Fox Theatre

1116-1128 Main Street,
Stevens Point, WI 54481

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FOX Theatre; Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

The original name of this historic theatre was the Grand Opera House. Built by G. F. Andrae between 1893-1894, the vaudeville/stage show theatre closed in 1915.

On November 1, 1920, it was reopened as the Majestic Theatre presenting a musical revue “All Aboard for Cuba” starring Don Lanning. In the mid-1920’s it was taken over by J.P. Adler of the Adler Theater Co. who opened the Majestic Roseland (a dance palace) on the second floor. In 1928 the Wisconsin Amusement Co. (now Fox Corp.) took over the operation of the theatre and changed its name to the Fox Theatre.

Remaining popular for the next six decades, the theatre was last operated by Rogers Cinemas. It was kept mostly the same way, but in 1982, a previously added section of the theatre was removed. Shortly afterwards, in 1985, the movie house was closed and has never reopened.

A number of groups have tried to find a use for the old Fox Theater, but so far they have been unsuccessful. Demolition of the auditorium began in December 2019. The facade will be saved.

However, the city of Stevens Point purchased the Fox Theatre for $1 on December 31, 2019, agreeing to the terms of the donation agreement that spells out what the building can and can not be used for in the next 13 years. Now that the building is city-owned, a full raze is unlikely and an engineering report(s) suggests the entire structure is worthy of being saved. Estimate to bring up to code etc. is $2-$2.5 million. The city will most likely discuss the Fox Theatre at their Finance Committee Meeting on January 13, 2020.

Contributed by Ed Wilke

Recent comments (view all 157 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 12, 2014 at 6:25 am

A list of theaters designed or remodeled by the Milwaukee architectural firm Dick & Bauer that was published in December, 1929, included the Fox Theatre in Stevens Point among their projects.

edwilke
edwilke on September 29, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Something recently put out by The Fox On Main… http://vimeo.com/107188124

edwilke
edwilke on November 19, 2014 at 8:26 pm

New website for the theater. http://foxonmain.org/

rivest266
rivest266 on January 22, 2017 at 10:35 pm

This opened on November 1st, 1920 as Majestic. Grand opening ad in the photo section.

Trolleyguy
Trolleyguy on August 9, 2019 at 2:43 pm

The City f Stevens Point has issued a raze order for the theatre. The latest plan of the Group Create is to “save” the theatre by doing a facadectomy. They propose tearing down everything behind the front and attaching a new building to the backside.https://www.wsaw.com/content/news/Historic-Commission-asks-raze-order-rescinded-for-Fox-Theater-526393821.html

LouRugani
LouRugani on August 24, 2019 at 1:33 am

Advocates of a plan to turn the FOX Theatre in downtown Stevens Point into a “maker space” are scrambling for more time in the wake of a surprise city order to demolish the building. Opened in 1894 as the Grand Opera House, the FOX has been vacant since the mid-1980s and the subject of planned renovation efforts that never quite launched. Greg Wright, executive director of the nonprofit CREATE Portage County, announced last April a $3.5 million plan to make the FOX into its “IDEA Center” … a business incubator and a meet-up place for arts and community groups. The nonprofit has raised nearly $1 million already. But a city inspector in July issued a surprise order that unless CREATE can address structural concerns, the FOX will be demolished at the end of October. Wright said “We were surprised by the timing of the raze order given that we were actively in the process of the capital campaign when it came out. We are doing our best to both slow that process down and to raise as much money as quickly as we can because of that. It definitely was a hurdle we did not need.” Stevens Point Mayor Mike Wiza, who’d told the Portage County Gazette that “safety is a huge concern right now” when the sudden order was first issued, didn’t immediately return requests for comments. Wright said CREATE is exploring options for appeals, both locally and at the state level. The city’s Historic Preservation and Design Review Commission this month unanimously recommended that the city reverse its decision, but that recommendation is nonbinding … and they’re now trying to raise as much money as they can to save the FOX. Still, Wright doesn’t seem to be a fan of restored theatres, saying “it’s commonly the case that they won’t work as self-sustaining businesses”, and “what we’re doing is the best way to honor the history of this building” he said. His IDEA Center project is about three years old and he said it has launched some 50 new businesses and served as a home for groups of wood carvers, jewelry makers, fabric artists, video producers and more with about 200 people using the IDEA Center each month in a temporary space owned by the county, an arrangement that won’t last forever. The new prospect of demolition of the FOX, he said, focused attention on those efforts and he hopes to use that to raise enough funding to keep his plans alive, though he admits concern that now “it’s shifted everyone’s attention to the building, and not the project. To read about his renovation plans, visit anewfox.com.

LouRugani
LouRugani on September 18, 2019 at 1:32 pm

e Stevens Point City Council on Tuesday voted to contribute up to $250,000 to a nonprofit group’s efforts to renovate and repurpose the FOX Theatre. The efforts had been in peril after a city inspector in July gave owners 90 days to address structural issues with the building or see it demolished.

“This will allow us to go in and actually fix the problems that exist with the structure currently so that the building is prepared for development and can be used successfully in the future,” said Greg Wright, executive director of CREATE Portage County.

Wright said the group will use the infusion of city cash to address the immediate needs, which will allow the group to raise the remainder of a $3.5 million capital campaign. CREATE has raised about $1 million for the project.

In April, CREATE announced plans to turn the vacant theater into the home of its IDEA Center, a community hub that serves as a coworking space, a business incubator and a place for arts and community groups to meet.

The IDEA Center is about three years old, and Wright said it has launched some 50 new businesses and served as a home for groups of wood carvers, jewelry makers, fabric artists, video producers and more. About 200 people use the IDEA Center each month. It’s housed in a temporary space in Stevens Point owned by the county; the renovated Fox Theater would be its permanent home.

Dozens of community members, including those who’ve been involved in IDEA Center projects, spoke in support of the project at a city committee meeting and at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Wright said it was “humbling” to see a “diverse age group, racial group and interest group of people come together and say, ‘This is supporting us.’” The city’s financial backing will allow the group to move forward immediately with the first phase of the construction project, Wright said, and to address inspectors’ concerns. The fundraising campaign to complete the full project will continue.

“Our thing has always been, we wanted that money to be a long-term investment and not a short-term investment,” Wright said. “We wanted to make sure when we went to address the building, we addressed it in a way that positioned it well for construction in the future.”

LouRugani
LouRugani on October 26, 2019 at 12:44 pm

Plans to try to save the historic facade of the Fox Theater died this week. The group “CREATE Portage County” announced in a joint statement from Greg Wright, executive director, and Bill Schierl, board president and founder, that the entire Fox Theater will come down, abandoning plans to save and remodel portions of the historic building for its IDEA Center. “The razing of the building appears inevitable at this point,” the statement reads. Wright said in a interview with the Stevens Point Journal that the theater could come down in the coming months as a part of a July raze order. How the razing will play out is up in the air because the group needs to discuss who will pay for it, who will retain control of the property and what happens to the $250,000 in funding the city agreed to, Wright said. The group secured $250,000 from the city through tax increment funding in early September. Thursday’s announcement might end the $250,000 agreement, he said. Stevens Point Building Inspection Superintendent DJ Schneider said in an interview that Thursday’s announcement came as a surprise and creates confusion on who will take charge in leveling the theater. Stevens Point issued a 90-day raze order for the Fox in July because of “health and safety concerns”. The order gave CREATE until late-October to address those issues and raise funds for the project. Issues with the building’s safety included failing trusses, a sagging roof and ceiling, and water leaking into the building. Schneider requested in a memo sent to CREATE on Thursday that the group provide the name of the contractor, a contract and a timeline for the teardown. Winter is approaching fast and determining who will take charge of the teardown needs to happen soon, he said. “I need to know if they aren’t going to do anything because the city has to step in and make it safe for the winter,” Schneider said in an interview. “I need time to get contractors and engineers lined up too if they’re just going to walk away from this thing.”

G.F. Andrae opened the theater on Sept. 19, 1894, as the Grand Opera House, which once featured a 23-year-old Harry Houdini in 1897 before he was a household name. The theater went through several openings and closing throughout its life. It reopened in 1929 as the Fox Theater. City officials battled with the theater’s owners from the 1970s until 1985 over where to build its now-demolished mall, which included part of the theater. The city won the right to tear off 40 feet from back of the theater, which closed permanently April 25, 1986.

Efforts to revive the Fox in the ensuing years failed. CREATE’s final plan to save the theater began April 1 when it launched a $3.5 million campaign to move its IDEA Center inside the salvaged Fox. The center started in 2016 to increase support for local entrepreneurship and innovation.

If the city demolishes the Fox, the city will assess the cost on the property’s tax bill. “There wasn’t time to consider this strategy. It became clear that the raze order was forcing decisions that would affect the long-term success of the project and asking us to rush a process that requires informed decision-making. We couldn’t move forward in that way,” CREATE’s statement reads. Interviews with Wright and Schneider indicated a breakdown in communication and confusion on the expectations of deadlines and progress updates between CREATE and the city. Wright said they came back to the city with a change in plans for preserving parts of the Fox last week after working with the group’s architect and structural firms. The plans differed from what the city council based its approval of the $250,000 in funding. CREATE’s architect and structural engineer came back and said to gut the theater and keep the back half of the building up, including the roof. The city agreed to provide the funds on the condition CREATE tore down the back two-thirds of the Fox Theater. Wright said he was frustrated when the architect came back with those plans but tried to work with the city. The city informed CREATE it would need to appear before the city council again, Wright said, because of the change in plans. He said the also the city then gave him until Dec. 15 to secure the building ahead of winter. Schneider said the Dec. 15 deadline was set prior to CREATE coming back to the city. Wright said contractors the group spoke with said the Dec. 15 deadline wasn’t feasible. He said the earliest they could do was the first quarter of 2020. “That Dec. 15 deadline is something our contractors cannot meet,” he said.

Wright said CREATE is circling back to consult with donors about the plans to abandon the Fox Theater. He said they would provide donors refunds if they no longer wish to support the project for the IDEA Center’s move.

“We are hearing from donors that, with rare exception, they are not investing in an iconic facade,” Wright and Schierl said in a statement. Mayor Mike Wiza said in a Thursday statement after CREATE’s announcement that the city could only wait so long on plans to fix the historic theater. “Deteriorating buildings can only wait for so long while various plans are developed and discussed.” The city remains open to discussing any 11th hour plans to save the building, Wiza said.

LouRugani
LouRugani on November 29, 2019 at 8:47 am

The Sanders family announced Monday they do not support the city’s plans to demolish the Fox Theater and they have not yet decided if they will dissolve an agreement with a local nonprofit that could potentially save the downtown theater’s facade. In a letter sent to the Stevens Point Journal, D.K. Sanders, Ada Andrae Sanders and Jeanette Sanders said the city is choosing to demolish the building instead of saving it. They are the great-grandchildren of G.F. Andrae, who built the theater in 1894. The Sanders family said neither Fox on Main nor the city made any effort to correct the problems with the building that sparked a raze order in July, and the focus from everyone involved has been to demolish the building. “It’s not that they didn’t do anything,” D.K. Sanders told a Stevens Point Journal reporter Monday. “It’s just that they didn’t do enough.” The family said they worked to give alternative options that corrected the deficiencies and eliminated the raze order. The city’s main concern is safety, said Mayor Mike Wiza. Work could have been done to preserve the whole building, but since the raze order was issued in July, no improvements have been made. At this point, time is running out, Wiza said. Inspectors have said the building will not survive another winter, and DJ Schneider, the city’s building inspector, said the building needs to be razed and secured by Dec. 15. The family claims that in 2013, Meyer Borgman Johnson, a structural engineering firm, investigated the Fox building and said the building was well taken care of and identified 12 items that needed attention. The same group visited the building in May 2018 and said the building was in similar condition to what it was in 2013, the family said. According to the Sanders family, the total cost to fix the major issues with the building in order to remove the raze order is $164,000. The family claims the entire building could be fixed and saved for $254,400. They said the figures were also given to the mayor. In contrast, the cost of demolition is estimated to be $250,000. “And so the Fox comes down by the city’s choice, not by supported necessity,” the Sanders family wrote. Wiza said the company that supplied those estimates didn’t go into the building. He said the city asked the company if it would hold true to the number, and the company said it was an estimate, and they would need to be inside the building to have a better idea on costs. The Sanders family refutes that claim and said they were inside the building with the company a year ago. Wiza said none of the companies the city has talked to would be able to do any work to preserve the entire building before winter. The theater building has remained in the Sanders family almost its entire existence, and it was passed down from generation to generation. Ada Andrae Sanders and D.K. Sanders say the city’s current plans are consistent with the history of the building, and the multiple attempts from the city to tear it down. The city’s Redevelopment Authority eyed the Fox Theater and other downtown properties in 1973, then again in 1980 to build a mall. Jeanette Sanders then sought historical protection, and the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. City leaders at the time argued they needed the back portion of the theater for the mall. The back 40 feet of the Fox Theater was demolished on March 11, 1985. “The city has tried to destroy the Fox three times,” D.K. Sanders said. “The mall failed. We knew it was going to fail. Nobody would listen to us then, and they’re not listening now.” D.K. Sanders and Ada Andrae Sanders said they put $50,000 worth of theater equipment into the historic theater before they donated the title in 2013 to the Portage County Arts Alliance, known today as CREATE Portage County. The group created a nonprofit organization called Fox on Main to handle everything from studies to development at the site. “We were convinced if we gave it over, it would be a theater,” the Sanders siblings said. “We have no heirs to leave it to.” The family wanted the Fox Theater to remain as a movie theater because it would be too difficult to keep it as a live theater stage. They said they wanted it to be used for a restaurant on the second floor and to be able to rent the facility for weddings and events. After it ran feasibility studies, Fox on Main learned a theater would not be successful on its own, but that the space could be successful if it filled a need in the community. In 2016, CREATE started its IDEA Center to address a lack of support for entrepreneurship and innovation in the area. The program is currently running at 1039 Ellis St. in Stevens Point. CREATE announced in April its plans to preserve the Fox Theater’s facade, demolish most of the back of the building and relocate its IDEA Center there. Plans hit a roadblock in July, however, when the city issued a 90-day raze order for the building, saying it was so badly damaged that it was a threat to health and public safety. The order referenced failing trusses, a sagging ceiling and roof, and water leaking into the building. Fox on Main was given until mid-October to show it had made significant progress to address those concerns. At the end of October, Fox on Main announced it would stop fighting the raze order. Earlier this month, Fox on Main agreed to sell the Fox Theater property to the city for $1. The sale would give the city authority to demolish the building and work with developers to redevelop the site. At committee meetings in November, city leaders said they wanted to save the facade of the building if it was safe to do so. In order for the sale to go through, however, the Sanders family needs to dissolve its agreement with Fox on Main. Wiza said the Sanders family had verbally agreed to do so, but the city has not received the paperwork. Until the city receives those papers, the raze order is still in effect, Wiza said. If the raze order remains, the entire building — including the facade — will be demolished. If the Sanders family does not dissolve its agreement, Fox on Main will also remain the owner of the property and will be responsible for the cost of demolition. D.K. Sanders and Ada Andrae Sanders said they haven’t decided yet if they want to dissolve the agreement with Fox on Main. They’re still debating what they want to do, they said. D.K. Sanders said the Fox Theater is a cultural and economic resource that is vital to the downtown. It’s a unique building that makes the area a central point for the city and the county. He said he doesn’t understand how the city is willing to throw away a whole building for fixable problems. “If you have a leaky bathroom, you don’t tear your whole house down,” D.K. Sanders said. Wiza said he hopes the situation can be resolved to help the city preserve history in the downtown. Crews have been performing asbestos abatement work at the building, and that work is scheduled to be completed Tuesday. Demolition on the Fox Theater could start as early as Dec. 3, Wiza said.

LouRugani
LouRugani on December 8, 2019 at 5:44 am

Closed amid controversy on April 25, 1986, several individuals and groups have tried, since then to revive the historic Fox theatre. At a special city council meeting last Monday night, Urban Evolutions Inc. of Appleton was selected to demolish two-thirds of the building, fix the roof and seal off the front one-third to make it “weather tight,” said Mayor Mike Wiza to mark the end of the Fox’s 125-year history in downtown Stevens Point. G.F. Andrae purchased the land for an opera house in 1893 and The Grand Opera House opened Sept. 19, 1894, transforming to the Majestic Theater in 1920 and the Fox Theater in 1929 amid challenges including protests over student ticket prices, disputes over wages, television, and even a projectionist strike. The city also began looking at the Fox for potential developments. By April 1973, the city’s Redevelopment Authority eyed several downtown buildings for demolition, including the Fox, not a popular proposal. The Common Council rejected that, but talks of a mall resurfaced in 1980 calling for demolishing the Fox and retaining only the facade as an entrance to the mall. By 1981, the plans changed to raze only the dressing rooms and other theater spaces. In response, owner Jeanette Sanders — G.F. Andrae’s granddaughter — sought historical protection. In 1982, the Fox was added to the National Register of Historic Places. City leaders argued the dressing rooms weren’t historically significant and in February 1984, the city received the approval it needed. Forty feet of the Fox Theatre were demolished on March 11, 1985. About a year later, the operators closed for the last time, blaming post-demolition heating issues. Over 100 people gathered Jan. 25, 2011, to hear Ada Andrae Sanders, her sister Jeanette Sanders and brother Donald Sanders announcing plans to reopen the Fox Theatre. Others expressed interest in using the theatre for venues such as a teen night club, church and roller rink. The Sanders family denied them because they wanted it to reopen as a theatre and restore the elegance of their great-grandfather’s opera house for performances and films, with a restaurant on the second floor. They started to work with the Arts Alliance of Portage County (now CREATE Portage County) to develop a nonprofit and raise money to make their dream a reality. The Arts Alliance formed a nonprofit called Fox on Main in 2013, and the Sanders family donated the title for the theatre to the group. “Fox on Main” began working on designs, a business plan and feasibility studies … but those studies claimed that operating the Fox Theatre as a theater would not be possible without a partner but could be successful if it “filled a need in the community”. CREATE had a 2016 “IDEA Center” program to support entrepreneurship and innovation and in April 2019 announced plans to preserve the Fox’s facade, demolish the auditorium, relocate that IDEA Center there and began a $3.5 million fundraising campaign. Then the city’s building inspector said if Fox on Main didn’t have the roof “water-tight” soon, he would issue a raze order. As of June, no work had been done on the roof, and the inspector issued a 90-day raze order in July, saying the Fox was now so badly damaged and dilapidated that it was a threat to health and public safety. Fox on Main had until mid-October to make sure the roof was water tight, shoring up trusses and repair loose bricks by October to delay the raze order until May 1, 2020. Fox on Main said they wanted to demolish the auditorium and raise money to start as soon as possible. The city agreed to allocate $250,000 toward that … after the demolition contractor was paid. Suddenly an architect firm that Fox on Main had earlier worked with submitted new plans to save the whole theatre … but since this didn’t match the agreement just signed with the city, a new, hard deadline for demolition was set for Dec. 15 … and any changes would need re-approval by the city. Then on Oct. 23, Fox on Main gave up. It would no longer fight the raze order and now wasn’t even interested in the Fox Theatre site for its IDEA Center. (And couldn’t pay for any demolition anyway.) So the city said it’d initially pay for the work but bill Fox on Main’s property taxes for the next three years anyway. If Fox on Main didn’t pay, the property would go to Portage County and eventually the city, but that’d leave a vacant hole in the downtown where no development could take place for at least three and a half years. So Fox on Main’s board voted Nov. 5 to dissolve its donation agreement with the Sanders family and to sell the Fox Theatre to the city for $1. The city agreed, but the actual sale hinged on the Sanders family also dissolving their original Oct. 2013 agreement with Fox on Main with its permissible and forbidden uses for the Fox, allowed only “civic, governmental, cultural or educational purposes including but not limited to: movie theater, stage for theatrical performances, art gallery, music studio, music hall, dance studio, school, restaurant, specialty food store, culinary arts and general or related activities supporting arts, entertainment and culture” (and incidentally prohibiting use for sexual-oriented business, gambling, pawnshop, body piercing business or tattoo parlor.) On Nov. 25, the Sanders family announced it didn’t support the city’s plans to demolish the Fox and were considering dissolving the agreement with Fox on Main.

During the special council meeting Monday, Wiza said the family made it clear they did not intend to dissolve the agreement, that the entire Fox building could be saved, blamed the city for wanting to demolish it, and compared it to the 1970s and 1980s when the city wanted to demolish the Fox to build a mall. “The city has tried to destroy the Fox three times,” D.K. Sanders told a reporter. “The mall failed. We knew it was going to fail. Nobody would listen to us then, and they’re not listening now.” The mayor, Tony Wiza, said nobody did the work to save it and would ask the city council to consider taking ownership of the Fox even with the restrictions from the original agreement for the next 13 years which would make development “pretty challenging,” but at least would let the city maintain the facade.

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