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The Fox Theatre’s early years

by Nancy Christofferson
Around the end of January 1959, the Huerfano World announced the sale of the historic Fox Theater by Paul Krier to Frank Piazza. While the information was published previous to the actual sale, Piazza did indeed lease the theater at that time and eventually purchased it. Piazza had a long history with the theater himself, having started work at one as a door opener.
Krier said he had entered the theater business in 1910 in the old Walsen and Levy store near the corner of Seventh and Main Streets. At least his brother Lucien was a theater owner then, proved by the fact he and his partner (and even their piano player!) were actually arrested for running a moving picture show without a license. This was the Star Theater, and it had competition from the McCormick family’s theater, the Huerfano, across the street, and the Otto in the former Mazzone building at Sixth and Main. Walsenburg loved her entertainment and moving pictures filled in the boring times between the coming of theatrical troupes and circuses.
That the Star was a popular feature on that corner was illustrated by the businesses surrounding it – the Star Barber Shop, Star Confectionery, Star Garage, Star Grocery, Star Pool Hall, and the ubiquitous Star Drug just kitty-cornered across the street.
In 1917, Krier built an all new, all modern (for the time) building to house his moving picture theater. This was the large brick and concrete building we know today, located at 715 Main, or just a few doors south of its previous location. The Star building underwent several remodelings, taking on an Art Deco façade and becoming the Fox Valencia in 1929. In 1937 a new marquee with neon lights was added and in 1941 the new one and a half story high FOX sign went up. The former yellow with black, green and orange trim paint job of 1927 was replaced with blue and white, which in turn gave way to pink in 1950.
The Fox Theater was affiliated with the Fox Theatre Corporation, which itself operated under several names. Krier was credited with being the first theater owner in Colorado to affiliate with the company.
Krier’s original Star could, and did, seat 700 people, with the balcony holding 300 of them. Through the years, the seating was replaced with larger chairs, and the capacity lowered. The space was used to enlarge the lobby and concession stand, the restrooms and office.
After so many years ramrodding the theater, Krier gradually turned more of his attention to his other interests, and hired managers to take day to day control.
Once Piazza had taken over ownership, he had the marquee updated and moved the front entrance doors and snack bar. He modernized the heating system. He must have enjoyed running a theater, because in 1962 he built the Trail Drive-in out on Highway 160 west of Walsenburg. Alas, before it was even completed, one of Huerfano’s famous little breezes stripped the framework off and almost a year later, another one toppled the $12,000 screen. This was replaced with a larger one of 3,200 square feet before the drive-in season started.
Piazza and his wife Lena usually opened the Trail around the first of May when the weather allowed, and closed in September. Then he moved the movies into town and the Fox was opened for the winter. The drive-in was closed in the mid 1980s and the screen removed in 2002.
After Piazza lost his bid for re-election for County Commissioner for District 2 in 1988 (he had served since 1976), he and Lena moved from the area. The theater was closed.
Since the early 1950s, Walsenburg parents and business leaders had been searching for something or somewhere to entertain the young people of the community. Several youth centers had opened and closed their doors despite heroic efforts on the part of teens themselves and supportive organizations and businesses. In 1992, a core group then belonging to the Optimist Club took over the project, and through hard work, donations and grants, bought and once again updated the old Fox Theatre. They called it the Youth Center Theatre.
Now, it seems, after the years of hard work and nearly constant updates by the buildings’ three longtime owners – Krier, Piazza, and Youth Center – one more improvement must be made for the business to enter the 21st century and continue operation. New-fangled technology demands the purchase of an expensive (!) digital projector, and the Youth Center Theatre is accepting donations toward that end.
This building houses more than movie productions, it houses memories of childhood in free Christmas films for “tots” of the 1930s through the ‘50s, first dates, girls nights out, and family outings to witness not only Hollywood’s output but local talent and minstrel shows, theatrical, musical and dance productions, fashion shows and concerts. The theatre represents an ongoing source of entertainment for, hopefully, generations to come, just as it has for the previous (and current) generations.
Donations to the Fox can be sent to PO Box 472, La Veta, CO 81055.

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