Beacham Carr event

Buckhead resident Beachamp Carr was honored recently at an event at Fox Theatre, which he helped save from demolition.

When it came to the Fox Theatre, Beauchamp Carr had to be blunt.

The Buckhead resident was the first president of the board of Atlanta Landmarks, which today operates as Fox Theatre Inc. The nonprofit was the critical component in rescuing the Fox from demolition. In January 1975, the owners padlocked the doors and reached an agreement to sell the 1929 Egyptian and Moorish-inspired movie palace in Midtown to Southern Bell for a new headquarters.{span class=”print trim”}

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Thornton Kennedy

Atlanta Landmarks took on $1.8 million in debt to acquire the building. It was both a blessing and a curse. As one of the most prolific fundraisers our city has known — he helped raise more than $177 million as the executive vice president of the Woodruff Arts Center — it shaped Carr’s style.

If Atlanta Landmarks failed — if it could not service the debt — it would lose the title immediately. Further, as part of the arrangement, if that happened, they could not protest the demolition.

While the Fox had dodged the wrecking ball, there was more to be done. Saving the theater, it turned out, was the easy part.

Carr told Encore magazine, “While that seemed like a draconian structure, it was really much to our advantage.”

Think about that quote for a second. Given those stakes, most of us would curl up in a ball and cry. Carr, however, used it as leverage.

“It was a believable threat and it enabled us … to go around and talk to all of the foundations and businesses in Atlanta and (the public) and say, ‘Listen, you gotta give us this money right now. We have a payment due and if we don’t make it, they’re going to take the building away from us,’” he said.

They raised more than $3 million, which allowed the theater to undergo a much-needed restoration. The Fox reopened to great fanfare. Equally important, Atlanta Landmarks hired the right people to put the theater on a path to self-sustainability, always the crux of historic preservation.

On Sept. 19, the historic theater with the iconic marquee on Peachtree Street rolled out the red carpet for Carr. After 45 years, he stepped down from the board of the theater he spent more than half of his life championing.

What made Carr so incredibly successful was the ability to cut to the chase with honesty, integrity and urgency. He is a lover of and a believer in the importance of art and culture.

He is also incredibly sharp and intuitive. He always looks you directly in the eye. Within three questions, he can figure most people out. With every answer, you can practically see his brain making connections it takes most people months to learn. He knew who you were, where you were from and who “your people” were, as they say, before you even sat down with him.

Through that curiosity, he discerned whether you could help. He was right more often than not. Case in point, he never asked me for money.

However, when he found out I worked at the Atlanta Business Chronicle years ago, he asked me if I could connect him with S.I. Newhouse, the billionaire owner of Advanced Publications, the parent company of American City Business Journals. I could not.

In an industry where patience, cultivation and a lot of ego stroking carry the day, Carr was an outlier. He was strategic, yes, but he was never intimidated and he was seldom concerned with offending someone.

He had a job to do, and he was going to get it done. He did so with remarkable success. His record with the Fox and the Woodruff proves that out.

The son of a Harvard-educated attorney and one of the grand dames of Atlanta, Carr earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina and served in the United States Army before going to work for C&S Bank.

All of that is to say he could have done anything he wanted.

He forged a path entirely his own. It started with riding the old streetcar to the Fox to watch movies when he was a kid.

It ended symbolically with Carr on the stage of the Fox Theatre, receiving a standing ovation in the palace he not only helped save but helped make into a credible business.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at tkennedy@prsouth.net.

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