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Fox Theatre restoration project gives a view from the top
Fox Theatre

Fox Theatre restoration project gives a view from the top


The jewel-toned, 13,540-watt, 5,280-pound chandelier that hangs from the ceiling at the Fox Theatre is eye-popping when you consider it from a seat in the audience, waiting for the curtain to go up.

But if you look down on it from above, it will take your breath away.

That’s been Ed Magee’s perspective all summer, and he’s still not blasé about it. “New theaters don’t look like this,” he said. “This is a jewel.”

In fact, there really are “jewels” — glittering, multicolored glass cabochons, made almost a century ago in Czechoslovakia — that stud the rim of the lavishly decorated ceiling. More jewels appear in the crown worn by the imposing carved elephant that seems to peek down on theatergoers. Close by, thick plaster “tassels” hang in vivid rows around the edge of the ceiling, which curves inward with patterned swells of fabric interrupted by huge, ornate plaques.

It’s supposed to suggest the top of an Oriental tent, Magee said, as if the Fox and the wonders of its interior were something you stumbled onto in the course of a magical trip. The ceiling, like everything else that architect C. Howard Crane packed into the Fox, is loaded with decorative details — even in places where no one is likely to see them.

But if they do see the ceiling decorations, they’ll find them as fresh and colorful as they were when the Fox opened in 1929.

This summer, EverGreene Architectural Arts is restoring the ceiling. Based in New York, the company specializes in big projects: state capitols, cathedrals, glamorous old theaters. Magee, the EverGreene project supervisor, and his 11-man crew have spent the summer hard at work — cleaning, painting, repairing chipped trim and ripped fabric.

It’s the last step in a restoration that began in 1981, when Fox Associates — Leon Strauss, Robert Baudendistel, Dennis McDaniel and Harvey Harris — purchased the run-down movie palace on Grand Boulevard with an eye to renewing its glory days and its original remarkable style.

Mary Strauss, Leon Strauss’ widow, calls it “Siamese Byzantine.” A Fox partner herself, she directed the restoration. In 1981, the ceiling was vacuumed — by no means the biggest step in the massive renovation — but further work on the ceiling was put off.

Over the years, the stage was expanded, the mural ceiling over the lobby was restored, the facade and signs were freshened and a new cooling system was installed. Still, the big ceiling project remained on hold. “I thought I would never see it,” Mary Strauss said.

But the Fox closed the day after “Anything Goes” ended its run June 9, and it won’t reopen until September, when the new season starts. The Fox will also hold a special event in the fall to show off the new look.

The ceiling work demanded plenty of time and space. In the house, where the audience sits, the seats are shrouded in plastic sheets. All around them, a maze of scaffolding that looks like a Lego project gone wild rises from the floor, reaching some 80 feet into the air. (“We aren’t afraid of height,” Magee said, “but we do respect it.”) At the top are platforms where the men can work.

One day this summer, Strauss scaled the heights herself to savor details that even she had missed.

“I am thrilled,” she said. “We have never lit the ceiling before but we will when we reopen so everyone can notice how it gleams and sparkles. It’s gorgeous.

“Now every inch is decorated. Leon always said, he defied anyone to walk in here and not smile. The Fox would be a wonderful place to play seek-and-find.”

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Judith Newmark is the theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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