“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.
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.
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 Indiana Avenue no longer exists between Illinois Street and Capitol Avenue, having been replaced by the great wall of AUL.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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