by Barbara Yule
WALSENBURG– The Fox Youth Center Theatre’s goal when it was first restored in the early 1990s was to operate as a performing arts and arts education center for adults and youth throughout Huerfano County.
The Spanish Peaks Celtic Music Festival under the 501 (c)3 umbrella of the Spanish Peaks Alliance for Arts and Education has set itself a new mission beyond presenting its annual festival. It has pledged to work towards the renovation of the Fox Theatre in order that this overdue goal can become a reality.
Our own Fox Theatre in Walsenburg is an historic treasure and a valuable venue that has the potential of great service to Huerfano County. Its life has been a tribute to the arts for nearly 100 years. Built in 1917 as the Star Theater, it was a show house for vaudeville, play productions and silent pictures. A rare Wurlitzer Hope-Jones organ was installed in 1923 and is still stored backstage. In 1929 talking pictures were introduced when Fox West Theatre purchased the building. In the mid-50’s Frank Piazza, still to this day a dedicated film-lover, leased and later purchased the theater and ran it as a film house until his retirement in 1987.
The theater remained vacant until 1992 when George Birrer purchased it for our county, formed a non-profit and sought grants to rescue its crumbling structure and upgrade its interior. George’s dream was to involve the Huerfano community, most especially high school students, in live theater productions. For two years the theater ran plays produced and directed by local Gardner talents Hallett Stromholt and Sibylla Wallenborn. Then came the sudden death of Mr. Stromholt and play productions were brought to a halt.
The theater’s board, determined not to lose this wonderful facility, began to run weekend films in order to meet upkeep and insurance costs. The county commissioners, seeing the Fox’s precarious situation, and aware of the theatre’s value to the county, stepped in to cover its utility bills. But despite this help, the theater has struggled to make ends meet, and now finds itself again in need of structural repairs as well as major interior stage and auditorium upgrading.
Huerfano County already has an excellent and productive, 80-seat theater in La Veta. If the Fox, which seats 425, is renovated to a high professional standard, it will give our county two very different and outstanding theaters that together can provide a wide variety of local and professional arts events, offer theater learning experiences for our youth, and serve to attract welcome visitors to our doors.
The Celtic Festival is seeking your input as to how you would like the theater designed to best serve you and your family. Survey forms are to be found in La Veta and Walsenburg libraries and at the Huerfano Journal and Signature newspaper offices. Later you can also express your opinions when we hold public hearings at the two libraries.
The Festival to date has spent approximately $2600 on lighting, sound and backdrop improvements for the Fox, but starting now it is committing all festival profits to a Fox Theatre Renovation Project. This means that when you take part in the Celtic Festival’s fundraising drive, you are also supporting the Fox. Together we can make this project happen and make a difference in the lives of our children, our community, our future.