That was then…On Valentine’s Day, 1930 something very special took place in the heart of downtown Green Bay. After seven months of painstakingly hard work The FOX Theatre held its gala grand opening. People lined up for blocks to get a glimpse of the stunning new million dollar theatre, created as a vaudeville house and movie palace. The breathtaking atmosphere was reminiscent of the Spanish gardens of Seville where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella held court on summer evenings. Star lights twinkled overhead through a ceiling painted to look like the sky with billowing clouds. It was the mid-west’s first exposure to the grandeur of the FOX Theatres Corporation, run by William Fox, whose name lives on via various media ventures, most notably Fox TV Network, Fox news Channel, 20th Century Fox and 21st Century Fox. Star performers such as Liberace, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Donald O’Conner, Roy Rogers (and his horse Trigger), Dale Evans, The Mills Brothers, Lawrence Welk, The Beach Boys and Johnny Cash, just to name a few, would grace the stage throughout the years.
In 1932 Mr. Fox went bankrupt as a result of the depression. The theatre was taken over by the bank, then sold and renamed the Bay Theatre. In 1978, the theatre, struggling to keep its doors open, was sold to Standard Theatres and made into a tri-plex movie theatre. In 1998, to save the theatre from being torn down, a group of business leaders in the community raised money to renovate and rename it. Thanks to a generous gift from the Robert T. and Betty Rose Meyer Foundation and to others who gave notable charitable contributions, on February 27, 2002 the not for profit Robert T. Meyer Theatre, opened its doors.
All light fixtures are original, with only some of the glass panes replaced. The seating was reconfigured from 2,200 to 992 to restore the proscenium arch. Juliet viewing boxes were added to the left and right of the stage, adorned with Mediterranean influences such as cherubs, griffins and gargoyles. A grand staircase was created in the main lobby. The original orchestra pit was removed to enlarge the stage. Back stage was equipped with Broadway style “Fly Rigging” and a theatre sound system with speakers was built into the front of the stage.
The original Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, also restored with funds generously donated by Irene Daniell Kress, is housed in the second level organ chamber. This very unique instrument is one of only a few across the country still being used today in its original theatre.
This is now…Today the theatre has a volunteer board and one paid staff person. Programming is done by PMI Entertainment Group. Additional seating in the grand tier allows for 1,011 patrons to attend Meyer performances. Over 170 performances are booked each year bringing 70,000 people to downtown Green Bay. Many businesses have emerged as a result of the Meyer’s great location in the heart of the downtown. Betty Meyer’s dream was to provide a cultural hub that would help with the revitalization of downtown Green Bay, and to have a stage where any act, professional, community or local could perform. The Meyer board, staff and management company strive each and every day to keep the legacy of the Meyer Theatre going for many years to come. There are only a handful of historic FOX Theatres still standing today. We hope you share in Betty’s and our desire to maintain and be good stewards of something so very, very special.