Historic Structures

Fox Theatre, Brooklyn New York

Date added: March 22, 2010 Categories: New York Theater

The Fox Theatre in Brooklyn represented the moving picture theatre in its prodigious phase. With a 4,305 seating capacity, the theatre was one of the largest ever built. Stylistically, it exemplified creative eclecticism, combining East Indian, Baroque, and Art Deco elements into an imaginative and novel blend. A principal showplace of metropolitan New York City, it was initially a major link in the chain of theatres forged by motion picture mogul William Fox.

The Theatre was owned and operated by the William Fox Theatre Corporation from 1928 to 1934.
In 1937 it was leased to Fabian Enterprises by the Brooklyn Fox Corporation, Continental Bank & Trust Co, Trestee in Possession.
In 1962 Brooklyn Fox Corporation sold the theatre to an unknown buyer, probably the Barton Candy Co. Fabian Enterprises continued its lease until 1966.
In September of 1970 the site and building were bought by the Borough of Brooklyn. Demolition began the following November.

William Fox was born in Hungary in 1879 or 1880 of German-Jewish parents named Fried and was brought by them to the United States when he was nine months old. After an impoverished childhood in New York City, during which an accident rendered his left arm useless, Fox began his flamboyant success in the entertainment business by renting nickelodeons. Although circumstances had so limited his education that he remained illiterate, his shrewd grasp of essentials more than compensated for that lack, at least until over-extension ultimately brought him to financial disaster.

In 1925, the Fox Theatre Corporation, then rated at $20,000,000, embarked on a policy of building or acquiring ultra-large theatres. Five of the most notable, all built in 1928 and all named Fox, were in Brooklyn, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Twenty-five theatres in the Fox system were designed by C. Howard Crane, architect of the Brooklyn house. By 1929, Fox holdings had pyramided to 800 theatres, headed by the Roxy as flagship house, valued at $200,000,000. Fox's vast theatres presented lavish stage productions in addition to Fox films. The Brooklyn Fox was part of the Fox Metropolitan Theatre Corporation, which controlled theatres with a total seating capacity of 140,000 in New York City.

In July 1929 Fox was injured so badly in an automobile accident that he was three months in the hospital. The Friday before the Stock Market crash he realized $20,000,000 from the sale of assets that dropped to $6,000,000 on the following Tuesday and continued to plummet thereafter. Eventually the Fox Film Corporation stock he retained slipped from $119 to $1.00 a share. By February 1933 the Fox Film Corporation went into receivership. After an almost impenetrable maze of maneuvers involving bankers, financiers, lawyers, stockholders, and government officials, William Fox declared bankruptcy in 1936.

More litigation followed the bankruptcy. Fox was accused of anti-trust violations, income tax evasion, and even of selling short in a deliberate effort to loot his own companies. Whether or not he was guilty of anything more than a desperate effort, to salvage at least a fragment of his empire was never determined in court. However, he was indicted for attempting to bribe a judge at his bankruptcy hearing, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $3,000. He was paroled in May 1943 after serving almost six months at Lewisburg. His attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, was unavailing. He died in May 1952 neglected and ignored by the film industry he had once sought to dominate. In spite of his misfortunes and at least one tragic error in judgement, Fox retained sufficient assets to leave his wife and daughter a modest fortune. William Fox is best remembered for the sumptuous theatres he caused to be built and for superlative films his studios produced, among them such award-winners as What Price Glory?, Cavalcade, State Fair, and Berkeley Square.