The first theater in Grangeville to play talking pictures, the Blue Fox introduced a modern form of entertainment to this small Idaho town. It also hosted school plays and live music, and it continues to serve the community’s entertainment needs.
The Blue Fox Theatre opened on May 2, 1930, in the small town of Grangeville, Idaho, three hours north of Boise. Its opening film was The Gold Diggers of Broadway, starring Nancy Welford and Conway Tearle. The theater’s owner, Al Wagner, developed a passion for the industry after his experiences in a local theater circuit. Wagner and his family had migrated to Cottonwood, Idaho from North Dakota in 1910. He attended the Moscow campus of the University of Idaho in the early 1920s before getting at Cottonwood’s local bank as a bookkeeper. It was during this time that Wagner first became interested in motion pictures. With his personal portable projector, Wagner traveled to neighboring towns and rented halls to show movies for the locals. In 1929, he purchased a plot of land to build his own theater and hired Contractor J.R. Adkison and designer W.T. Cregan, both from Washington state, to take on the project. While Cregan began drafting plans for the interior, Adkison broke ground on the project in November 1929.
The community eagerly awaited the completion of the project, especially since it would be the only theater in town that would play talking films, or “talkies”. The Idaho Falls Free County Press covered the project extensively at the end of 1929 and the beginning of 1930 leading up to the Grand Opening. Wagner hosted a contest in the newspaper to select the name, and the winner received three free tickets and a cash prize of ten dollars. Hundreds of local residents submitted suggestions for the name; among the most notable were the “Granada,” “Wagner,” “Majestic,” and “Lone Star." Runner-ups for the contest were also awarded free movie tickets for their submissions of the “Balboa,” “Alhambra,” “Wagnerian,” and “Tolo.” Resident of Lucille, Idaho J.H. Dickinson won the contest for his suggestion of “The Blue Fox Theatre,” which Wagner felt was both unique and good for promotional opportunities. After its opening, Wagner remained dedicated to serving the public and keeping the theater involved in community events. The Blue Fox hosted vaudeville shows, school plays, and live music performances in addition to its regular showing of films.
The theater has undergone significant changes over the years, both architecturally and technologically. Its current marquee with neon lighting was added in 1940 and remains operational. In 1944, a fire originating in the basement destroyed much of the interior. While Wagner had promised the community that repairs would be made as soon as possible, he worried that limited resources due to the war effort would prevent this from happening. The War Productions Board, realizing that the Blue Fox was an important source of entertainment and community outreach, prioritized the remodeling efforts. In March of 1945, Wagner installed a new sound system, air conditioning, and heating systems, and reupholstered the original chairs. The theater remains open and provides the community with entertainment for all ages. The Wagner family continues to own and operate the Blue Fox.