How the Fox Theatre restored its crowning glory

Peeling back the Onion Dome

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Restoring the Fox's crowning glory
Shriners used Arabian-inspired features in their original design.

Photograph courtesy of the Fox Theatre

Rachel Bomeli stood on the roof of the Fox Theatre and knew something was off. Renovations for the “Onion Dome” that crowns the building were almost underway, and Bomeli, the vice president of facility operations, compared the current dome to a photograph of the original. Somewhere in the Fox’s 95-year history, someone had taken creative liberties.

Bomeli and Karen Gravel, an architect with Lord Aeck Sargent, chose to restore the Onion Dome to its original glory. The renovated dome, completed in January, was hand-painted in its initial blue, with defined edges that contrast with the copper cladding. The Fox also added base lighting to illuminate the dome on the Midtown skyline. Staff can change the colors of the lights—red, white, and blue to celebrate July 4th, say, or green when Wicked comes to town. “I love that you can see and feel the finished product,” says Bomeli. “The dome makes our corner on Peachtree and Ponce even more prominent.”

The fresh face is not just cosmetic—the dome was also overdue for repairs. Gay Construction rehabbed its steel structure and fixed a roof leak that made the offices beneath unusable. One of the main challenges was waterproofing the dome’s base, which required repairs to its stamped copper, says Phil Rutledge, senior project manager with Gay. “No one in the U.S. or Canada can replicate the depth of stamping they used,” says Rutledge. “We brought in a specialist from Louisville, who worked with the copper by hand.”

The restored dome is part of the Fox Theatre’s plans to look pristine for its 100th anniversary in 2029. The building was originally constructed by Shriners International, a spinoff of the Freemasons fraternity, whose meeting houses often feature Arabian-inspired design. The Onion Dome, completed in 1929, served as the statement piece for the entrance on Ponce de Leon Avenue. But in the early ’30s, cinema mogul William Fox leased the theater from the cash-strapped Shriners and moved the entrance to Peachtree Street. The dome was repurposed as an extravagant roof for office space.

The infamous story goes that the Fox, wildly successful as a cinema in the ’40s and ’50s, fell into disrepair when customers moved to the suburbs and began flocking to new multiscreen theaters. In 1974, the Fox Theatre faced demolition, but a local nonprofit, Atlanta Landmarks, launched a “Save the Fox” emergency fundraising campaign. Local Atlantans did save the Fox, which now enjoys its second lease on life, hosting Broadway tours and concerts. Its 4,665 seats regularly sell out; in fact, the Fox Theatre currently sits at number two worldwide in ticket sales for its size.

“Our story is special, I think, because we are a living, breathing museum,” Bomeli says. “The Fox Theatre is a cornerstone of Atlanta.”

This article appears in our April 2024 issue.

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