Centralia’s Fox Theater Open House Signals Renewal Efforts

By the Lewis County Economic Alliance

Remark: This story was produced by the Economic Alliance of Lewis County as part of a monthly special section to be published in The Chronicle.

The Lewis County Economic Alliance hosted an open house at the Historic Centralia Fox Theater to update the community on the progress of the renovation and an enhanced effort to complete the project, which will require approximately $2.5 million to become operational. .

Scott White, who has been involved in restoration work since 2008, spoke at the open house about renewed efforts to complete the project.

“This is very exciting for many of us who have been involved in this project for a long time,” White told those in attendance at the open house. “… It’s exciting, it’s actually been five years since we’ve had an audience here.”

White is encouraged by recent efforts.

“There’s an incredible energy around this project right now,” White said. “You’re here which I think is a big part of that energy and there’s a board that’s excited and motivated and wants to get this done and they’re going to do it. I think there’s a lot to be positive about.”

Todd Chaput of the Lewis County Economic Alliance thanked White.

“This is his big dream and we wouldn’t be here without Scott,” Chaput said. “… At this point with the current board, we are very excited that the board of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County has enabled us to be a part of this. It is important for the Alliance to realize and realize this as an operating room.”

Chaput said that to get the theater up and running, the project will need $2.5 million. The project slumped towards the end of the project due to cost increases and the past two years of the pandemic. Chaput said they are applying for grants and so far have submitted the project for funding of approximately $12 million in potential grant funding.

“This is something that has to happen,” he said. “This will be the focal point of Centralia’s downtown and it will be an important part of Centralia’s economic development and tourism.”

He said when the theater opens, it will help the city pack over the weekend and bring dollars to the Hub City.

“Our goal is to have this place up and running within 18 months to two years,” Chaput said. “We have governance in place and people are engaged to make this happen.”

The History of Centralia’s Fox Theater

Centralia’s Fox Theater opened on September 10, 1930, according to information from the theater’s website. The ornate 1,200-seat art-decolid of the Fox West Coast Theater chain confirmed Centralia’s significance as the Hub City of Washington State.

The Fox was the largest theater between Portland and Tacoma, bringing the glamor and glitz of Hollywood to the gritty “Little Chicago” as Centralia was often called. Built in the tradition of the great movie and vaudeville theaters for which Fox had become so famous, The Fox was suitable for both live performances and talking images. The theater put Centralia Square on the national map of touring shows and lining up for the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

The Fox immediately became the center of small town life. Centralia was populated by loggers, miners, intellectuals, devout Christians, unionists and fiercely loyal veterans. The city center is bustling with shops, hotels, theaters, restaurants and some notorious gambling and prostitution houses.

Just 11 years earlier, the city had been torn apart by the Centralia massacre, which pitted the Union Wobblies against the Veterans of the American Legion and ended in bloodshed. But despite so much diversity and adversity, the Fox was the meeting place for everyone in the community. It was a source of great pride and a respite from what became very challenging times at the start of the Great Depression.

The Centralia Fox Theater was built by Seattle architect Frank Wynkoop, who worked out of the office of Robert Reamer, best known for his Old-Faithful Lodge and other buildings in Yellowstone National Park, as well as the lavish Fox Theater in Spokane. The result was graceful Art Deco and Western simplicity with intricately carved plaster covered in precious metals, decorative plaster step-ups leading from the stage into the theater, and sleek Art Deco chandeliers in gold, silver, and bronze.

Centralia’s most famous resident, the great modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham, once said in an interview that the two things he most remembered from his childhood home in Washington were the Cascade Mountains and the Fox Theater.

The Historic Centralia Fox Theater Presents Casino Royale Night

The Centralia Fox Theater presents a lavish evening of gambling, dresses and champagne in the beautiful, historic theater. Sip signature cocktails while enjoying an evening of luxurious entertainment against the backdrop of Centralia’s crown jewel. This is the social event of the year, with live music, a whiskey and cigar garden, VIP lounge, complimentary champagne and
Hors d’oeuvres. The event is
Saturday October 8. Call 360-506-4925 to sign up or for more information.

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