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Decision to kick out caretaker would be un-Phantom-able?

Joe Patten, 83, known as the "Phantom of the Fox," has lived above the historic Fox Theatre in Atlanta for the past 31 years. (AP Photos/Rich Addicks)

Joe Patten, 83, known as the Phantom of the Fox, has lived above the historic Fox Theatre in Atlanta for the past 31 years. (AP Photos/Rich Addicks)

By Tom Fetters

The Phantom goes to court Wednesday.

Joe Patten, 83, aka the Phantom of the Fox, has helped spare the historic Fox Theatre in Atlanta from ruin twice, according to an article by The Associated Press. And now the nonprofit that operates the theater seems to be effectively telling Patten to hit the road.

After stepping up in the 1970s to rescue the historic structure, Patten agreed to a lease that allowed him to live in the old theater for life as the caretaker. He has an apartment beneath the theater’s dome. But trustees of the nonprofit Atlanta Landmarks Inc. voted to end Patten’s lease Aug. 30, and now he faces eviction Dec. 1, according to the AP.

Patten’s situation has put the old building — as well as its caretaker — in the spotlight.

The Fox Theatre was built in the late 1920s.

“It was a beautifully outlandish, opulent, grandiose monument to the heady excesses of the pre-crash 1920’s,” according to the atlanta-theater.com website, “a mosque-like structure complete with minarets, onion domes, and an interior decor which was even more lavish than its façade.”

By the 1970s, the aging Fox had been reduced to showing second-run movies to shrinking audiences and was about to be sold and demolished to make way for Southern Bell’s headquarters. Patten, a founding trustee of Atlanta Landmarks, and others raised money to derail the demolition plans, restore the theater and put the Fox on solid financial ground.

Then, nearly two decades later, Patten came to the rescue again when a fire started in the early morning of April 15, 1996, according to the AP.

“One of the reasons he was so valuable to the saving of the Fox is because he knows this building better than any human being,” the AP quotes Bob Foreman, a friend of Patten, as saying. Foreman said Patten helped firefighters quickly find and extinguish the fire, according to the AP.

So now, Patten’s future in the theater is uncertain. His lawyer sued Atlanta Landmarks Oct. 4, claiming the organization is trying to unfairly evict Patten.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Atlanta Landmarks counters that the theater is not an appropriate setting for round-the-clock care or assisted living. According to the AP, Patten hunches when he walks but manages to climb the 70-plus stairs in his three-story apartment.

Seems like there ought to be a way to let the Phantom remain at the Fox a bit longer.

Tom Fetters is a copy editor at The Daily Reporter. He’s dressing up as the Phantom of the Fox for Halloween.

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