Sunday, May 24, 2015

Photo Essay: Fox Theatre Fullerton, 90 Years Old and Starting Over

Last night, the Fox Theatre in Fullerton unveiled its newly-restored and lit rooftop sign, which stood dark on its scaffolding for the last several decades.

Photo by Sean Scanlon / Redink Photography via Fox Theatre Fullerton

Too bad the fabulous marquee and the old box office are gone for now, though the rescued "Fox" sign is being held at Downtown Fullerton's Back Alley Bar & Grill for safekeeping until it can be reinstalled on the building.

Circa 2013, via Fox Theatre Fullerton

The relighting of the sign is a positive, public sign of what's to come for this 90 year old former movie theater that has been closed since 1987.

In order to get into the Fox, I had to head around to the back...

...past some locked gates...

...and under the fire escape.

New construction appears to be part of the revitalization plan – after all, this was never just a movie theater, but rather a whole complex that also included restaurants and shops.

The Fox is still in the relatively early stages of restoration. While the front doors appear much as they did in the 1920s...

...a lot of the work that's been completed since 2007 has been fundraising, and cleanup.

Because the building had been neglected for so long, it had been exposed to the elements.

It rained inside when it rained outside, and and pigeons got in, dropping poop everywhere.

The damage was so bad that the building had been red-tagged, making it unsafe to enter or inhabit. They've also done a lot of work to remove the red tag designation.

More cosmetic work includes painting the exterior in a sandstone and rust color palette...

...appropriate to the theater's original "California Gold Rush" theme, though its architectural style is technically considered Italian Renaissance.

Unfortunately when the sign's letters were sent out to the powder coating shop, the heat was set too high and softened the lead that kept the letters together, melting them. They had to be reconstructed as closely to their original specifications as possible.

The entire upstairs is pretty unfinished, including the balcony...

...but from there you get a great view of the newly restored coffered ceiling, with its shiny new rosettes.

When this theater was renovated in the 1950s, a lot of its original ornate elements were covered up, and modern red movie seats were installed.

Funded by grants from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment, loans, and an anonymous benefactor who donated $1 million, the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation plans to remove all those 1950s seats (which are in rough shape) and install "period-appropriate" seats.

They've worked hard to remove everything that was covering something up...

...and have revealed a number of wall murals in the auditorium and ceiling murals in the lobby which are ghosts of their former selves. The new operators hope to restore and recreate them as much as possible.

The most dazzling part of the restoration in progress is the auditorium's new overhead lighting: the wrought iron chandeliers have been relamped, and colorful LED lighting has been installed (reminiscent of the new work done in the Fox's sister theater, the Chinese in Hollywood).

Apparently the dressing rooms are intact, and the orchestra pit has been expanded, though the organ from the silent movie era is long gone. The Fox will reopen as a performing arts venue, scheduling concerts and shows and other performances and private events as well as movie screenings.

It's been a long time coming, but they're hoping to have enough done by October to start hosting concerts, though the entire restoration will probably take more like five years from now. If all goes as planned, eventually there also will be a restaurant upstairs.

I have no memories of the Fox Fullerton, or any Fox theater at all, so it wasn't nostalgia that brought me there. But everybody loves a comeback story, right? And for me, I can best appreciate the "after" if I got to see the "before" first-hand.

Read more about the theater's history here.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Globe Theatre (formerly Morosco), Under Construction
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Photo Essay: Downtown LA's Palace Theater, Restored (But Not Completely)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Photo Essay: A Landmark Clubhouse for Southern California Motorists

In my explorations of West Adams, I would always drive past a building whose signs indicate it is an American Automobile Association office, but this is unlike any AAA office storefront I'd ever seen.

Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

Sure, it isn't as palatial as the St. Vincent de Paul church across the street...

...but this Spanish Revival on the corner of South Figueroa Street and West Adams Boulevard is definitely a landmark. I decided to scout it out.

It was built in 1921, decades before "car culture" really took over California in the mid-20th century.

The Auto Club of Southern California was actually founded twenty years before that with only ten members...

...and started posting directional signs on highways, publishing maps, and even helping recover stolen vehicles.

By 1923, this location opened as the Automobile Club headquarters...

...and ten years later, expanded with two rear wings that created a closed courtyard in the back.

Now that courtyard acts as a kind of museum for AAA artifacts, like the directional signs erected along the National Old Trails Road (Old Sante Fe Trail)...

...and the Lincoln Highway between Omaha and Salt Lake City.

There's even a cross-section of a gigantic Sequoia tree that fell in Sequoia National Park in 1933 at the ripe old age of 1450 years.

A ring count estimates that this particular tree was born in 483 A.D...

...surviving a forest fire in 1813 that left a burn scar, which would have eventually healed and grown over, if the tree had continued to live.

As gorgeous and historic as the building's exterior is, I was excited to go inside...

...and see the tiled fountain...

...under the dazzling rotunda (which no photographs do justice).

Unfortunately, the rest of the ground floor does look like any other AAA office, with dropped ceilings and modern cubicles and plaster walls. It was such a shame to see, I refused to photograph it, not wanting documentation of the very utilitarian interior of a club which is no longer very exclusive, as motorists are no longer an elite class. It's a club anyone can join, and a headquarters anyone can visit.

I should be thankful for that. And even though anyone who can pay the membership dues can join, I'm proud to be a member of that club, which has rescued me from a dead battery in Compton, a couple of flat tires, a lost car key, and being stuck in a rut in Big Bear.

I'm proud to be a motorist. I love driving. I'm so grateful for the freedom and access to new places it's given me. Growing up, I spent too long homebound, begging friends for rides, taking the bus or walking for miles. For years, I just wanted to be able to drive myself somewhere. And although I got my license when I was 17 years old, it took me nearly 20 years to actually get a car of my own.

And now I can't imagine not driving, at least some of the time. I am all for equal opportunity, and embrace all modes: I walk, I bike, I hike, I swim, and I paddle. I scamper and scurry, and I zip as often as possible. But when all else fails, when I have nowhere to be and nothing to do, when life weighs down on me too much, I can always come up with an excuse to just shut everything out and drive.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: St. Vincent de Paul, West Adams
Carrying on a Legacy
Avoiding Worry

Photo Essay: St. Vincent de Paul, West Adams

I've been really fascinated with the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles, where incredible homes and buildings just jump out at you from every corner.

While scouting out the neighborhood, I parked my car in front of this majestic structure, which I presumed was a church, though it could've been a theater or a municipal building.

Having no idea what denomination it was (as these things sometimes change over time from a building's original construction), I decided to try to go in. After all, I've felt pretty welcome at the various houses of worship I've wandered into in California so far.

There were signs that it was probably Catholic – the crosses, the statue inscribed "Holy Mary Mother of God" –

...but on this bleak day, this church didn't feel exultant. It was downright gothic.

The lampposts had claws.

Intricate carvings bathed the entryways in shadows.

Sneering faces peered out...

...while other figures stood guard.

One of the faces looked as though it was about to speak to me.

I didn't know what kind of portal I would be entering...

...but I walked through the door of what turned out to be St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church.

It isn't quite like the Catholic churches I grew up attending: its painted ceilings in the vestibule were reminiscent of those in a Masonic hall...

...and it probably felt like a theater because it was designed by the same architect responsible for the Million Dollar, Albert C. Martin Sr. (whose list of credits also includes City Hall).

The Stations of the Cross literally sparkle in a beautiful array of mosaic tile...

...lending a certain glamour to a depiction of a rather dismal series of events.

Donation boxes are scattered along the exterior walls to collect alms for the poor...

...while Mary shows off a little extra bit of opulence.

Awash in the scent of burning incense, there are intriguing dioramas...

...and more collection boxes in which to make an offering.

Of course, no prayer or offering is ever free.

Fortunately, they're for sale in a vending machine.

There was a darkness inside the church, even when they switched the lights on...

...the stained glass windows too small to let much light in...

...and the weather outside too dreary to provide much light.

But after unsuccessfully trying to sneak into the choir loft to have a better look at the organ, I stepped outside...

...where the sun had finally broken through...

...illuminating every shadow that had been cast before...

...and evoking joyousness and jubilation even in a time of great sadness.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Blessings for the Poor in Spirit
Photo Essay: The Million Dollar, Sid Grauman's First Movie House
Photo Essay: City Hall at Sunset
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