient.”
For residents living in Montrose at the time, the theater with its new sound capabilities was a dream come true.
It remains so today. “This is a place of fascination,” longtime theater manager Clay Campbell says today. “It’s so unique.”
Campbell is a student of the theater’s storied past. After its grand opening, he says, and after surviving the Great Depression, the next memorable event in the theater’s history came in 1948, after the outcome of U.S. v. Paramount Pictures, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court antitrust case that changed the way films were produced and, more importantly, shown.
Up until then, the Fox Theater had been a studio theater for 20th Century Fox. But the Supreme Court upheld that the distribution scheme at the time, whereby studio-owned theaters held exclusive rights to films, was in violation of antitrust laws.
In short, the Fox Theater would have to be sold to an independent owner, like many of the Fox theaters around the country.
Campbell believes the theater was owned and operated under various owners, until it finally sold to Stan Dewsnup in 1967.
“Dewsnup set forth in the early 1970s to modify the theater,” Campbell says. “He took the one original room and divided it into two rooms, one large and one small.
“By doing this he created the Little Theater next to the original Fox Theatre.”
Campbell described Dewsnup, who died in the mid 2000s, as an artistic man who could envision designs in three dimensions. When Dewsnup first began planning the Fox Theater’s renovation and expansion, Campbell says, the first thing he noticed was a chandelier hanging from a 40-foot rope. Just the sight of it inspired Dewsnup to add a third theater, which would become the Penthouse Theater, on a second floor.
“The upstairs was completed and opened on Christmas Eve in 1981,” Campbell says. “It’s now over 30 years old, and he designed it with an appreciation of the Romantic Era.”
Along with expanding the one-auditorium theater into a three-screen theater, Dewsnup began, with help, a daunting tile project that would soon come to define the theater.
“The tiling started all right there at the drinking fountain,” Campbell says, pointing to a brilliantly colored mural composed of shattered tile. “I think that was his therapy. He would be up at 2 in the morning doing the stuff. It’s incredible. How do I describe him? He was a prolific, flowing artist. I always say, ‘If you can find the two walls that match in here, let me know.’ All of it has a sort of 70s burnt orange color to it that’s now kind of turned retro.”
Thus did today’s Fox Theater obtain its truly unique and charming character.
From the carpet colorations to the shaded lighting fixtures, and from the retro movie star characters crowding the walls to the smokers’ window to the nude tile portrait of an unnamed woman, this is a movie theater like no other.
From the outside, the Fox still evokes a Middle Eastern mosque, but on the inside, it’s a blast from 1978. It’s a look and feel, Campbell says, that today’s owners won’t be changing anytime soon. Dewsnup sold the business to his daughter and son-in law, Meredine and Michael Hunter, and their daughter Misty Hunter, in 1985.
“For me, this place is all about the people,” Campbell says. “It is something that Stan stood for. He wanted to create an ambiance or an atmosphere for people to enjoy. He had a sense and an appreciation for what it was to have a night out – dinner and a movie. This place gives you that ambiance. It has a character to it.”
While the Hunters have worked hard to maintain the character of the theaters Dewsnup created more than 30 years ago, they are also working to keep up with Hollywood and the new technology it demands. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent to convert the theaters to digital technology.
THE NIGHT OUT IS BACK
For Torie and me, going out to the movies is once again a treat, thanks to our discovery of the Fox Theater. We’ve been back countless times, and we’ve seen films in all three of the theaters.
For us, a night at the movies is no longer just a mindless evening watching an OK movie whose name eludes us just a few months later.
At the Fox Theater, it’s a night out. It’s a visit to a temple of the arts, and a far cry from a suburban multiplex.
And the best part for us is that it’s in the heart of downtown Montrose.
The Fox Theater is located at 27 S. Cascade Avenue.