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Restoration project rejuvenates historic Fox Theatre and downtown Atchison, Kansas

The Fox Theatre is now a state-of-the-art theater bringing entertainment and life to the heart of the city.

Posted: Jul 21, 2019 9:57 PM
Updated: Jan 10, 2021 5:50 AM

(ATCHISON, Kan.) Standing in front of the box office window, you can almost see what the Fox Theatre must have looked like back in its heyday.

"It was surreal walking in because I remember the curved stairway going down the stairs. You went down to the basement to the bathroom, and all those things, it was like 'oh my gosh,'" Atchison Chamber of Commerce President Jacque Pregont said.

But that was years ago when the theater thrived in Atchison, Kansas where memories were made.

"I had people who said when they were kids they sat up here in this balcony; stories of people throwing Milk Duds down. One gentleman got his first kiss up in the balcony," said Theatre Atchison Executive Director Travis Grossman, whose non-profit was the driving force behind the rebirth of the Fox Theatre.

The story of the Fox Theatre begins in 1912 when it was known as the Royal Theatre.

"Fox bought it and turned it into the Fox Theatre with a state-of-the-art structure, at the time, in 1949. It was mothballed in the 80's, reopened in 1993 until 2011 when it was shut down again. It reopened in 2014, again, for a short period of time and has been shut down ever since," Grossman said.

Until now -- a marquee along Main Street marks a new chapter for the more than 100 year old theater.

"This building has been a part of people's lives for decades and we're just excited to bring it back for the next generation," Grossman said.

"I have a 7-year-old grandson here visiting and they went yesterday to the early morning one, loved it, absolutely loved it," Pregont said. "It's just a phenomenal project and we're so excited to have it open. You're constantly driving by looking at the marquee."

Bringing the theater back to its former glory was no small task especially for a community with big dreams.

"It really was a field of dreams, 'if you build it, they will come,'" Grossman said. "We've been blessed, everyone supported it."

Grossman's non-profit leveraged the use of two state tax credits to help bring the theatre back to life. The impact of the incentive program was not lost on Kansas Secretary of Commerce David Toland's recent visit to the theatre.

"The Fox Theatre project is a prime example of why the Community Service Tax Program was created in the first place," Secretary Toland said. "We have much more demand for those community service tax credit dollars than we do resources, unfortunately, but I think that just shows it's a great program, that it's had a profound impact."

Almost two years and $2.5 million later, the Fox is now a state-of-the-art theater bringing entertainment and life to the heart of the city.

"Whichever direction you look in Atchison, you can't stand anywhere downtown and not see someone that's reinvesting in their business or in their building trying to make this place better," said Atchison Assistant City Manager Justin Pregont.

"When you walk in, when you see the movie, you can see, hear and feel where that money went. It wasn't lost," Grossman said.

The history of the Fox has also not disappeared. The theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and inside you'll still find some of the original architecture.

"I loved that they tried to keep some of the art deco. I think they kept absolutely as much as they could. It's absolutely beautiful," Jacque Pregont said.

"There had been three different remodels over the 100 years this thing has been on this block. Keeping some of these features were important for the community and just keeping the building alive," Grossman said.

While its century of history isn't forgotten, the Fox isn't a 1900's vaudeville theater anymore. The Fox Theatre in downtown Atchison has a new identity that will create memories for a new generation of families.

"I had a great letter hand-written to me by a grandmother that talked about the excitement of her grandson, who was twirling in the front living room so excited to go see a movie," Grossman said. "She thought to herself 'i'm so blessed and we're so grateful to have this movie theater back, and she thanked me profusely. That's the kind of thing you sit back and go 'wow, we did it, we did it."


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