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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    A Foxy locale downtown

    Herb Stratford, long-time executive director of the Fox Theatre Foundation, is seen here inside the legendary vaudeville theater. Stratford announced his resignation last week.
    Herb Stratford, long-time executive director of the Fox Theatre Foundation, is seen here inside the legendary vaudeville theater. Stratford announced his resignation last week.

    It all started in 1986 when 21-year-old Herb Stratford curiously snuck into the vacant Fox Theatre to take photographs of the inside. In 1997, he returned to 17 West Congress Street and found the Fox Theatre revival committee getting the ball rolling for a full-scale restoration of the 79-year-old vaudeville theater.

    Now that the theater is up and running, Stratford, executive director of the non-profit Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation, has announced his resignation.

    April 10
    La Scala Opera: HD Telecast. From the most famous opera house in the world comes a performance of “”Forza del Destino.”” 7 p.m.

    April 13
    An Evening with Jackson Browne: The legendary singer-songwriter comes to Tucson. 7 p.m.

    April 17
    Arizona Film Festival: “”Hollywood Chinese.”” A documentary on the portrayal of the
    Chinese in American movies. 7:30 p.m.

    April 18
    Tucson Chamber Orchestra. “”Orchestral Color.”” 7:30 p.m.

    April 19
    Bollywood at the Fox: Celebrate the magic and romance of Indian cinema. 5 p.m.

    April 20
    Shidara Taiko from Japan: Featuring the Japanese Drum Ensemble. 7 p.m.

    April 24
    “”Chinatown””: The 1974 classic starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston. 4 p.m.

    April 25
    Southwest Soul Circuit Concert: Featuring Dave Hollister. 7 p.m.

    April 26
    Arlo Guthrie: Greenhouse Productions presents the famous American folk singer.
    8 p.m.

    May 2
    “”Gas Hole””: A new documentary about the history of oil and the future of alternative fuels. 7:30 p.m.

    For ticket availability and more information on each event, go to foxtucsontheatre.ticketforce.com.

    “”I’ve got another month to wrap up here, so I’m focusing on making sure that the transition is as good as possible,”” Stratford said. “”I’m really happy to have been a part of something so great for the community. Hopefully it will never go dark again.””

    Since the theater’s reopening in 2005, 365 events have taken place at the Fox and 109,000 people have crossed its threshold in attendance. Figures like that make it probable Stratford’s desire will be upheld, but the Fox’s lights didn’t always shine so strongly.

    Originally named Tower Theatre, the theater opened in 1930, and offered one of the most exciting things to do in Tucson.

    Lawyer Kevin Miniat has fond memories of the Fox Theatre before its closing in 1974.

    “”I used to come here with my friends and family. I was happy to see it reopen and I plan to use it, I just haven’t seen something that fits my schedule. I would go to see Jackson Browne but it’s sold out,”” Miniat said.

    Originally from Chicago, Miniat moved to Tucson in 1955 and used to see movies at the theater.

    “”When I was here there were two theaters – this one and the one that is now the Rialto,”” he said. “”This was the hub of activity. Basically anytime anyone shopped you came downtown.””

    Competition with television and other venues forced the closure of the theater, but a six-year rehabilitation and $13 million restoration project, spearheaded by Stratford, has helped to ensure its survival.

    Lately the Fox has brought a variety of unusual events to the community, such as the 1953 John Wayne classic “”Hondo”” in 3-D. If you go to the Fox Theatre, chances are you will meet Sonja Reinhardt, a UA economics and theater graduate from 1959. She is currently the box office manager and has been working for the Fox for one and a half years.

    “”I am so enthusiastic in what Herb has created. He energized the community. He jumped through hoops and over hurdles and made it happen,”” Reinhardt said. “”I was a volunteer through all of it. What he’s accomplished is amazing. He set out to bring the ‘Grand Lady’ back to life and that’s what he did.””

    As a non-profit grass-roots foundation, The Fox Theatre always welcomes donations. But the theater is no ordinary place, and its modes of donations are not ordinary either.

    The “”Fox Walk of Fame”” is your opportunity to have a brass star permanently recessed into the sidewalk. Stars cost $10,000 each, but it’s a small price to pay for eternal fame, and more than 40 stars already glitter on the sidewalk.

    Supporters can also purchase a seat in the main movie theatre where underwriters have their name permanently affixed to the 1930s southwest art deco seats.

    “”People come in who were here when they were kids and they look up and go ‘Oh,’ “” Reinhardt said, gasping. “”It’s goosebumpy. People are astonished at the beauty of the place.””

    Indeed it is a breath taking sight of Southwestern art deco – boasting 1,164 seats, a balcony with loveseats and spacious aisles lined with tiny blue lights. An immense hand-painted ceiling envelopes you in the experience of the authentically restored theater.

    After almost 10 years of 70-hour work weeks, Stratford is ready to work on other challenges. He currently teaches an Introduction to Arts Management course at the UA and he may teach more in the future.

    “”I may work with other historic theaters around the country,”” Stratford said. “”Hopefully something that has to do with the arts and preservation. I don’t have any plans on leaving Tucson.””

    The Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation has not yet picked a new executive director, but Stratford’s shoes will be very hard to fill.

    “”It makes me sad but also proud of what he built,”” Reinhardt said. “”I am happy that I have been a part of it. Maybe he can share this ability and experience with other organizations. He can consult other theaters and help them.””

    “”The most special event for me was opening night because it was the culmination of so much work,”” Stratford said. “”It was New Year’s Eve and we had Bruce Hornsby doing the toast on stage at midnight – that was probably the fondest memory I’ve got. We worked so hard to bring it back.””

    The Fox Theatre now stands tall and strong, the marquee like a thumb sticking into the street. It has Herb Stratford to thank for its restoration to a community event center.

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