The fight to save the Fox Theater in Midtown was one of Atlanta's early preservation victories. After a nervous period in the 1970s when it was threatened with demolition for an office tower, the 1929 Shriner headquarters-turned-movie palace-turned-performing arts showplace has achieved icon status. It is Moorishly magnificent, inside and out. And one lucky man calls the place home.
That man is 80-something Joe Patton. He's credited with saving the theater not once but twice, through his work fighting the destruction of the structure in the '70s and again in 1996 when he led firefighters to a blaze. He was also at one time the theater's technical director, and he restored the Fox's famous pipe organ, Mighty Mo. In 1979, he signed a lease on an apartment in the theater that was originally office space for the Shriners that stipulated he could live there rent free for the rest of his life. In 2010, controversy erupted when the owners of the Fox sent Patton a letter recommending he take up residence elsewhere due to his ailing health. The "Phantom of the Fox" put up a fight and emerged victorious.
Patton's remodeled the place over the years, but the original space remains tucked up under a blue onion dome on a side of the faux mosque. It's doubtful many people even knew of its existence before the legal battle became news in 2010. The fantasy living space is reached through a dramatically gated private entrance off Ponce de Leon Avenue that guards a flight of stairs. The most glaring issue with living in a place like this (the noise) is not a problem due to the more than two foot thick walls. Yet, when Patton feels like taking in a show, all he has to do is go through the little door in his bedroom that hides a passage leading to his own private viewing area. Although not opulent, the apartment has its fair share of historic details, such as the beautifully framed windows overlooking Ponce and colorful original tilework that betray the entryway's former use as a bathroom. It's probably a relief that the architecture is more subdued in there, given the riot of decoration going on in the rest of the building. The 3,640 square feet of space is simply furnished with family heirlooms, and they feel right in the vintage space. It's doubtful anyone else will be given the chance to live there after Patton is done with space, but one can dream right? For now, Patton's residence remains one of those Atlanta quirks that makes our city just a little more interesting.
For a slideshow of the apartment click here.