Centralia’s Fox Theatre Open House Signals Renewed Efforts for Renovations


Note: This story was produced by the Economic Alliance of Lewis County as part of a monthly special section published in The Chronicle. 

The Economic Alliance of Lewis County hosted an open house at the Historic Centralia Fox Theatre to inform the community of renovation progress and an invigorated effort to finish the project, which will need about $2.5 million to become operational.

Scott White, who has been focused on restoration efforts since 2008, spoke about the renewed efforts to finish the project during the open house.

“This is very exciting for a lot of us who have been involved in this project for a long time,” White told those gathered at the open house. “... It’s exciting, it’s actually been five years since we’ve had any public in here.”

White is encouraged by recent efforts.

“There is an incredible energy now around this project,” White said. “You are here which I think is a big part of that energy and there’s a board of directors that are excited and motivated and want to get this thing done and they are going to do that. I think there’s a lot to be positive about.”

Todd Chaput of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County thanked White.

“This is his big dream and we wouldn’t be here without Scott,” Chaput said. “... Right now with the current board we’re really excited that the Economic Alliance of Lewis County board allowed us to be a part of this. It’s important for the Alliance to actualize and realize this as an operating theater.”

Chaput said to get the theater operational, the project needs $2.5 million. The project hit bumps in finishing the project due to cost increases and the past two years of the pandemic. Chaput said they are applying for grants, and so far have submitted the project for funding of about $12 million in potential grant funding.

“This is something that needs to get done,” he said. “This is going to be a centerpiece for downtown Centralia and it’s going to be an important part of economic development and tourism for Centralia.”

He said when the theater does open, it will help pack the city on weekends, bringing dollars into the Hub City.

“Our goal is to have this place operational in 18 months to two years,” Chaput said. “We have the board in place and people are engaged to make this happen.”


The History of Centralia’s Fox Theatre

Centralia’s Fox Theatre opened its doors on Sept. 10, 1930, according to information from the theater’s web site. The ornate, 1,200 seat art deco member of the Fox West Coast Theatre chain cemented Centralia’s significance as the Hub City of Washington state. 

The Fox was the biggest theater between Portland and Tacoma, and brought the glamor and glitz of Hollywood to the rough and tumble “Little Chicago” as Centralia was often called. The Fox was built in the tradition of the great movie and vaudeville theaters for which Fox had become so well known and was well suited for live performances as it was for talking pictures.  The theater put Centralia square on the national map of touring shows and in line for the latest blockbusters from Hollywood.

The Fox instantly became the center of small city life. Centralia was populated by loggers, miners, intellectuals, devout Christians, union members and fiercely loyal veterans. The downtown bustled with shops, hotels, theaters, restaurants and some infamous houses of gambling and prostitution. 

Only 11 years earlier the town had been ripped apart by the Centralia Massacre, pitting the Union Wobblies against the Veterans of the American Legion and ending in bloodshed. But despite such diversity and adversity, the Fox was the gathering place for everyone in the community. It was a source of great pride and a respite from what were becoming very challenging times at the onset of the Great Depression.

The Centralia Fox Theatre was built by Seattle architect Frank Wynkoop, who was working out of the office of Robert Reamer best known for his Old-Faithful Lodge and other buildings in Yellowstone National Park as well as the opulent Fox Theatre in Spokane. The result was ornate art-deco meets Western simplicity with elaborate carved plaster overlayed in precious metals, decorative plaster step-ups graduating into the theater from the stage, and sleek art deco chandeliers in gold, silver, and bronze. 

Centralia’s most famous resident, the great modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham, once mentioned in an interview that the two things he remembered most about his boyhood home in Washington were the Cascade Mountains and the Fox Theater.

The Historic Centralia Fox Theatre presents Casino Royale Night

The Centralia Fox Theatre presents an opulent night of gambling, gowns and champagne in the beautiful, historic theater. Sip signature cocktails while you experience a night of lavish entertainment against the backdrop of Centralia’s crown jewel. This is the social event of the year, with live music, a whiskey and cigar garden, VIP lounge, complimentary champagne and
Hors D’oeuvres. The event is
Saturday, Oct. 8. Call 360-506-4925 to sign up or for more information.