by Regina Manser / Edited by Michael Bowen & r & The Fox Theater opened the year I was born -- 1931! It was the very first public place I ever watched a movie. I remember when I was in fourth grade, a friend asked me to attend a movie there. My mother had to give this a little thought, since my friend was a boy! Of course, she let us go, and we were thinking we were very lucky to be in such a beautiful place -- I think the movie must have been some Disney production like Fantasia or Bambi.
Ronna Jo Ricco & r & Fox employee, 1974-75 & r & My first week on the job was spring break, and we showed Alice in Wonderland. The second week was the grand opening of The Exorcist. Talk about a difference!
In 1975, Herbie the Love Bug was the movie, and one of the local car places donated a Volkswagen bug decorated like Herbie in the movie. Herbie looked great -- a white car with stripes, exactly as in the movie. The assistant manager, myself and the assistant manager from the State Theater decided to test out the car, which was parked in the lobby. Since our manager was out of town and we knew where the keys were hidden, we waited till everyone left for the night. Then we started up the car, drove it slowly to the front of the lobby, up the stairs and down the other side to the back doors. After our initial timidity, we got a little braver and started racing the car. (Well, as much as you could from the back doors to the front!) We finally put the car back it its spot, replaced the velvet ropes around it, and then had to ask our janitor to re-wax the front lobby, as we now had tire tracks from revving the engine! Herbie did great.... It really did go up and down that big staircase without a problem!
Doug Kelley & r & Kelley remembers working at the Fox during performances by the Spokane Symphony, Duke Ellington and the Everly Brothers. One night, during a show by the famous psychic Kreskin, "he had the host hide his paycheck in the audience and promised that if he could not find the check, he would go home without it.
"Kreskin said he could figure it out in 10 guesses. It only took him four. He found it midway up the orchestra level in a woman's binocular case."
Kelley also helped Ricco drive Herbie the Love Bug up the Fox stairs.
Alice Staeheli & r & Morey Amsterdam -- who later starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show -- came down off the stage and he interacted with some of the audience as part of his comedy. And then instead of coming back, he walked up the aisle, and I was sitting right on the aisle, and I must have been maybe 11. And I was hanging over the arm of my chair looking at him to get a good look at him. And he came and patted my head. And my sister said that I was real mad about that. Now I can't imagine why I was mad.
Bette Sigel & r & Now 74, Sigel lives in Spokane Valley & r &
I tap danced at the Fox when I was just 12 years old with the Bernice Casey School of Dance. I also saw my first movie at the Fox, Gone With the Wind, when I was seven. Another highlight was meeting the movie star Victor Mature at the Fox Theater in 1942. What a wonderful theater! It was the loveliest and best theater in the West at that time.
Betty Ratzman & r & Ratzman's graduating class from Lewis and Clark High School held their ceremony in the Fox in 1942.
"My grandmother lived across from the Fox in the Bell Hotel in the 1930s and '40s. I remember how much she loved to sit and watch the bright lights and well-dressed folks line up to see the first-run movies."
Diane Axworthy & r & Teenage usher in the '70s & r & As a young girl, I remember going to Spokane from Colville to attend a Spokane Symphony concert at the Fox with my mom and piano teacher. I remember sitting in the balcony, and it felt so steep that I was afraid I might fall to the orchestra level if I didn't lean toward my seat.
Later, as a teenager living in Spokane, I worked at the Fox Theater when it was a triplex cinema. I was an usher and worked behind the snack bar. One night, the assistant manager showed some of us backstage. I was amazed that all the stage workings, pulleys and curtains were still in place behind the screen. We went down a narrow, dark hallway that seemed to go on forever. There were little rooms off the hallways that were the dressing rooms. We went into one and the mirror was still there with the dressing table in front of it and the round lights surrounding the mirror. It was as if the occupants were just there; it was still the way they had left it.
There were posters on the walls from past performances and a picture of the entire Spokane Symphony seated on the stage of the Fox Theater.
I had found some treasures; I couldn't believe that they were still there. All too soon, it was time to go back to work and return to 1977.
Dorothy Campbell & r & West Valley student during the Depression & r & Dorothy graduated from West Valley High School in 1939. Because of the Depression, there was no prom or yearbook. For their high school graduation celebration, the classmates all went to a movie at the Fox Theater.
Garry Shea & r & Shea took three dates in a row to see the first run of Camelot, playing at the Fox in 1968. He later proposed to his third date, Mary Jane, and they were married. At the time, Mary Jane wondered why he couldn't stay awake during such a good movie.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & Every summer in the mid-1970s, they used to have a free movie series for kids. It ran on, like, Thursday mornings at 9 am or something. We used to walk down the Monroe Street hill, and I saw my first World War II movie there. That may have had something to do with me reading most of the WWII battle books in my school library. I also remember watching Yellow Submarine at the Fox. I was pretty hopped up on candy, but I'm not sure that's the substance the Beatles had in mind when they launched this film. It was a brightly colored mystery to me, but I liked the music.
Later, when I was a bit older, I remember going to see all those disaster movies the '70s are famous for. One in particular was Rollercoaster, a routine action film with a big saving grace for a kid wanting sensory overload -- it was filmed in "Sensurround." As near as I can tell, that simply meant they installed two massive woofers in the back corners of the Fox. They were so big, in fact, you could walk into them -- which, of course, we did, to fully experience Hollywood's latest gimmick.
Janet J. Miller & r & In 1932, Ignatz Jan Paderewski was 72 years old. He was considered the greatest living Polish patriot and the world's greatest pianist since Franz Liszt.
On April 25, 1932, Paderewski came to Spokane to perform in the beautiful new Fox Theater. Mother purchased tickets for balcony seats -- two in the rear, and one closer to the front, where I, a 16-year-old piano student, was seated while she and Dad took the rear ones.
As the evening progressed, so did the heat in the upper balcony, causing my father to cough. No cough drops to be had! I'm sure Paderewski was dreadfully annoyed, while I was deeply humiliated. The gorgeous sound Paderewski produced on that grand Steinway remains forever in my memory, especially the performance of a particular Mozart sonata.
Margie May Ott & r & Famed local piano teacher Ott also remembers seeing Paderewski, the "greatest pianist of the century," at the Fox in 1932. "I was 10 or 12 years old. I remember his wild red hair. My parents bought me a ticket in the third row right up front, and by coincidence. I sat next to Mrs. Sonora Smart Dodd, the founder of Father's Day, who told me all about how the holiday got started. So it was a double treat for me."
Joan Degerstrom & r & Opening Night, 1931 & r & I was about 8 years old, and I went down to the Fox with my mother. We stood in the crowd by the Chronicle building. The streets were full. The stars stood on the roof. I remember Rose Marie [later on The Dick Van Dyke Show] -- called Baby Rosemarie because she was even younger than I was.
Shirley Temple's birthday, April 23. Showed The Little Colonel and served birthday cake. The Fox was packed with kids -- can't remember which year .
And I went backstage at the Fox to get Van Cliburn's autograph.
Col. John "Jack" Merriman (USAF, Ret.) & r & Col. Merriman now lives in Alexandria, Va., but in the fall of 1939, he was a 17-year-old senior at Gonzaga Prep working as the head usher at the Fox.
In those days, having a job at the Fox Theater was about as good as it gets, and I really enjoyed it. I worked after school and on weekends until the start of baseball practice forced me to leave.
My job required me to wear a uniform, and I carried a flashlight to show people to their seats after the movie started. Another responsibility of the head usher was to "maintain order" in the theater, which meant that I had to frequently check the balcony with my flashlight to break up any couples who might be "necking" up there.
Lois (Anita) Voelker & r & "My mother and I attended opening night of the Fox Theater in 1931," Voelker recalls. "Anita Page came to the opening -- my mother had named me after her because she was my mother's favorite actress! I remember the beautiful colors and the elegance of the theater."
Lois was only 9 or 10 when she went to opening night. Her father drove her and her mother to the show. Lois says it was a highlight of her life; she was in awe of the theater. She loves Art Deco and says that visiting the Fox inspired her to become an artist.
"It was always a big deal to go to the Fox," she says. "It played the first-run movies. People came on streetcars and wore hats and gloves."
She remembers, when she was in college, going to the Fox on a date with a boy named Ray. He was a pilot who was later killed in the Aleutian Islands.
Ellen Ferris & lt;BR & Ferris is a member of the Rockwood Retirement Community now, but she was a 7th-grader in the 1930s.
My parents and I would regularly attend the Community Concert Series at the Fox Theater -- driving from Coeur d'Alene, our home.
Often we would stop at Knight's Diner for a treat after the concert. In those days, cars had a rod in the backseat holding a robe, which made the return trip warm and cozy.
Helen Dennis & r & Dennis was out on date with a man to whom she'd only recently been introduced. "We were watching a movie at the Fox Theater. A scene showed a couple discussing their upcoming wedding. He whispered to me, 'How about planning our wedding for spring?'
"I replied, 'Don't be in any hurry. I have things to see and do before I marry anyone.'
"He didn't give up -- and we were married in the spring. In spite of that very unromantic first proposal at the Fox, the marriage lasted 54 and a half years."
Virginia Koller & r & I loved to go to the restrooms. They were beautifully decorated. All the stalls and mirrors all over the place. It was a fun walk up the stairwell to that restroom.
Carl Milton & r & I remember Joe Jantz, who they named a school after -- him and I would sit there in the back and, well ... One time, this guy, I don't know who he was, he jumped on that green thing [the orchestra pit cover]. And he must have thought it was solid. But he just fell right through.
June Syverson & r & Sometime between 1937-39, Syverson saw Frank Sinatra perform at the Fox. The theater was so packed, she remembers watching from the foyer and peeking through the red velvet curtains. When Frank stepped on to the stage to perform, the audience went crazy. Syverson remembers being in awe of the "young, handsome and slender" Sinatra.
Stan Williams & r & Doorman at the Fox in 1943-44 & r & "When the Esther Williams film called Bathing Beauty came to the Fox in '44 or '45, the usherettes got to wear shorts and they posed for a picture. Williams went to Comstock Pool with a piece of cardboard that had the words 'Bathing Beauty' cut out for a stencil. He put the stencil on the backs of the girls and sprayed something like a red dye and when it was removed the name Bathing Beauty was on the backs of the girl swimmers."
Williams also remembers how Fox management converted the chorus room into a popcorn room in 1944 where they produced the popcorn for all the Evergreen Theatres in town. And he recalls that the last movie showing had to end by midnight in time for the last bus headed to Hillyard.