The Atlanta Fox Theatre was financed and constructed by the Shriners (Atlanta's Yaraab chapter) but built to the specifications of William Fox, who agreed to lease the Auditorium section for 21 years. The building contained 285 rooms and resembled a moderately-sized castle, unique in Movie Palace architecture because it was ornamented on all four sides. The Fox opened on December 25, 1929.
Unlike a typical castle, the Fox was adorned with a 33 foot high hammered copper vertical sign and a 48 foot wide "Marquise" (marquee) which contained the primary attraction boards. The sign lighting which included more than 3,000 11 watt S-14 lamps was remotely controlled from a panel located in the Assistant Manager's office. The sign was manufactured by the Texlite Electric Sign Company, a Dallas concern which had a shop in Atlanta.
Access to the Flasher and Letter room was gained from the roof through doors from the Shrine Banquet Hall or Shrine Lounge. From the flasher room, one could climb down to the marquee.
|Courtesy Mister Kahn|
Within the flasher room were located the branch circuit panels, the contactors which corresponded to each remote push switch, and the electro-mechanical chasers and spellers which were manufactured by Reynolds Electric Company (Reco) of Chicago. The many rapidly-spinning shafts on the motorized machines made quite a racket and spewed out a steady dose of sparks.
The chaser borders on the vertical, attractions boards and the scintillating (glittering) marquee soffit lights were controlled by this type device shown below. The chaser for the attraction board had 29 fingers (contacts). There were two "rainbow effect corner" machines as well.
To see the complete Reynolds catalog, click http://foxfact.blogspot.com/2015/01/reynolds-electric-company-reco-of.html
The marquee soffit comprised chaser borders and a host of other enticing motions.
Lawson interchangeable attraction board letters featured molded milk-white glass characters set into 12" high copper frames. "Hanging a marquee" with reverse-type letters was not a simple task because the text had to fit precisely, with blanks inserted to fill the gaps.
Two push switches activated remote-control panels, JA for lighting fixtures in the Mezzanine and Dress Circle Foyers and E for emergency. E panel, located in the Main Switch Power Room in the northwest corner of the basement, controlled aisle lights, exit signs, exterior lighting and select fixtures such as the center chandelier in the Arcade, shown to the right. Panel FR, non-remoted and equipped with switches for each circuit were located adjacent to the Marquise Panel and controlled the Main and Mezzanine Foyers . Panel BB was located in the basement and controlled the Lower Lounges.
Patron comfort was a primary consideration and the automatic self-closing theatre seats were furnished and installed by American.
American boasted of re-seating out-dated theatres section by section without a performance missed, which the Fox unfortunately took advantage of in 1963.
The seating and all other surfaces were kept clean via the central house Spencer Turbine vacuum system equipped with forty outlets concealed throughout the house and backstage areas. Spencer also supplied organ blowers to provide the opposite function.
Totally concealed was the low-velocity heating, cooling, and ventilation apparatus. Supply air was blown downwards from diffusers hidden along the edges of the Sky or from decorative filagree within the balcony soffit. Return air was drawn into the plenums beneath the seating at both levels, as shown in this diagrammatic drawing of a typical theatre.
A similar view, longitudinal section through the Fox Theatre auditorium, showing HVAC ductwork. Every faux window in the place was actually a supply register.
In the Fox, the temperature of the auditorium air was regulated by a Johnson Controls system and either heated by two coal-burning Kewanee low-pressure boilers or cooled by dual York refrigeration machines and motivated by a fan turned by this 75 horsepower motor and and flywheel located in the sub-basement.
|Floyd Jillson photo|
Johnson man and Joe Patten (right) at Johnson System in sub basement.
North view showing Shrine and Theatre smoke stacks and trestle tower for cooling.
Rapid vertical movement of materiel and personnel was provided by two freight and three passenger elevators to supplement thirty staircases.
The passenger elevators were manufactured and installed by Otis, and the Patron elevators employed the Microdrive self-leveling feature.
The backstage Actor elevator was said to be the first fully-automatic in town, requiring no operator.
|Courtesy Mister Kahn|
In order to facilitate coordinated time, a Stromberg Electric Self-winding Master Clock with pendulum was installed in the Manager's Office.
Through a pulsed 110 volt signal, the Master Clock drove Secondary Clocks "for observing time" located in nine key locations as shown on the maps below.
Strict central time was necessary in a Super Deluxe Movie Palace such as the Atlanta Fox which was a Presentation House with a four-a-day policy. As the second week marquee and print ad below describe, the Fox presented a feature-length talking picture, selected short subjects, and a fifty-minute stage show, with music provided by the house orchestra in conjunction with the Moller organ.
In 1929, the picture and stage show changed weekly. The Fanchon and Marco stage shows traveled with principal talent, scenery, costumes and orchestra parts.
All other show personnel were supplied by the Atlanta Fox including a Master of Ceremonies, conductors, organists, directors, choreographers and designers; stagehands, wardrobe and projectionists; a thirty-five piece house orchestra; and sixteen resident chorus girls known as the Sunkist Beauties, stylized here in the opening week three-sheet, printed by Conger of Atlanta.
In 1929, the Atlanta Fox Theatre employees totaled almost two hundred, including front-of -house and the usher corps. To ensure instant communication among them, the Fox was equipped with a sophisticated House Phone System. The North Electric Private Automatic Exchange (PAX) connected fifty dial telephones without the need for an operator. This was a remarkable device considering that only two of Atlanta's Bell Telephone exchanges were automatic (with dials) in 1929, and telephonic automation, as this advertisement of the era shows, was regarded as a boon.
Northern Electric PAX trade ad for the 1925 Sweet's catalog:
The brain of the machine was a rack located in the Main Switch Power Room.
|Courtesy Hal Doby|
Dialing a two-digit phone number brought one either a ringing tone or a busy. Four simultaneous talking circuits were sufficient for a bevy of brief conversations. A well-organized directory reveals that the system served both the Theatre and Shrine.
The Atlanta Fox Hub Switchboard in its role as nerve center of the theatre was served by the central clock, the House Phone and several other critical communication devices.
On the left above the desk of the Stage Director (stage manager) was the dressing room page system. The Stage Manager depressed a push button for a given dressing room on the Edwards annunciator, and a buzzer would sound there. The actor would then press the button on his "return call station," and an arrow "drop" would appear on the Manager's board to signify confirmation. In the tower alone there were sixteen dressing rooms on five floors with mirror positions for 130.
The Switchboard was equipped with a secondary telephone for production purposes known as the Interphone which connected the Switchboard, Stage Manager, Orchestra Leader, Organist and Projection Booth. Left to right, organ console indicator panel and handset; Leader stand handset; and projection room annunciator. An annunciator was used in the projection room because of the machine noise.
A view of a typical Fox Theatre Interphone instrument.
|Courtesy Rodney Amos|
At the time of its construction, the 4462-seat Atlanta Fox was the sixth largest theatre in the world and counted among its original equipment a permanent public address or sound reinforcement system forty years before Broadway credited the first audio designer. The system included a central loudspeaker cluster, a front-of-house mix position, and patch panel.
All audio equipment in the Fox Theatre was manufactured by Western Electric, a Chicago concern founded by Elisha Gray and Enos Barton which in 1882 became the exclusive manufacturer of equipment for the Bell Telephone Company, later known as AT&T. By 1929, Western had become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bell, and they also sold retail under the trade name Graybar, after Gray and Barton.
Western Electric was the prime mover responsible for the development of practical talking picture apparatus, and in August, 1926 its collaboration with Warner Brothers resulted in the first commercially successful "talkie." Bell Laboratories, also credited below, was created in 1925 as a joint venture between Western and Bell Telephone.
Following the success of "Don Juan" and a proliferation of talkies, in January, 1927 Western created a subsidiary ERPI to manufacture, install, and service talking picture equipment in studios and theatres. ERPI stood for Electrical Resarch Products, Incorporated, but to the public "The Voice of Action" meant Western Electric. As with one's residential telephone, the talking picture apparatus remained the property of ERPI and was leased to the theatre "subscriber" on a monthly basis.
In addition to talking pictures, Western Electric had introduced the first public address system in 1920 as a natural outgrowth of their work in radio. New York City's first radio station was put on the air by Western in 1922, and WEAF eventually became WNBC, the flagship station of the National Broadcasting Company.
The Roxy and the Washington, DC Fox which both opened in 1927 were the first theatres to be designed with public address systems in mind.
By 1929, Western Electric had standardized their equipment, beginning with the microphones which they called "transmitters." The carbon-button Microphone utilized at the Fox Theatre was the only model Western offered for a decade.
The Atlanta Fox Theatre had a stock of sixteen microphones: five within the footlight trough; seven on the orchestra pit elevator; and four spare.
The Western 1-B microphone was also utilized at Atlanta's NBC affiliate, WSB which in 1929 aired via a 1000-watt Western Electric broadcast radio transmitter.
The upper arrow points to a pair of microphones on the Fox orchestra pit elevator, and the lower arrow, microphone receptacles located beneath the Fox Theatre Stage Director's desk. The inset shows the three-prong polarized microphone connector. Mic cables within the building were lead-jacketed.
|Left Graybar catalog; right, courtesy radioatticarchives.com|
The horns for public address were like every other electrical device in a Super Deluxe Movie Palace: elegantly concealed. The five Super Deluxe Fox houses, and the Philadelphia Mastbaum (1929-1958) were equipped with public address systems specifically designed for theatres. The Mastbaum (left) and the Atlanta Fox also had identical house draw curtains.
The PA horns at the Fox were an array of three model 15A horns, the same as used behind the picture sheet for talking pictures.
All Western horns regardless of model were driven by 555 "receivers," what today we call drivers. The cap protected the delicate diaphragm when the receiver was not in use. 555 receivers required four wires, two for signal and two for 12 volt DC field current for its electromagnet.
Access into the Fox central cluster was from the attic. The three acoustically transparent baffles were removable to allow installation and service.
|Courtesy Patti Patten, from the Joe Patten Collection|
The audio man created the "mix" by listening to the signal from the PA booth monitor horn, and like in a radio or recording studio, the viewing window was sealed.
Directly above the operator's desk was a patch panel which connected any of 20 microphone inputs into any of eight mixer pots. Mic outlets were located backstage, within the footlight trough, and on the orchestra pit lift.
The Speech Input Equipment rack was adapted from Western's broadcast equipment.
A typical bay of potentiometers or faders and off/on keys below.
The entire PA rack, which would today be termed a pre-amplifier, fed the amplifiers for the talking picture equipment, and via selector switches in the projection room, the projectionist could switch from film to PA mode. In the schematic, "Machines No. 1 and 2" refer to the film projectors, and "horns for synchronous reproduction" refer to those located behind the picture sheet for talking picture use.
|Courtesy US Audio Mart.com|
In all Western Electric talking picture installations, there was a non-sync room located off of the projection room. Non-sync rooms contained dual "reproducers" (turntables) for accompaniment of films for which there was neither a sound track nor a synchronized disc. The 16" turntables played 33 1/3 RPM discs with a fifteen-minute capacity. At the Fox, the reproducer was located in the PA Room.
|Courtesy Gary Halverson|
Non-sync and microphone channels could be played through the backstage horns only, for example a "god mic" would be set in the auditorium for the director to give instructions to the Switchboard operator. Model 11A horns were located in both downstage corners of the stagehouse.
A 1930 Western ad proclaimed their preeminence in the PA field, but the Depression put the kibosh on further theatre construction. In 1937, Western's ERPI subsidiary was spun off to become Altec-Lansing.
Part I: Hub Switchboard Operating Manual click here.
Part III: Talking Picture Projection click here.
For further reading about ERPI and theatrical public address systems, click here.
For further reading about the Mastbaum Theatre central cluster, click here.
Updated November, 2018