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Tucson Fox Theater


The Fox Tucson Theatre opened on April 11, 1930, as a dual vaudeville/movie house. The Fox, originally to be called "The Tower", was built by Nicholas Diamos for his Southern Arizona "Lyric Amusement" chain of theaters. Other theaters owned by the Diamos family included the Plaza Theater in Tucson and the Grand Theatre in Douglas. Before the Tower's completion, Fox offered to buy the theater, threatening to build a larger theatre and make its films exclusive to that theatre if the Diamos did not sell. Diamos sold the theatre but was given a contract to manage it.

The theater, an approximately 1,200 seat 30,000-square-foot structure, is the only known example of a Southwestern Art Deco movie palace.

From its beginning The Fox featured a stage, full fly-loft, and dressing rooms beneath the stage. The combined effects of “talkies” and the Depression limited the opportunities for live performance, and the dressing rooms were never completed.

Opening night, April 11, 1930, proved to be the biggest party the small community of Tucson had ever seen. With Congress Street closed and waxed for dancing, four live bands, a live radio broadcast and free trolley rides downtown, the party was not-to-be-missed. So began the Fox Tucson’s 40-year reign as the “crown jewel” of downtown Tucson’s entertainment world. Over the years the theatre served as Tucson’s most revered “Classic Movie Palace,” while also occasionally hosting community events, vaudeville performances and more. In the 1950s The Fox was particularly renowned as the venue for Saturday morning screenings put on by the Tucson Chapter of the Mickey Mouse Club!

Competition from new theaters and the decline of downtown shopping led to the theatre’s closing in 1974.


After sitting empty for 25 years, the theater was nearly beyond restoration. Extensive water damage, vandalism, and neglect had conspired to make the theatre a mere shadow of its former self. In the late 1990s, however, following a two-year negotiation process, the non-profit Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation was able to purchase the building in 1999 for $250,000.

Stabilization and planning for the rehabilitation/restoration began at once with a new roof being installed to stop further damage from the elements. Small restoration projects–such as the repair and relighting of the original chandeliers—as well as occasional open houses and special event fundraisers, kept the community engaged and hopeful that the theatre might actually be restored to its original glory.


Following a six-year, $14+ million rehabilitation, the theatre reopened on December 31, 2005. The Foundation was able to have the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its unique “Southwestern Art Deco” decor as well as its world-class acoustics. The impact of the re-opened historic theatre on downtown, the larger community of Tucson, and on Southern Arizona as a whole, has been profound.

The Fox hosts approximately 150-160 events each year and sees over 75,000 patrons through its doors. The 1,164 seat audience capacity is big enough to attract national and international talent, yet small enough to boast an intimate entertainment experience. Once again the Fox is a premier live performance venue, a classic film buff’s dream (showing classic films on the big screen “the way they were meant to be seen”), and a multi-purpose, elegant rental facility for corporate, non-profit and private events.

The Mighty Wurlitzer

As of 2021 The Fox Tucson Theatre Might Wurlitzer Organ is fully restored. This Wurlitzer was originally donated by Dr. Malin Dollinger, and its restoration and reinstallation over the past decade has been generously funded by the Southwest Foundation for Education and Historic Preservation, the March and Ampel Family Fund, and hundreds of other individual donors.

The restoration process involved carefully disassembling and inspecting parts to then clean, adjust, repair and or replace them (with vintage or reproduction pieces). In the words of Fox Board Member, and Organ Task Force Chair, Andy McWhirter, “Those familiar with a Wurlitzer Theatre Organ’s range of sound and the ‘near perfect’ acoustics of the Fox Tucson Theatre are giddy with anticipation as we all wait for that next organist to sit down and perform on our Fox Tucson Theatre Mighty Wurlitzer! “

About the Mighty Wurlitzer:

When The Fox Tucson Theatre opened on April 11, 1930, an integral element of this and nearly every other ‘Movie Palace’ built in that era was the theater pipe organ. Invented by Robert Hope-Jones and originally named the Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra, this instrument was different from a church organ in that the modifications and electrified switch system permitted any combination of pipes and effects to be played at once. For the newly popular silent movies, one musician could create the sounds of a full orchestra, and a multitude of sound effects such as birds, pistol shots, a moving train, whistles, horse hooves, rain, and thunder. Hope-Jones collaborated with the successful organ producer Rudolph Wurlitzer to manufacture the Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra later dubbed The Mighty Wurlitzer.

Unfortunately, in the 1950s The Fox Tucson Theatre’s original ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ was sold for parts. However, in 2002 good fortune found its way back to The Fox in the form of Dr. Malin Dollinger. Midway through The Fox Theatre restoration, Dollinger generously donated his meticulously cared for, 1922 four-manual, 27 rank Wurlitzer organ, to the theatre.

Theater organs were and still are, considered technological marvels. There is the console, pipes, thousands of moving parts, miles of electric wiring, and an enormous amount of pressurized air paths. At The Fox Tucson Theatre, the pipe chambers (3000 pipes) are behind the walls on both sides of the stage. Dollinger’s donated organ console–the part of the organ where the organist sits and plays the keyboard, stops, and pedals–is positioned on an under-stage hydraulic lift (built in 2005 during the theater restoration).

My photos:

Melissa Etheridge lives in Hidden Hills near Cindy and Ken.

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I am always happy to see old buildings, with architectural details, renovated and repurposed instead of being torn down to be replaced with a parking lot or glass and concrete box. I'm glad the community has numerous events for the theater as large screen home televisions have pretty much ended the era of going out to see a movie on the big screen.

One of the negatives of our American culture is the planned obsolescence mentality. Years ago I worked for a Liechtenstein based company in the construction fastening business. During one of my trips to Europe, my counterpart at the company headquarters took me to the site of the home he was constructing. The setting was beautiful, o…

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