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
Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at the Tower Theatre Part 2 (Backstage, Projection Booth, Basement)
Photo Essay: Downtown LA's Palace Theater, Restored (But Not Completely)

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