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Morning Sun
  • TRUE STORIES: The Colonial Fox — Magic in the air

  • They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. They say there’s always magic in the air. — George Benson

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  • They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway. They say there’s always magic in the air. — George Benson
    “My parents used to go shopping here in town every Thursday night. The stores were open until 8:30. We’d spend as much time visiting with other people sitting in their cars on Broadway as we would shopping.”
     
    So said Republic of Frontenac High School classmate, Steve Crosetto, Friday evening as a cool zephyr wafted over us in what was once the entryway to The Jones Store, which was destroyed by fire years ago.
     
    We’d just finished a tour of the Colonial Fox Theatre next door, during which we’d been reminiscing about endless hours spent there from childhood through our college days. Mary Lynne, Steve’s wife, worked for years in the box office and concession stand.
     
    I shared that one of my strongest memories is of coming out of the theatre around five in the afternoon and jaywalking across to Fogarty’s to use the phone to call my parents or older brother for a ride home to Frontenac.
     
    The spectacular light angling into the store created a mystical quality as it echoed through the newsstand — no doubt greatly enhanced by the contrast of spending the previous four hours in the dimly lit theater watching a couple of B-grade William Castle horror flicks with a Roadrunner cartoon sandwiched in between.
     
    Even more magical than the light for me was the Fogarty’s smell — the printer's ink in the daily newspapers, glossy, new magazines and paperback books combined with the sweet, pungent aroma of candy and cigarettes left me inebriated.
     
    Charlie and Christine Fogarty were always congenial and willing to oblige one phone call, though it was made clear that the phone wasn't to be used for anything other than a ride home.
     
    Crosetto and I were there for the Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation’s annual membership meeting. Called “Bluegrass Brew BBQ and You,” it combined a report on the project’s progress with a party and a tour.
     
    As the band Signal Ridge played a bluegrass tune in the background, we continued our bittersweet longing for the days when the theatre was the lifeblood of downtown, with memories of riding the old city bus from Frontenac into Pittsburg. It brought back the view out of the bus window of the perfect bob and weave and roll of people in and out of the storefronts; the chrome gleam of the 1950s cars going keenly back and forth.
     
    For both of us, some of our earliest memories of the Fox are of being there with there with our grandmas on a downtown adventure. Steve’s took him to Kress’s for a toy and lunch at the counter, then to the Fox for a movie. Mine to Crowell’s and then the show where she gently massaged my tingling foot that had fallen asleep — her Camay soap scent mixing with the popcorn & candy aroma in the flickering light.
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    No doubt there are those reading this who, in the 1950s, walked below the gleaming marquee next to Harry’s Hat Shop, paid a quarter for a ticket and hit the concession stand for a Pepsi and Milk Duds before the movie started. Then sat in the very front row and double-featured an oater or horror movie with friends.
     
    Or farther up the gentle upward slope of seats, first held hands or awkwardly put an arm around a girl. Or on any given Friday or Saturday night watched movies like "Bullitt", "Romeo & Juliet" and "Bonnie & Clyde" with a date while in high school or college.
    As the restoration continues, the Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation’s vision of a uniquely beautiful venue featuring local, regional, and national performers, films, and diverse cultural events comes ever closer. I told executive director Vonnie Corsini I’m down with developing and hosting a variety show — featuring music, skits, storytelling, and poetry of Little Balkans residents — in the theatre as soon as it’s ready. Maybe broadcast on KRPS radio to those who can’t be in the house. Now if that wouldn’t be fun I don’t know what would.
     
    No problem, according to Vonnie. So far grants, major gifts and community contributions (to the tune of $580,179) have gotten the project to this point. All the foundation needs is about $500,000 to complete the next stage which will go the beyond the basic steps already taken to secure the roof, remove mold, stabilize walls, and repair the basement.
     
     “It’s not just about having a restored theatre building,” Vonnie said. “It’s about turning it into a destination that gets groups of people there to explore the downtown. Cities that revitalize themselves decide what they want the downtown ambience to be. We want the Colonial Fox to help set the tone for a vibrant downtown.”
     
    Her point was well taken. As Steve Crosetto and I talked, I saw attendees at the gathering stroll around downtown and walk across Broadway to check out Mainstreet USA, a new antiques and collectibles store that was open late.
     
    Who knows? In another few years, The Colonial Fox Foundation’s vision of a downtown bustling with people shopping, dining, strolling, and visiting through car windows  — after attending a matinee performance of a Little Balkans weekly radio variety show at The Colonial Fox — just might come true.
     
    If you’d like to contribute to the vision, send a check to The Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation, PO Box 33, Pittsburg, KS 66762, or donate online at colonialfox.org.
     
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net

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