The original name of the theatre, Star Theatre, was designed by the Trinidad firm of I.H. and William M. Rapp for Paul Krier in 1916. It opened on July 24, 1917. The Walsenburg World newspaper commented, “Besides being a high-class picture show-house, the Star Theatre is now Walsenburg’s largest and best equipped hall for plays, vaudeville or conventions.”
A Wurlitzer-Hope Jones pipe organ was installed in 1923. In July 1929, talking pictures were introduced, the interior redecorated into a Spanish theme and in August 1929 is was renamed the Valencia Theatre.
One month later the Fox West Coast Theatre Corp. purchased the theatre and the name was changed to Fox-Valencia Theatre. In 1941 the building received a thorough remodeling including an Art Deco style facade and became the Fox Theatre. The theatre was closed in 1987.
After a major grant-funded renovation, the theatre reopened in 1992 under the auspices of the Huerfano Youth and Arts Foundation under the direction of George Birrer.
It continues to hold stage performances and on weekends shows motion pictures.
The interior is in very good condition. Years ago the pipe organ was given to the local Catholic church. A few years ago it was returned to the theatre
and awaits funds to restore it. The marquee still has a vertical “Fox” sign.
by Ken Fletcher
by Nancy Christofferson
Around the end of January 1959, the Huerfano World announced the sale of the historic Fox Theatre by Paul Krier to Frank Piazza. While the information was published previous to the actual sale, Piazza did indeed lease the theater at that time and eventually purchased it. Piazza had a long history with the theater himself, having started work at one as a door opener.
Krier said he had entered the theater business in 1910 in the old Walsen and Levy store near the corner of Seventh and Main Streets. At least his brother Lucien was a theater owner then, proved by the fact he and his partner (and even their piano player!) were actually arrested for running a moving picture show without a license. This was the Star Theater, and it had competition from the McCormick family’s theater, the Huerfano, across the street, and the Otto in the former Mazzone building at Sixth and Main. Walsenburg loved her entertainment and moving pictures filled in the boring times between the coming of theatrical troupes and circuses.
That the Star was a popular feature on that corner was illustrated by the businesses surrounding it – the Star Barber Shop, Star Confectionery, Star Garage, Star Grocery, Star Pool Hall, and the ubiquitous Star Drug just kitty-cornered across the street.
In 1917, Krier built an all new, all modern (for the time) building to house his moving picture theater. This was the large brick and concrete building we know today, located at 715 Main, or just a few doors south of its previous location. The Star building underwent several remodelings, taking on an Art Deco façade and becoming the Fox Valencia in 1929. In 1937 a new marquee with neon lights was added and in 1941 the new one and a half story high FOX sign went up. The former yellow with black, green and orange trim paint job of 1927 was replaced with blue and white, which in turn gave way to pink in 1950.
The Fox Theater was affiliated with the Fox Theatre Corporation, which itself operated under several names. Krier was credited with being the first theater owner in Colorado to affiliate with the company.
Krier’s original Star could, and did, seat 700 people, with the balcony holding 300 of them. Through the years, the seating was replaced with larger chairs, and the capacity lowered. The space was used to enlarge the lobby and concession stand, the restrooms and office.
After so many years ramrodding the theater, Krier gradually turned more of his attention to his other interests, and hired managers to take day to day control.
Once Piazza had taken over ownership, he had the marquee updated and moved the front entrance doors and snack bar. He modernized the heating system. He must have enjoyed running a theater, because in 1962 he built the Trail Drive-in out on Highway 160 west of Walsenburg. Alas, before it was even completed, one of Huerfano’s famous little breezes stripped the framework off and almost a year later, another one toppled the $12,000 screen. This was replaced with a larger one of 3,200 square feet before the drive-in season started.
Piazza and his wife Lena usually opened the Trail around the first of May when the weather allowed, and closed in September. Then he moved the movies into town and the Fox was opened for the winter. The drive-in was closed in the mid 1980s and the screen removed in 2002.
After Piazza lost his bid for re-election for County Commissioner for District 2 in 1988 (he had served since 1976), he and Lena moved from the area. The theater was closed.
Since the early 1950s, Walsenburg parents and business leaders had been searching for something or somewhere to entertain the young people of the community. Several youth centers had opened and closed their doors despite heroic efforts on the part of teens themselves and supportive organizations and businesses. In 1992, a core group then belonging to the Optimist Club took over the project, and through hard work, donations and grants, bought and once again updated the old Fox Theatre. They called it the Youth Center Theatre.
Now, it seems, after the years of hard work and nearly constant updates by the buildings’ three longtime owners – Krier, Piazza, and Youth Center – one more improvement must be made for the business to enter the 21st century and continue operation. New-fangled technology demands the purchase of an expensive (!) digital projector, and the Youth Center Theatre is accepting donations toward that end.
This building houses more than movie productions, it houses memories of childhood in free Christmas films for “tots” of the 1930s through the ‘50s, first dates, girls nights out, and family outings to witness not only Hollywood’s output but local talent and minstrel shows, theatrical, musical and dance productions, fashion shows and concerts. The theatre represents an ongoing source of entertainment for, hopefully, generations to come, just as it has for the previous (and current) generations.
Huerfano County presents breathtaking scenery, fascinating history and a wealth of recreational options.
Huerfano County was one of the 17 original counties when Colorado became a state in 1876. The word “Huerfano” (War-Fe-No) translated, means “Orphan.” It was named after the lone volcanic butte 7 miles north of Walsenburg on I-25.
Walsenburg is located on I-25 and US 160, with access to Colo. Hwy 10. As the county seat it has served as a trade center for the county and region. Walsenburg is named in honor of Fred Walsen an early pioneer, who opened the first coal mines. The town grew quickly following the discovery of coal. Over 50 mines were developed. The mines began closing in the 1950’s and are no longer in operation.
La Veta is 17 miles west of Walsenburg on Highway 12. Amidst nature’s great beauty , La Veta offers a refreshing small town quality of life combined with the sophistication of art galleries, theater, dining, a fitness center, musical entertainment and shopping.
Highway 12 is known for its’ scenic beauty and is called the Highway of Legends, National Forest and Colorado Scenic Byway. It makes its’ way through the Spanish Peaks Wilderness area, ending in Trinidad. Travelers are treated to the Spanish Peaks mountain ranges, the Cuchara River, ranches, rolling meadows, lakes, tall aspen and pine trees and an assortment of wildlife.
As you continue south on highway 12, travelers will come to the village of Cuchara. Originally settled by farmers it became a retreat area with breathtaking beauty at over 8,000 feet.
Gardner is NW of Walsenburg on highway 69. It’s a quaint ranching community. The area is popular for hiking, fishing and backpacking along the Huerfano River and east side of Blanca Peak
Lathrop State Park is just 3 miles west of Walsenburg featuring camping, fishing, boating and water-skiing.
Huerfano County is also home to three National Forest Wilderness Areas. For other recreation in the immediate area, there is hiking and fishing in our high mountain lakes and streams of the National Forest. Mountain biking, camping, horseback riding, and golf at Grandote Peaks and Walsenburg golf courses. Huerfano County is the eastern “gateway” to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, in the San Luis Valley.
The newly restored Wurlitzer organ is
almost ready to be returned to the Fox Theatre in Walsenburg.
Many Huerfano residents may remember good times at the movies when the organ with all its different instrumental sounds delighted them.
The Fox used it until the late 1950’s, when it was moved and became a choir organ at St. Mary Cathlic Church. Now the town treasure will have a new life and a new audience back where it started. The installation of this antique marks a long history of love and respect from the many people who worked with it or enjoyed its music. St. Mary took over the organ and removed all the non-choir features, but the Pastor may have sensed a new future for the Wurlitzer. He kept intact all the valuable unused equipment and saved it for the next person to use. Over time it came into disuse and was abandoned in the choir stall.
“Nobody knew how to fix it and no one wanted to damage it,” said George Birrer.”
Then in 2005 the treasure got a rediscovery and a revival. Birrer brought it back to the Fox Theatre and miracle workers came forward to do magic. The Pike’s Peak Area Theatre Organ Society is fully restoring the organ, a charity labor of love. By January 2012, the Wurlitzer will have a new life. Having traveled full circle in fifty years, it will be back sparkling fresh and ready to enchant.