Source: Detroit News (2003)
By Laurie J. Marzejka / The Detroit News When the opening-night curtain rose at Detroit's Fox Theatre on Sept. 21, 1928, an audience of 5,000 invited guests came to 2211 Woodward Avenue to see what had been billed as a "Temple of Amusement." The did not go home disappointed. The Theater, an awe-inspiring combination of Far Eastern, Indian and Egyptian styles, was the second largest Theater in the world. But it surpassed all others in grandeur. The lobby of this mammoth 10-story structure, which was six stories high and half a block long, was surrounded by blood-red marble columns. Each column held its own jeweled figure representing various Asiatic Gods. The decorative scheme used subdued tones of gold to contrast a riot of color. Hangings in the lobby were in golden damask and stage draperies combined regal-red velour and damask which were set off by a festooned drapery with a wide silken fringe.
Guests were greeted by notes from a small Moller organ situated over the entrance. The 3,600-square-foot lobby was covered by the largest wool rug ever made by an American manufacturer. Weighing approximately 3,000 pounds, this carpet reached to the foot of the lobbys grand stairway that led to the mezzanine and balcony levels. There was also an escalator and large passenger elevators --- the only theater in Michigan so equipped. The auditorium was 175 feet wide and 110 feet high. Large colonnades flanked the auditorium and behind these was a promenade where the patrons could stroll and view the entire theater. A tier of seats in the rear of the balcony were designated as smoking loges and equipped with special fans to carry away the smoke.
The main ceiling of the auditorium was designed as a huge canopy, with sky lights above it, and decorated in the style of the durbars of India. One innovation in movie theater construction was the inclusion of three-foot aisles in front of every row of seats. This allowed for the passage of patrons without making it necessary for those seated to stand. The orchestra pit was built on a platform that could be raised and lowered by pneumatic pumps. Similar platforms built into the stage allowed for unusual effects. The theater was equipped with loudspeakers that would provide a uniform tonal quality throughout the entire theater. The inaugural performance at the Fox opened with the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner" by the 60-musician-strong Fox Theater Grand Orchestra as they rose dramatically into view on the elevator platform.
On stage the inaugural production, "The Evolution of Transportation," depicted the progress of Detroit from Indian days to the present utilizing a troupe of 32 dancing girls called Tillerettes and a choir of 50 voices. This performance was followed by the showing of a Fox Movietone news reel---with sound. The feature film was "Street Angel," starring Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. The Fox Theater was designed by architect Charles Howard Crane, a Detroiter who had once worked for Albert Kahn. Crane was also responsible for Orchestra Hall (1919), the Capitol on Broadway (1922) and the State on Woodward (1925). Crane designed the United Artists Theater on Adams as well as 250 movie houses across Canada and the United States. Credit for the magnificent interior of the Fox Theater belongs to Eve Leo, wife of pioneer film producer William Fox. Fox was founder of the company which still bears his name today -- Twentieth Century-Fox Fox, son of Hungarian immigrant parents, had a rags-to-riches-to-rags career.
Turned down around the turn of the century for a $3 raise from his $17-a-week job as a pants presser on New York's East Side, Fox took his savings and bought a down-at-the-heels Brooklyn nickelodeon. At the height of the post-war boom 25 years later he was the ruler of a cinema kingdom which included Detroit's Fox Theater. One of the biggest deals ever transacted in show business was his acquisition of the 255 theaters of the West Coast Theaters Circuit, appraised at $100 million. He later added to his string the famous Roxy Theater in New York. He controlled corporations estimated to be worth $165 million and at the pinnacle of his career he was said to have carried $6.4 million in life insurance -- more than any other man in the world at the time.
A few months after the stock market crash of 1929, he lost controlling interest in the Fox Films Corp. and the Fox Theaters Corp. and resigned his leadership positions at both firms. He continued on as chairman of the companies advisory board but a welter of stockholders lawsuits and government tax judgments drove him to voluntary bankruptcy in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1936. Detroits Fox theater changed hands several times before Mike and Marion Ilitch of Little Caesars Pizza closed a deal in 1987 for the purchase of the theater and connecting office building. A multi-million dollar restoration project, which included a new 10-story marquee, culminated in a grand reopening Nov. 19, 1988, when the curtain once again rose at the theater known as the "Temple of Amusement."