Stone Cold Fox

Herb Stratford, 39, is executive director of the Fox Tucson Theater Foundation. He's been working to refurbish downtown's Fox Theater since October 1999. Now in production: The Friends of the Fox campaign, which encourages donations of anywhere from $250 to $10,000. For more information, call 624-1515.

What's the latest on the Fox?

We have finished the architectural plans for the theater, and they've been turned in to the city for review. That was a 14-month process (when) we were working with all the architects and engineers to get all that together. The real next big step would be starting the final stage of construction, and that has not started yet. When you look at the big picture, first you have to get the building; then you have do all the plans for the building; then you have to take everything down to the bones, so to speak; then you would start to build it up. So we've kind of done all of the work that we can do in advance of the big work. And the big work is probably another $7 million worth of work in the building, which is going to take about 12 months.

So you're starting a new fund-raising drive?

We are in the public phase of the capital campaign. Obviously, we're working on grants and loans and a lot of different aspects of the fund-raising, but the big thing we're working on right now is the Friends of the Fox campaign. ... We've raised $6 million so far, and we have another $5 million that we need to get in hand.

How much junk did you clear out of there?

I believe 48 dumpsters have left the building.

What are some of the weirdest things you found while you were cleaning it out?

There was this flaming hula-hoop device. I heard a rumor that some people had snuck in there and actually had a performance. Some interesting things were found: There was a little pearl bracelet underneath some of the carpeting we pulled up that had to be from the '30s or '40s. We went underneath the balcony a couple of months ago and found a guy's title from his '47 Plymouth. It must have fallen underneath his feet and then underneath the balcony. And all kinds of old 1940s candy wrappers and war bonds and matchbooks . ... A lot of that stuff, we're cataloging what it is, and we're gonna have it on display at some point in the theater, along with other things--programs we've been able to come up with from collectors and photographs that relate to the theater's history.

You ever feel guilty for displacing the homeless people who were living in there?

No. Generally speaking, they were pretty good stewards of the place, but I think there was a higher and better use for that theater than homeless housing.

What film would you like to see on the screen on the first night that you open up?

My ideal situation would be to screen the movie that opened the theater, which was Chasing Rainbows. It's a 1929 MGM musical, but I'm having a hell of a time finding that film. I just got a tip this week that's it's in the Turner Classic Movies archives, but I haven't been able to round it up. The song "Happy Days Are Here Again" came from that movie, and parts of the film were done in Technicolor, which is kind of amazing. So I've been looking for that movie, because it would be nice to re-create that program. We know what Mickey Mouse cartoon ran, what newsreel was shown and what film, but we're having a hard time getting it all together.

Recreating that original night, you might accidentally rupture a hole in the space-time continuum or unleash a bunch of ghosts.

Or Ashton Kutcher or something like that.

I'd be careful messing around with forces like that.

It is a dangerous gambit, but after all this work, I think we ought to just go for it.

Any chance of a Russ Meyer film festival there? I think seeing Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! on the big screen in its original glory would be wonderful.

I think that would be certainly up our alley. Movies will be a big part of what we will do, but we're going to do a lot of other things--live-performance events, corporate community things, kids' stuff--but with the film stuff, since we won't be in the first-run environment, we're going to look at classic film and film festivals. One of my secret fantasies is to screen all of the Planet of the Apes films in a movie marathon.

What else should folks know about the Fox?

We're working, but we have more work to do. We've gotten the public match, but we haven't gotten the private match. So the big thing for us is to let people know that we still need their support and their funds to help get this thing open. And as soon as we get their money in hand, we'll get the theater open in 12 months.

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