Joe Patten passed away on April 7, 2016 at age 89.    To read his obituary in The New York times, click here.  To  view a brief 1982 video profile of Joe, click here.  To view a Joe Patten photo gallery, click here.  To view the 2002  Atlanta Magazine profile of Joe, click here.  The apartment is to be converted into office space, according to Fox Theatre drawings of January, 2020-- click here.

 The article below was published at Christmas, 2015.


Joe Patten was born on February 9th, 1927, and he lives in Atlanta's Fox Theatre, which was opened on December 25th, 1929.  Thirty-five years ago, Joe was granted rent-free, lifetime occupancy of a deluxe Moorish-style apartment by the Fox Theatre trustees.
Henry Groskinsky 1969 (right)

Joe's first official connection with the Fox began in 1963 when he, as a volunteer, repaired and restored the Moller pipe organ which had been rendered unplayable for fifteen years because of "ciphers."  Below, newly-employed house organist Bob Van Camp (in tux) and Joe (in the background) at the organ and at the piano which Joe bought in 1964 and donated to the Fox.  The "Magic Piano" could be played from the organ console.  To view a video clip of Van Camp playing the organ in 1963, click here.

In 1968, Joe Patten produced the first recording of the organ.

An April, 1971 article featured Joe's protege Robbie Irvin, who had come to the Fox at age 9 in September, 1965.

Still a volunteer in 1975, Joe Patten was pivotal in saving the Theatre when it was in eminent danger of being demolished by Southern Bell.  Shown below with newly-formed Atlanta Landmarks head Pat Connell (left), Joe poses in front of the "closed" sign (and broken glass) at the Fox ticket kiosk.
AJC 1975

Once the Fox had been saved, and had turned legit, Joe was hired as Technical Director, Engineer, and keeper-- all that in addition to his "day job," as an expert installer of major X-ray hospital installs.  In 1980, Joe (shown below on the roof of the stage house) moved into the Fox Theatre.
R. L. Forerman Jr.

Tony Smith of Arkhora was the architect of record.

How Joe became a resident of the Fox is explained in this Atlanta Constitution profile.

The 4600-seat Fox Theatre was built by the Atlanta chapter of the Shriners and included vast amounts of space designated for their use.  Although the Shriners lost the building during the Depression, the Fox Theatre thrived as a first-run movie house for forty-five years.

Originally the Shrine Executive offices, the portion of the Fox which became Joe's apartment was occupied until 1975 by Georgia Theatre Company, a part owner of the Fox.

Arguably the best exterior detail, the Shrine entry was featured on the commemorative coin issued a year before construction began in 1928.  "Erected 1927" was wishful thinking.

Joe's apartment, seen from Ponce de Leon Avenue.

Number 60 Ponce de Leon, Joe's Front Door, was originally the Shriner's main entry to the building.

That same entry is marked here with an arrow.
Edgar Orr

and here as well:
Edgar Orr
Edgar Orr

Once past the gate, the Shriners would climb a stair to the third floor (1), providing them access to the Shrine Lounge (2) and the Egyptian Ballroom (3).  Adjacent to the Lounge were the Shrine Executive Offices (4), which comprise the Lower Level of Joe Patten's apartment.  (Shrine-controlled portions of the Fox in yellow).

When Joe's apartment was created in 1980, a new ornate gate to match the Fox was designed and installed.

One must be invited into Joe's impregnable lair.  A secret code tapped into the keypad releases the invisible gate lock.

Beyond the main doors to the stairwell, the vestibule contains three service rooms, including one originally utilized as a "cab call" for Shriners. 

Ceiling detail.

To the left of the door to "cab call" can be seen the electric lock which must be keyed to release the Moorish inner doors.  The green button opens the gates to the street.

Looking down upon the inner vestibule from the second landing of the stairwell.  A key is also required for exit:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Looking down from the third and uppermost landing:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

To the left are doors which lead directly into the Shrine Lounge, now known as the Grand Salon.  Joe's apartment door is to the right, and all doors are interlocked with an alarm system.

A glimpse through the doors into the Grand Salon.

This is Joe's entrance vestibule, looking back at the door through which you entered, to the left.  The new fountain and the window treatments, as with most of the apartment finishes, were designed by Rick Flinn, then Director of Restoration for the Fox Theatre.

Facing the opposite direction, Joe's corner office is visible up the three stairs, making a total of 39 STEPS from street level.

The windows facing Ponce de Leon Avenue are seen dead ahead.

Turning clockwise, the door to The Executive Washroom.

Opposite the Ponce de Leon window stands one of  the several examples of custom finish cabinetry created for Joe's apartment.  This massive bookcase is built on hidden wheels, is hinged, and the whole thing serves as a door to a secret closet.  

The office leads into the Dining and Living Room.

The largest room in Joe's apartment boasts the most magnificent windows in the Fox Theatre building and a ceiling height of thirteen feet.  Here is the dining area, with another restroom (left) and kitchen entry  (right) seen beyond.

The Shriners, in the person of architect Ollivier J. Vinour, knew exactly what they were doing.

Joe's apartment, which was newly constructed in 1980 but designed to look old, sustains the level of Deluxe Detail as seen here in the original 1929 window hardware.  The windows open onto a small balcony, from which official edicts could (and can) be proclaimed. 

That window as seen from the street:

Facing away from the widows, on the Grand Salon side of the central room, is Joe's living area.  The Music Closet contains the lower level stereo system and hundreds of  piano rolls for the Chickering reproducing grand, seen to the left.  The fire alarm panel (boxed) served a crucial role in 1996, when Joe, then age 69, saved the Fox a second time.

Joe was awakened at 5:10 on a Monday morning by the fire alarm remote panel, which showed the location of the fire to be in the administrative offices located adjacent to his apartment.  He immediately summoned the fire department.

By 9:28 the four-alarm fire had been extinguished, having been contained to the offices, and the next evening a road show musical opened on schedule in the Theatre.

The aftermath of the fire, seen from Joe's Apartment.  To view a short video clip of the fire, click here.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch:  Beneath the piano, the original terrazzo border meets the new flooring.  The kitchen door is seen to the left.

The kitchen is an entirely new room, featuring custom cabinetry,  tile floor, counters and ornamental backsplash.

Tile detail:

The window wall:

In the kitchen resides the safe that Joe rescued from an abandoned retail store formerly occupied by Aetna, shown in a 1974 photo (inset).  Herring  Patent Champion is the safe's model name, and Chamberlin, Johnson & Company was a leading Atlanta department store which failed in the Depression.
Floyd Jillson 1974 (inset)

Leaving the kitchen, one can see Joe's Hammond RT-3, to the far left.

"The steep and very narrow staircase" leads to the upper level of Joe's place.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Looking back down:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

The three upper level spaces were labeled "file rooms" on the drawings and were non-ornamental utility spaces, connected via Escher-like half-stairs so to allow the thirteen foot ceiling height in the central lower level room, while maximizing the ceiling heights of the file rooms.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Those stairs in section:

Stair landing nook:
Hal Doby

At the landing elevation is Joe's guest bedroom, where the bed is framed by a new partition, complete with Moorish arches, which conceals a new half-stair up to the new guest bathroom.
Hal Doby

Up a half-stair from the Guest bedroom is the Music Room, complete with McIntosh tube amplifiers and circular stair to the central dome.  The Music Room shares the center upper level with two new full baths and mechanical equipment for the entire apartment, which unlike the Theatre proper, was not originally air-conditioned.

Down yet another half-stair is the Master bedroom.
R.L. Foreman Jr.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Looking from the half-stair into the Master bedroom, one can see the fire exit, Joe's "Phantom" door, cut through the wall to connect to an existing secret fire stair. 
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Joe's bedroom connects with two internal stairs which run from the Gallery to the exterior fire escape, then to the street.  The stairs, unused for many decades, was originally utilized by projectionists to reach the booth when the Gallery (for Colored patrons) was segregated and walled off from the balcony proper.  To read more about the colored entrance, click here.

The new doors which were cut:

Joe walking from his bedroom door in new vestibule, formerly a void:

The stair brings one up to the very top of the Theatre.
Trevor Carr

Three new matching gates, including the one at Joe's Apartment entry, were donated by Arthur Montgomery, who was Fox Board Chairman and a big supporter of Joe Patten.

All three gates included invisible electric locks.
R.L. Foreman Jr, (center)

After the Shriners lost the Fox due to their inability to meet mortgage payments, the facility was purchased in the early 30's fifty-fifty by Paramount Pictures and Lucas & Jenkins (L&J), a Georgia exhibition chain with a hundred theatres.  The Shriners remained in the building as paying tenants, slowly squeezed out as the years passed, until they vacated entirely in 1949.  Their final outpost was the plain-Jane Practice Room (later named the Spanish Room), off of the Arcade.
Courtesy Hal Doby, Georgia State

By then, Georgia Theatre Company, the successor to the Jenkins interests, occupied (1) the Shrine dressing rooms for candy storage; (2) the Green Room and dressing room 21 for  a  screening room; (3) the Egyptian Ballroom, which they rented to a dance hall operator; and for their considerable office space requirements, both (4) the Shrine Lounge (Grand Salon) and (5) the former Shrine offices.

When Joe's apartment was constructed, the former Shrine areas had become the most neglected in the building.  The Georgia Theatre Company office entry which would become Joe's front door (left) looked like this in 1980 (right), with the Lucas & Jenkins logo.
R.L. Forerman Jr. (right)

The stairwell had become a storage room for 64-sheet billboards.
R.L. Foreman Jr.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

The space that Joe selected to be his apartment was not only unused, but unusable due to severe leaks, where the three domes met the roof.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Inside the main dome in 1979:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

What would become the second level of Joe's Apartment had been abandoned by Georgia Theatres long ago:

Promotional material, much of it damp, was strewn throughout the upper level.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Landing at future Guest Bedroom:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Guest Bedroom:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Door to future Music Room:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Music Room:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Future bathrooms:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Master Bedroom:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

The already sunken Master Bedroom, doubly sunk with  a perpetually wet floor.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Stray furnishings, some from the Shrine Lounge:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

The only remaining swatch of the original Theatre carpet served as the sample for its eventual reproduction.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

The plans for Joe's Apartment called out for a comprehensive roof repair, and the majority of new construction took place on the newly-reclaimed Upper Level.  (1) A new opening and stair connected the Guest Room to its bath; (2) all new Music Room and baths; (3) new opening to existing internal stair.

Construction shots of upper level:
R.L. Foreman Jr.
R.L. Foreman Jr.
R.L. Foreman Jr.
R.L.Foreman Jr.
R.L. Foreman Jr.
R.L. Foreman Jr.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

The Grand Salon shown here in 1975, following the removal of the steel and glass partitions which had been firmly rooted to the terrazzo by Georgia Theatre Company.  The Salon's lighting fixtures, room-sized rug, and most of it furnishings were long gone.
Mitch Deutsch/Ray Spurlin

The construction of Joe Patten's Apartment necessitated the design and installation of doors and door frame within the arch leading from the Grand Salon.  The central room, shown partially furnished, served as an ad hoc conference room in the late 1970's.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

The new doorway and doors.  The partition was lead-lined to separate the Apartment from the Theatre, acoustically.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Looking from the Central room at the new partition:
R.L. Foreman Jr.

The bronze window trim, painted over.

The transformation in progress.  The only real marble, like in the Theatre, was the baseboard.
R.L. Foreman Jr.
First General Manager of the Fox, Ted Stevens (right) visits Joe in December, 1979 just prior to the completion of the apartment.
Robert L. Foreman, Jr.
The Shrine Offices were originally accessible only from the Grand Salon, and what is now Joe's entrance vestibule (1) was originally a restroom.  An opening (2) was cut and stairs added to connect the Apartment to the Main Stairwell.

Joe's lease agreement stipulated that he pay any and all construction expenses, with a minimum of $50,000.  But according to designer Rick Flinn, the finished apartment cost almost twice that, where at every step the more expensive option was chosen.  Flinn contends that cash infusions from benevolent Board Chair Arthur Montgomery supplied the difference. 

The Fox Theatre was so poor in the late 70's that it teetered on the verge of folding.  Grass root donations had paid off the $2 million mortgage in March of 1978, but part of that cash was $70,000 for emergency roof repair.  Below Joe (left) poses for a promo shot in celebration of Norelco's gratis relamping of  the Marquee and Vertical Sign, giving 3000 functioning light bulbs, for which Joe had to beg.
Ray Spurlin

From his new regal roost, Joe Patten would oversee millions of dollars spent to restore the Fox:  new (old) carpet and new (old) seats; complete rewiring including the Sunrise/Sunset effect and fire alarm; and the construction of tasteful new concession areas, connecting the Spanish Room to the Main Foyer. Total restoration of the Salon and Ballroom would follow.
Fox Theatre

But all that lay far in the future.  For six months in 1981, Joe Patten served not only as TD and Engineer,  but also as acting General Manager, when Fox Board disfavor resulted in the sudden resignation of GM Alan McCracken after his theatre rental bookings had become alarmingly sparse.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

Joe enjoyed a close relationship with the Fox stagehands, IASTE Local 927, as evidenced in the plaque presented him by the Local in 1995.

This shot from 1998 shows Joe in a rare moment of repose, doing what he most enjoyed:  listening to the organ from Loge, Center.
R.L. Foreman Jr.

That organ in its fully-restored majesty, Larry Embury at the controls.
Fox Theatre

My father, R.L. Foreman, Jr, who has been Joe's best friend for almost fifty years, is pictured with Joe below in 2003, two years after Joe's retirement as "Technical Director."

Joe, left foreground, cutting his birthday cake in 1976, outside his future apartment.  Also shown are the author and his mom.
R.L. Foreman, Jr,

Occasionally, Joe would host functions where both his Apartment and Grand Salon would be combined, below in 1996 and in 2003.
R.L. Foreman, Jr.

Joe and my Dad, together as usual.
Courtesy R.L. Foreman, Jr,

For reasons that have never been fully understood, in the autumn of 2010, the Fox Theatre owner, Atlanta Landmarks, Inc., took formal action to evict Joe from his Apartment, despite their continuous denials to the contrary.  The [non-eviction] eviction would be good for Joe's health and safety, the Fox claimed.
August 27, 2010 AJC

On August 30, Joe Patten accompanied by friend Lucienne Grimes, my Dad, and Joe's sister Patti Patten head toward the Board meeting where Joe's fate would be decided.  After having an armed security guard remove Joe's attorney from the proceedings, the Board voted overwhelmingly to evict Joe, despite his "lifetime" lease.  Joe's Beloved Fox had suddenly become the enemy.

A firestorm of protest immediately resulted, much to the dismay of the Fox, which stated, "It is unfortunate that Mr. Patten's actions in informing the Press...have made this a seemingly contentious issue."  Apparently, they had hoped to evict him in secret.  Pro-Joe Letters to the Editor and a massive Facebook campaign brought to public scrutiny the biggest Atlanta PR fiasco since "the New Coke."

A mere ten days after Joe received his lease termination letter (by certified mail and by hand delivery), the New York Times catapulted Joe's sad plight into the national spotlight.  
September 12, 2010

Public protest mounted, in all shapes and size.

Joe filed a lawsuit claiming breach of contract and numerous violations of the Georgia Fair Housing Act.  The complete details of this sordid tale are best told in this excerpt from the petition filed by Joe's attorney, Emmett Bondurant, ably assisted by Mike Caplan. October 6, 2010

Victory!  The expected trial turned out to be a non-event when Judge Jerry Baxter, in closed chambers, instructed The Fox to reinstate Joe's lease immediately and to work out a satisfactory agreement between the parties.  The session lasted forty minutes. Below, Joe, my father, and Barry Graham. October 21, 2010

The case was closed for good in June of 2011, when a final agreement between the two parties was approved by Judge Baxter. "That Atlanta Landmarks will continue to have the right to manage the property" was always assumed and not part of the lawsuit. Perhaps Judge Baxter put the Fear of God into them.

Even in total defeat and humiliation, the Fox did not relent. According to a reliable source, the agreement (which the Fox insisted be kept confidential) stipulated that Joe must give up his keys to the Theatre and thus access to the Ballroom patron elevator which he had previously used routinely.  He was allowed use of the elevator "only in emergencies."  This condition also meant that Joe's elderly friends would be unable to visit him.

The source also maintains that The Fox was required to pay all of Joe's attorney's fees, which ran to $135,000.  Assuming the Fox spent at least that amount,  this non-profit corporation may have spent over a quarter of a million dollars of donated funds to evict Joe Patten.

Joe continues to live in his home in the Fox.

At the time of this writing, the street gate to Joe's fire stair is shrouded with a tarp to conceal the use of the stair for storage, likely in violation of fire codes. 

The stairwell is unlit (except by the camera's flash), obviously in violation of fire codes.

Entire contents of the above Copyright December, 2015 Bob Foreman, Grateful acknowledgement is made to Joe Patten, Patti Patten, and my father, without whom this article would not have been possible.  Further thanks to Rick Flinn, Hal Doby, Mitch Deustch, Ray Spurlin, John Tanner and Robert Rivera.  And thanks to Charles Walker, for introducing me to Joe Patten in 1967.   All unattributed photographs were taken by the author.

For other photo-essays, including more about the Fox, click here.