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95th anniversary of the FOX Theatre

by Nancy Christofferson
WALSENBURG – A much anticipated grand opening occurred 95 years ago this month when the all new Star Theatre first drew its curtains at 715 Main Street in Walsenburg.
This was the second Star Theatre. The first started at 701 Main in 1908. That year saw several moving picture theatres launched, including one in the historic Mazzone Opera House at 6th and Main and one at 118 E. 6th across the street from the Klein Hotel. These three joined the original theatre, the first in Walsenburg, which was opened by Dennis McCormick in 1907.
It is said Archie Levy opened the Star as an open air theatre on the site of the old Alex Levy store at the corner of 7th and Main and later put up a building. He sold it in 1910 to Paul Krier.
Krier operated the Star on the same site for seven years. He outlasted his competitors except for the Otto Theatre on East 6th, which in 1914 got new owners and the new name of the Empress.
Krier purchased lots just south of the Star in 1916 and the former building there, Canuto Baldonado’s saloon, was razed. In January 1917 the plan for the new brick theatre building was announced. Initially it was to be 100 by 50 foot brick structure. Excavation began in February. It opened July 1 to a capacity crowd. This must have consisted of about 800 people, for the theatre was said to have seating for 700 and standing room for another 100. It was crafted of all brick and concrete and cost $20,000.
Krier kept his theatre furnished with all the latest Hollywood updates in style, comfort and equipment. In 1929, he was the first to introduce talking pictures. The first was “Street Angel” starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. It was at the same time the Star got a new façade of Spanish/Moorish style to replace its yellow with black, green and orange color scheme. A contest was held among patrons for a new name, and the winning name was Valencia.
Practically at the same time, the Fox Coast Theatre Corporation purchased the theatre and Krier became manager. Many years later Krier was credited with opening the first Fox Theatre in Colorado. Now the Star was known as the Fox-Valencia.
Remodeling and updating of the building, inside and out, continued. The seats were moved and placed in “semi-circles for easier viewing” in 1935. In 1937 an “elaborate new marquee with neon lights” was added and the interior painted in “warm autumn colors” (tan and brown) to replace the former blue and white in the lobby and ticket office.
Krier undertook a major interior remodeling in 1941 and dropped the “Valencia” from the Fox’s name. Besides modernizing, the outside was beefed up with structural steel and a new one and a half story tall marquee with a neon FOX sign was installed. The façade was stuccoed and the entire building took on an Art Deco appearance. That same year the Fox became affiliated with the Fox Intermountain Theatre chain.
In 1950, more remodeling was done inside, and the exterior was painted pink.
Frank Piazza leased the Fox in 1959 and took over management that February. He bought it ­in 1969. It was closed in 1986.
In April 1992, the theatre entered a new chapter of its life.
The Walsenburg chapter of the Optimist International Club purchased it. The chapter had been organized in September 1991 by George Birrer and 25 charter members. It was dedicated to the children of Huerfano County, and various events were held to raise funds, including a bowling league, a community carnival, an oratorical contest and others. The first officers, elected in November 1991, were Birrer, president, Junior Garcia and Pete Pedraza, vice presidents, and Terry Turner, secretary/treasurer.
Members of the Optimists formed and incorporated the Huerfano Youth and Arts Foundation to purchase the Fox. Birrer again was president of the foundation, with board members being Dave Baldwin, Bill Bailey, Pete Pedraza, Hallett Stromholt and John Luginbill. Their main mission was to present young talent in musical and theatrical productions in the theatre.
The first presentation was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in August 1992. The 10-member cast included youth from 10 to 21 years old. Before its debut, the foundation had had the plumbing and electrical systems in the old theatre updated, which by that time could seat 500. It was renamed once again, this time the Youth Center Theatre.
Shortly after the first production, the foundation received more than $50,000 in grants from the Gates Foundation, El Pomar and Coors. It was announced the funds would be used to update the heating system, but many other renovations were needed, and eventually were made.
The second play was “The Mousetrap” in December 1992. This proved to be such a hit with local audiences, its run was extended.
Plays were continued through 1993. In February 1994, the foundation members were notified it had been nominated for the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. In March, the theatre began running movies on Friday and Saturday nights and these were aimed toward children and families, with Walt Disney features being the most common choices, though the first film seems to have been the Best Film of 1993, “Schindler’s List”.
Plays were not discontinued, however, and that summer “Casablanca” was presented with Ben Price of Gardner and Amber Pierotti of Cuchara playing the parts of Bogie and Bergman.
Alana Mace made her singing debut.
In November 1994, the old Fox Theater was placed on the State Register of Historic Places, at the respectable old age of 77 years.