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Spokane Symphony weighing options for repairing Fox Theater sign

The sign atop Spokane's Fox Theater shows a prominent gap where one of its letters was torn away during a November 2021 windstorm.
Rebecca White, Spokane Public Radio
The sign atop Spokane's Fox Theater shows a prominent gap where one of its letters was torn away during a November 2021 windstorm.

Two months after a windstorm damaged the vertical sign atop Spokane’s Fox Theater, the group that owns the theater is deciding how to fix the sign, and how to pay for it.

The Spokane Symphony owns the Fox Theater, and therefore the blue-and-white sign atop the building. On the evening of November 16, gusty winds wrenched a panel of the sign – the north-facing “O” – away from its metal superstructure and flung it onto Sprague Avenue below. No one was injured.

Repairing the sign has been on the symphony’s agenda ever since, but it is only one task among many facing the organization as it mounts the second half of its concert season and plans for other events the Fox hosts.

There are two approaches under consideration, Spokane Symphony Executive Director Jeff vom Saal told SPR.

“One, send a team up there, erect some scaffolding, and fix it sort of on-site. The other way is to take it off. You have to get a crane, take it off of the Fox, put it on the ground, put it on a big truck, and take it somewhere,” vom Saal said. “And in our case, that somewhere probably would be down to Boise, where it was initially reconstructed a number of years ago. Either way, it’s a pretty substantial project.”

The symphony is leaning toward restoring the sign, the option that would require removal and repair in Boise. It’s unclear if insurance will cover the project, vom Saal said.

“To get the sign back to what it was like the day before that storm, it’s about $150,000,” vom Saal said. “It is not an insubstantial amount for us to think about.”

There is no firm timeframe for getting the sign fixed. In addition to the as-yet unresolved questions about insurance coverage and paying for the restoration, the Spokane Symphony has dual roles as tenant and landlord of the Fox Theater. The organization has its hands full with the concert season, and it has to plan for other events that take place at the theater. Adding to the logistical maze is the ever-present threat of the coronavirus, which can upend schedules and force sudden cancellations or postponements.

“We’d love to work up our [restoration] plan for the next couple of months,” vom Saal said, “But we are nowhere near cementing this plan. We just know it’s something that needs to get done.”

The vertical sign has been part of the Fox Theater’s profile since the venue opened in 1931. The whole display was reconstructed as part of a major renovation of the Fox in 2007.

Soaring above the streets of Spokane and exposed to the elements for nearly two decades, the sign has taken quite a bit of abuse from the Inland Northwest’s occasional fierce windstorms.

Damage to the sign "was bound to happen sooner or later,” vom Saal said.

When the theater opened, the sign rotated. It is less likely the symphony will restore that capability.

“The way that sign is designed is a lot of metal-on-metal,” vom Saal said. “So when you’re inside the Fox, let’s say during a symphony concert, in the quiet movement of a Mozart piano concerto, and that sign is turning…all eyes will gaze toward the ceiling because you will hear that thing grinding away.”

In the meantime, the sign’s north-facing facet still displays a prominent gap in its midsection, a sight that will remain part of Spokane’s skyline for the foreseeable future.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.