A lot has changed about movies in 90 years.
In 1929, silent films were heading out the door, and “talkies” were becoming more and more common. The top grossing film that year was “The Broadway Melody,” the first major musical film that would pave the way for many more like it.
It was also the year that Montrose got its first taste of cinema. It was the year Fox Theatre came to town. Ninety years later, the theater has stayed true to its roots: a place where people can “escape,” according to theater owner Michael Hunter.
But that central theme isn’t the only feature of the theater to remain the same. The outer appearance of Fox is true to its original Middle Eastern architectural style: an ornate box office, a dome structure atop the roof and a towering minaret. Hunter says the original design was inspired by a fascination with Middle Eastern architecture after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922. At the time, many “Fox” and “Paramount” theaters took on that style, when studios could both make movies and own theaters before antitrust laws.
The front page of the Oct. 29, 1929 edition of the Montrose Daily Press was dedicated to the theater. Readers that day were informed of “Oriental Rugs” that “Add Touches of Elegance” and how the theater was an “Acoustic Masterpiece.” It even noted how George Frantz, the owner of the new theater had made arrangements to take “Moving Pictures” of the crowd on opening night, Oct. 31, 1929.
As the event was at night, plans to light the scene “with powerful lights and flares presents quite a problem, but this has all been worked out and the material is on hand,” the article reads. If one wanted to attend opening night, they needed only visit the Anderson Drug company, which was in charge of selling advance tickets to avoid crowds “usually present at the opening of a new theater.”
The opening of the theater was, needless to say, important for the small town, and it didn’t happen by accident.
A Detroit man named George Frantz is responsible for Fox Theatre. He moved out West and floated around small Colorado towns with the dream of making it in the theater business. He spent some time gaining experience at a theater in Nebraska before coming back to Colorado to work for an older acquaintance named “Dick” Dickson and Dickson’s partner “Rick” Ricketson, according to the Daily Press article.
Frantz, the manager of Montrose theaters who saw the Fox Theatre realized was known as a “dreamer, idealist, inventor, doer of deeds that live long,” according to the article, and Montrose was “fortunate in having as one of her citizens this splendid young man.”
A continuing legacy
The inside of Fox has changed a lot in 90 years. Even the snack bar downstairs isn’t original. That was only added later, once people began to “sell snacks on the sidewalks, like peanuts,” business manager and daughter of the owners Misty Hunter said. That area was originally just a lobby.
But most of the theater’s style inside is thanks to Stan Dewsnup, who purchased the theater in the mid-60s and died in 2005 having operated many movie theaters over a span of 50 years. Broken tile on the walls in the front lobby were Dewsnup’s work, as is a very ‘70s Penthouse suite on the upper floor — maybe the feature Fox is most known for today.
Once a single auditorium, wall-to-wall, Dewsnup split the single theater into three, including the Fox, the “Little Theater” and the upstairs Penthouse, which still has the ‘70s feeling from when it was first designed, with its signature brown color palette and not-so-subtle carpet and curtains.
“He liked dark suits,” Michael said of Dewsnup, explaining how he had a suit that matched just about every color of the theater’s interior walls upstairs.
Also a staple to the upstairs Penthouse area are pieces of art on the walls, including one that might be considered risqué, which is visible and memorable for just about anyone who’s visited the theater — except when a PG movie is being screened, of course, at which time the Hunters cover it with a movie poster.
A snack bar was eventually added to the upper floor as well, Misty said. Originally, the area with the snack bar was used as a projection booth for the upstairs theater.
Theater guests might notice the stage in the Penthouse. It used to host plays, concerts and other shows.
The upstairs opened Christmas day in 1980 and played “Private Benjamin,” a comedy starring Goldie Hawn.
For the Hunters — Michael and wife Meredine — there have been many memorable showings over the years since they bought the theater in 1985 from Dewsnup, Meredine’s father.
“Since then, we’ve just been unlocking the door and getting out of the way,” Michael said.
Misty said something her parents want to convey about the theater is that it was never meant to do what it’s doing today, considering how much technology has advanced since 1929.
“It’s pretty impressive that this building can handle as many people as it does and bring so much entertainment and joy when you think about that it’s 90 years old,” she said.
Through the years, there have been numerous memorable films that made their way through the theaters.
Misty recalled the run of “Jurassic Park.” Michael remembered the popularity of the Harrison Ford “Indiana Jones” films and James Cameron’s “Titanic,” as having some of the longest runs in the theater.
Most recently, the newer “Star Wars” movies have brought the biggest crowds, even packing the 352-seat Penthouse.
“It looked like a napalm strike up here after ‘Frozen,’” Michael said.
Asked what has kept the theater going for so long, Michael simply asked his Google phone, “What is the theory of escapism?” and let his phone do the talking.
Michael also explained there’s nothing quite like a theater in the fact that the product is always changing.
“When you go to your favorite restaurant and get the same rib-eye steak, you know what you’re going to get. In here, it’s like a box of chocolates,” he said, quoting a film, as any theater owner might.