Historical Architecture

Historic Fox Theatre in Atchison

Historic Fox Theatre In Atchison Case Study By WDM Architects 1

Fox Theatre History

Completed in 1949, the Fox Theatre in Atchison, Kansas is a classic surviving example of the Streamline Moderne style expressed by its curved terra-cotta entrance, neon cove lighting and simple banding. The Streamline Moderne movement resulted as a reaction to Art Deco and is recognizable in other mid-century designs like the Airstream camping trailer.

The Fox Theatre was constructed as a large single auditorium with a balcony. The building’s exterior has retained its historic brick and glazed terra cotta façade. The lobby floors were originally terrazzo and the walls were the same peach-colored glazed terra cotta as the exterior.

In 1970 the balcony was partitioned off as a separate theater and marketed as Fox II.

The Fox Theatre closed in 1985.

Twin Theater Conversion and a New Name

In 1991-1992, a community investor group purchased the property and split the main auditorium into a twin theater. The city had converted several blocks of Commercial Street at the front of the theater into a pedestrian mall, and the main entry was relocated to the rear of the building for easier access to parking. The historic entry and balcony were abandoned. A new lobby with concession stand and new restrooms were added in the original stage area and the projection screen relocated. The theater then opened under the name Royal Theatre. Any semblance of the theater’s historic character was no longer visible to the theater’s patrons other than a partial glimpse of the now bisected quatrefoil ceiling feature in the twin theater section. In 2014, the theater once again shut its doors.

In 2017 Theatre Atchison purchased the abandoned Royal Theater intending to restore the facility to its historic roots as the Fox Theatre. The group also had the goal of returning it to a first-run movie venue for Atchison, which had not been available since the Royal had closed.

Historic Registration

While the interior alterations made it ineligible for the National Register, Theatre Atchison applied to have the theater listed in the Kansas Historic Registry. The case was made the theater retains sufficient integrity to convey its historic entertainment function and the era in which it was constructed, based on:

  • Original building location
  • Exterior retains integrity of design, workmanship, and materials
  • Interior retains the historic vestibule, ticket booth, lobby, balcony, sloped floor and the original location of the screens.

The State of Kansas found the Fox Theatre significant to Atchison in the area of Entertainment, functioning as the primary movie theater in the central business district for more than 60 years and awarded $210,000 in tax credits.



Demolition of the non-historic elements included:

  • Wall dividing the auditorium
  • Stairs and ramps
  • Projection booth at the north end
  • Theater seats
  • Concession stand
  • Bathrooms
  • Carpet


Asbestos Remediation

In the historic lobby, 1970s carpet covered asbestos tile and obscured the original location of the concession stand. The hazardous tile was broken and friable, and in need of removal and abatement. During the abatement period, the original footprint of the historic concession stand was found to be remarkably close in both size and curved form to WDM’s design of the new concession stand.


Before & After:

Two column image

Historic Fox Theatre In Atchison Case Study By WDM Architects 2

Lobby Restorations

The amazing transformation is a fusion of Old Hollywood glamour meets modern-day comforts and amenities. Guests are greeted in the lobby (now returned to its historic location) by soft, curvaceous cove lighting and visually invited to stop at the sleek, custom-designed concession stand studded with metallic accents.

The Fox Theatre’s historic narrow vestibule with a slight curve and lobby with curvilinear features have been restored and is once again used as the main entry. The ticket booth is centered on the curved entrance wall and flanked by glass and metal doors.

The narrow, pentagon-shaped lobby has plaster walls and a plaster ceiling with a large oval recessed cove light. The east and west walls are an ogee curve that also contain historic wood and metal display cases.

The cove lighting in the lobby and vestibule ceilings, in the large recessed quatrefoil in the first floor auditorium ceiling, and in the undulating ceiling of the balcony were replaced with dimmable LED fixtures.

A Restored Main Auditorium: Theatre 1

The main auditorium needed more than just the dividing wall removed, everything would be completely revamped from the seating layout to the slope of the floor at the entry.

Historically, aisles split the audience seating into three groups: right, center and left in the auditorium. The renovated layout relocates the aisles to the outside, grouping seats closer to the center of the auditorium for more direct view of the screen.

The seating layout was redesigned with wider space for each seat and more leg room for the comfort of the theater patron. Deep, cozy vegan leather seats envelop guests for the show. The new layout has 129 seats: most semi-recline and 40 are full recliners with foot rests. Four ADA spaces have associated companion seats.

ADA requires a level floor for patrons to safely transition from the brightness of the lobby to the lower light level in the theater. The original auditorium’s floor slope began immediately, without a level transition area, so it needed reconstruction.

The historically important quatrefoil feature on the underside of the balcony has been restored with dimmable LED lighting.

Historic Fox Theatre in Atchison Case Study by WDM Architects-3

Theatre 2 — The Former Balcony


Historically, the balcony had 13 levels for 13 rows of seats arranged in a slight semi-circle. After the renovation, the expanded seat widths and leg room reduced seating capacity to eight rows of seats. Risers and landings were overbuilt on top of the existing tiered and curved concrete base.
Theatre 2 now has seating for 119 patrons. The front row has 10 seats that are full recliners with footrests, and the remaining are semi-reclining.

The beautiful period radiators have been preserved though no longer functional. They remain in original mountings to help retain the building’s historical character.


Acoustic Improvements

Acoustic analysis of the balcony screen wall showed significant sound transmission between the balcony theater and the lower theater space. This sound transfer was likely the reason the balcony theater had been abandoned. The analysis led to the design of a new, multi-wall acoustic separation between the Theatre 2 screen and the wall shared with the lower theater. This also became space for a new projection booth with a new digital projector for Theatre 1.

Henderson Engineers provided all MEP, as well as A/V design, low voltage wiring design, and also performed both a pre-construction and a post-construction acoustic evaluation of the theater spaces. They engineered the mechanical systems with acoustically lined ductwork installed in established ductwork paths to reduce the mechanical noise to now be within movie theater quality specifications.

The historic ceiling with sculptural wave forms was preserved and painted to reduce glare to improve the viewing experience.

Theatre 3

The smallest viewing space, Theatre 3 was the live performance stage area that was converted to the entry lobby in the 1991 renovation.

Initially, planners thought to use the area as a multi-purpose space. However, it was developed as a black box theater to provide the most high-end movie experience. The space has four rows with 26 seats total, and all of them are full recliners with foot rests.

Theatre 3 can be rented out for private events for small groups or corporate meetings.

Uni-sex ADA restrooms were located here also and their ceilings provide a platform for the projection equipment for the black box theater.


Interior Finishes

The nostalgic color palette includes statement black, classic gold and rich reds and incorporates the branded colors of Theatre Atchison.

Award Winning Project

  • Fox Theatre in Atchison
    Honor Award for Excellence

    Kansas Preservation Alliance

Measure of Success

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Project Overview

Project Location:

Atchison, KS

Year Built:


Year Renovated:


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