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‘Phantom of the Fox’ to keep apartment _ for now

- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

ATLANTA (AP) - Joe Patten, known as the "Phantom of the Fox," can stay in his apartment while he and a group that runs Atlanta's historic Fox Theatre work on an agreement, a judge said Wednesday.

"Both sides are working together to work this thing out, and it's my hope that they will be able to work it out," Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter said.

Patten, 83, has lived in the apartment beneath the Fox's onion-shaped dome since 1979, when he signed a lifelong lease. The board of trustees of the nonprofit Atlanta Landmarks, which runs the Fox, voted in August to terminate that lease. That meant Patten would have been required to leave by Dec. 1.

Patten's lawyer Emmet Bondurant sued earlier this month seeking an injunction to keep Patten from having to vacate, plus punitive and compensatory damages and a jury trial.

The judge canceled a hearing in the matter Wednesday after he met with lawyers for both sides and the parties agreed to work out a solution.

Patten, who waited in a courtroom while the judge and lawyers met, was "tickled to death" after his lawyer explained that he would be allowed to stay.

"It's wonderful. I was hoping it would turn out like this," he said, a giant smile on his face. "That's exactly what I wanted."

The Fox Theatre released a statement saying the parties had agreed to keep Patten's original lease in place "for the time being."

"It has and it continues to be the intent of Atlanta Landmarks to allow Mr. Patten to live in the apartment as long as he is able," the Fox said in a statement. "We hope that today's proceedings will lead to a mutually beneficial resolution, which has always been our desire."

Bondurant said Wednesday's developments marked the end of Patten's legal wrangling with Atlanta Landmarks, unless the nonprofit tries again to terminate or alter Patten's lease, in which case Bondurant will seek a permanent injunction.

After voting to terminate Patten's lease Aug. 30, the Atlanta Landmarks board of trustees offered him a new occupancy agreement, but said the Fox is not an appropriate setting for round-the-clock care or assisted living.

Patten suffered a stroke in mid-July that required a short stint in a hospital and then several weeks at a rehabilitation facility. He also suffers from diabetes and spine problems.

Bondurant said in the lawsuit that the nonprofit was discriminating against Patten based on his physical condition, a violation of the Georgia Fair Housing Act. Patten declined to sign the new agreement, saying he wanted to be allowed to stay in his apartment under the original conditions.

The parties agreed Wednesday to keep the terms of the original lease for now and to discuss concerns about security.

Patten's plight struck a nerve in Atlanta, where he is cherished by supporters of the Fox. Websites devoted to his cause were created and protesters paraded in front of the theater before shows. On Wednesday, a handful of supporters gathered outside the courthouse with signs and others joined him in the courtroom. They clapped and offered congratulations when they heard an agreement was being worked out.

Patten helped restore the theater's pipe organ in 1963. When the Fox was threatened with demolition in the 1970s, Patten helped lead the effort to raise money to save it.

Patten's knowledge of the theater helped him save it a second time when a fire started in the early morning hours of April 15, 1996. He was able to pinpoint the fire's location and get firefighters there quickly.

He served as the theater's technical director from 1979 until his retirement in 2001.

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Online:

http://www.foxtheatre.org

http://www.savethephantomofthefox.org

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