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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Phantom of the Fox’ Fights to Save Home

ATLANTA (CN) - "The Phantom of the Fox" has sued Atlanta Landmarks dba the Fox Theatre, claiming it breached an agreement to let him live out his days in the historic theater, which he has called home for 31 years. Joe Patten, 83, says he saved the theater from destruction twice, and was promised he could live there until "the 120th day following his death."

But now the chairman of the board of Atlanta Landmarks, co-defendant Edward "Woody" White, is giving him the boot, Patten says, in violation of his lease.

The Phantom of the Fox claims the defendants have "overtly and intentionally discriminated against Mr. Patten and violated the Georgia Fair Housing Act" by trying to evict him because of his deteriorating health.

Patten has a long history with the Fox Theatre. A music aficionado and technical wizard, Patten became involved with the Fox in 1963 when he discovered the theater's "magnificent 'Mighty Mo' Moeller organ had become nonfunctional after 30 years of neglect."

Patten took 10 months to restore the organ, "one the of the largest and most elaborate theatre organs in the world," without pay, according to the complaint in Fulton County Superior Court.

"Laboring from midnight past dawn most nights for 10 straight months, he installed 36,000 feet of new wiring and overhauled the instrument's electro-pneumatic system, which sprawls in six separate rooms under the Fox stage," the Georgia Weekly reported in 1982, in an article cited in the 42-page complaint.

In 1974, when Patten learned the Fox was threatened with demolition, he helped incorporate Atlanta Landmarks as a fundraising organization to preserve the theater from demolition.

His fund-raising campaign, "Save the Fox," persuaded a guarantor to ensure payment of the Atlanta Landmarks loan and save the theater from demolition.

In 1979, he says, the board of trustees asked him to sell his home and invest $50,000 to renovate an unused portion of the theater so he could live in the building he had helped to save.

In return for his service to the Fox, he was offered a lease for life - in fact, a lease that extends for 4 months after his death, he says.

Patten became the theater's technical director shortly after moving in. His commitment to the theater was demonstrated again when on April 15, 1996 a fire erupted deep in the theater. As a result of his residence and his intricate knowledge of the theater, he pinpointed the location, enabling firefighters to extinguish it.

A general manager said Patten "saved the Fox for a second time."

In 2001, Patten retired from his position as technical director although he continued to live there.

Patten's problems with the board of trustees began in July this year when he suffered a minor stroke. As a result, the theater's board began to question his "medical condition" and his ability to "live independently." The board voted on Aug. 30 to terminate his lease. Patten was notified on Sept. 2, and was told he would be evicted on or before Dec. 1.

Patten, represented by Emmet J. Bondurant with Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, seeks a permanent injunction prohibiting Atlanta Landmarks from terminating his lease.

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