At Your Leisure: An Evening at The Fox Theater

Written by on August 1, 2014 in At Your Leisure - 3 Comments
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This photo shows The Fox Theater in 1938. The hotel fronting the building is named "The York." (Photo: courtesy Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

By 1938, “The Colonial” had become”The Fox” Theatre. A hotel was also housed in the building.(Photo: courtesy Bass Photo Co. Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

“I can remember back when you used to dance down at the Fox,” so rambled the elderly man in his twilight years who reflected on what might have been his favorite leisure time activity as a young man. What was “The Fox” and who were the people who danced there, you may be asking?

Let’s back up a step.

“The Colonial Theatre” was built in the summer of 1909 at the corner of Illinois and New York Streets. The theatre, which seated about 1400 people, shared a building with The Colonial Hotel. Eager theater patrons entered the lobby from the northwest portion of the building. As a side note, in 1909, Indiana Avenue still connected Illinois and New York Streets.


Colonial Theater

At the southwest corner of Illinois and New York Streets stood The Colonial Theatre and Hotel

By the mid 1930’s, movies had supplanted Vaudeville as the popular form of entertainment. According to the Indianapolis City Directory, “The Colonial” changed its name to “The Empress” in 1937 and showed motion pictures.

“The Empress” was short-lived, however, and the theater was again renamed in December, changed to “The Fox,” where burlesque was its primary form of entertainment.

This shows the entrance to the theater from the lobby.

The entrance to the theater from the lobby (Photo: courtesy Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

Burlesque could be described as a mutated form of Vaudeville. Shows typically consisted of individual “performers” enacting heavily choreographed strip teases to music performed by a live orchestra. When the performer was down to the skimpiest attire–what one would probably consider to be overdressed at a public pool today– the lights would dim and curtain would drop. Between acts, a comedian would often make an appearance, telling risqué jokes. At the time this, was considered “adult entertainment,” though the only I.D. required was enough money to pay for admission.

Many historic theaters in Indianapolis followed a similar fate as The Fox. By the early 1970’s, it became a movie theater focused exclusively on “adult” films. As ‘they’ say, it was downhill from there. The theatre was shuttered in 1975. Within the next few years, the entire block was razed.

In 2014, theatrics on the site are relegated to animated exchanges within a tall, artless building. Indiana Avenue no longer exists between Illinois Street and Capitol Avenue, having been replaced by the great wall of AUL.

Burlesque, however, is enjoying somewhat of a revival– nationwide and locally. Indianapolis has several troops, performing at a number of venues around the city, rekindled first by White Rabbit Cabaret.

Maybe someday decades hence, you too, will reminisce. You’ll run into ‘Alabaster Betty’ or some other ‘sweet thing,’ and tell her you remember when she used to dance in Fountain Square.

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About the Author

An avid runner who enjoys daily jaunts throughout Indy's historic neighborhoods, Jeff deeply appreciates the detail and workmanship of old architecture. So much so, that he lives downtown in a restored historic building. He also works downtown as a manager of a not-for-profit that promotes globalization throughout Central Indiana. In a past life, Jeff worked in the hospitality industry and may one day pen a book about the ridiculous things people do while staying in hotels. Stay tuned.

3 Comments on "At Your Leisure: An Evening at The Fox Theater"

  1. David Brewer August 2, 2014 at 11:06 pm · Reply

    I used to have a personal record from the early 1920s of the Colonial Theater Orchestra playing one of their own compositions, “Count the Days.” It was made for the Gennett label in Richmond. Kind of wish I still had it.

  2. Jim Jones August 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm · Reply

    Although I never saw the Fox Theater, I enjoyed the article and pictures, because my favorite high school teacher at Terre Haute Glenn talked about the fun they had there during Teacher’s Institute in the 1950s.

  3. Ray Featherstone August 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm · Reply

    The article on the Fox Theater brough back some fun memories. The year was 1948, early on a Saturday evening. The northside Norwaldo Street gang piled into a 1938 Plymouth headed for the Fox Theater. Gang members included Bull Baird, Fingers Rhude, Meaty Johnson, Bog Boy Booker and Frenchie Featherstone.
    Upon early arrival at the theater we had our choice of seats and decided to sit in the balcony which gave a birds eye view of the elevated stage at the front of the theater. Soon the house lights lowered and the house comic Scurvy trotted out on the stage to tell a few off color jokes. At that point the aging chorus line shuffled out on the stage wearing abbreviated costumes. The chorus line consisted of five over the hill ladies who were either short and dumpy or tall and skinny. They obviously must have had daytime jobs to earn a living as there wasn’t a good looker in the bunch. MORE TO FOLLOW

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