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Fox theatre passes the torch

WALSENBURG— When George Birrer and John Luginbill went in together to purcase the decrepit Fox Theatre in 1991, they knew they were buying a fixer-upper, but didn’t know how much. The theatre had been closed for the previous ten years, and had been neglected the entire time. “There were holes in the roof, the ceiling was caving in, there were puddles of standing water on the stage, and the seats were all rotted out,” Birrer ticked off the problems. “It was a real struggle,” he said mildly. Birrer and Luginbill had a vision to create a youth center for Walsenburg, to give kids who had no place else to hang out a place to go, and a place to work. The two men and their supporters worked tirelessly after that, pouring in countless hours of labor and a fair amount of their own money to make the non-profit venture a reality. Grants along the way helped enormously, and the community saw remarkable changes in what was once an eyesore at the end of town. They created the Spanish Peaks Alliance for Arts and Education to help fund and manage the

theatre, and this was the group that was instrumental in fundraising to purchase the $60,000 digital movie projector last year, enabling the Fox to show new first-run movies. Over the years, the Fox was host to a wide variety of live performances, from being the home of El Fandango, the local student folklorico dance troupe for 12 years, to being the biggest venue for the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival concert series for the past ten years. And now, 24 years later, these two guys are tired, and ready to pass the torch. After looking around for a suitable entity to manage it carefully and be around for the long haul, they chose to pass it on to Huerfano County itself, via the county commissioners. On Tuesday, there was a formal signing, passing the building on to the county, and next week, another signing will pass the assets of the SPAAE over to the county as well. The one large requirement of taking over the building, is that the vintage Wurlitzer pipe organ, which is one of very few left in the country, must stay in place. Concerts on the organ are planned soon. The county, not being in the movie theatre business, has contracted with the Spanish Peaks Community Foundation to run and maintain the theatre.