Circumstances force cities to give up one building for another.
Portland is no different. Even the Portland Hotel had to go.
Such is the case of the Fox Tower on Southwest Broadway, rising from the footprint of the Fox Theater.
A one-time luxury palace from the vaudeville era, the Fox Theater became a graveyard for lost pigeons and hungry rats through years of neglect.
The news of The Fox’s demise shot out to every cinematic scavenger in the region. It was ripe with history and they all wanted a piece.
Rows of red mohair rocking seats packed the bowl in the Fox under a double balcony over-hang. Precise acoustics made it special. The humid stench of condemned air did little to dampen the sound quality from the stage to the back of the room.
A gashed screen in front told the final story.
Besides the plush seats and screen scar, the most gripping object in the room was a gold leaf sunburst surrounding a speaker with carved three dimensional rays stabbing outward. It held the magic of theater, the only reflection once the lights dimmed for the feature.
A long lower stairway wound to a sub-basement room with a wall of air filters. On the other side of the wall stood long dormant air handling machinery. The Fox had modernized with AC and sealed its own doom.
Further down was a large dark room with bars of waving light in the ceiling. A careful listen brought a frightful truth. The waving light in the ceiling came from cracks around the steel doors covering a long gone sidewalk freight elevator.
The cracks moved with every pedestrian step on the doors. These rattling doors covered a three story drop into a black hole. Another reason to fear, or helpful health tip?
The Fox won a date with the wrecking ball after an inspection found it beyond rehabbing like the Paramount/Portland theater up the street. The retro-fitted duct work for air conditioning in the fifties left huge holes blasted through walls and floors.
Bringing it up to safety standards was impossible, filtering through treasure trove wasn’t.
The strangest part of The Fox lay above a false ceiling over the first balcony. A hallway on the side of the first balcony led to a door that opened to an outside steel stairway that dropped to the sidewalk.
A fire escape?
The interior stairway ran up to a second balcony, hidden from below by the false ceiling. In the second balcony, wooden benches with strips of canvas tacked over straw down the center instead of the red mohair rockers below.
The stage, viewed through gaps in the false ceiling, was about two inches wide. The summer heat would have been unbearable to all but the most avid show fans.
Oregonian reporters, scavengers, and ladies in high heels, climbed over the duct and hopped across gaping holes in the cement floor to see the benches. They wrote a story was about the historical aspects of the building, a story picked up by the New York Times.
If reading about dead entertainers in long gone buildings raises a chill like the hallway scenes from The Shining, it’s normal.