Fullerton Fox Theater executives aim to open by 2025

The Fullerton Fox Theater stage is set up for fundraising dinners. (Spencer Otte / Daily Titan)

After years of work, the nonprofit organization that manages the historic Fullerton Fox Theater Foundation plans to break ground on the next construction phase by the end of the year.

Fullerton Historic Theater is currently finalizing plans for Phase II of the restoration of Fox Fullerton, which will focus primarily on making the theater ready for occupancy, said Brian Newell, chairman of the Fullerton Historic Theater Foundation.

This will include adding work toilets, upgrading the power to the theater and adding elevators to make the building ADA compliant, Newell said.

«Phase II is to try to get coating. Right now, when we do events, we need to get an event permit. And then we have to hire firefighters to be in every corner, we have to set up porta-pots, all that, “Newell said.” We spend thousands of dollars just to make a small fundraiser. “

Since the foundation saved Fox Theater from demolition in 2005, the group has made slow but steady progress, focusing mostly on strengthening the building structurally. In 2015, Fox unveiled a newly restored roof sign and auditorium roof, and in 2020, the windows in the tea room were restored by board member Bob Winkelmann.

Work on the seats on the upper balcony level in the theater starts after phase II. (Spencer Otte / Daily Titan)

Plans for Phase II are currently under consideration by the City of Fullerton and have been for several months.

Newell said construction for Phase II would last for about six months when it begins. Steven Forry, a fundraising expert who was hired as the foundation’s CEO earlier this year, says the foundation plans to have the theater open in time for its 100th anniversary in 2025.

“The theater opened on May 28, 1925. So May 28, 2025 would be a big ambition goal,” Forry said.

Fox Fullerton Theater was designed in an Italian Renaissance style by Meyer & amp; Holler, the architectural firm that was also responsible for Grauman’s Egyptian and Chinese theaters in Hollywood.

Elaborate murals were displayed throughout the theater – the lobby ceilings were painted in brilliant blue and gold, and in the auditorium hung six large tapestries depicting life in early California. In 1929, Fox Fullerton was cabled for sound and was the first theater in Orange County to show a talking picture.

During its heyday in the 1920s and 30s, the theater was visited by great Hollywood stars including Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Judy Garland.

In the early years of Fox, theatergoers could relax in the Fullerton branch of Mary Louise, a trendy Los Angeles-based chain of tea rooms, before being led to their seats by officers wearing black velvet accent uniforms with brass buttons and radium paint.

A table set up near the back of the theater foyer, including a photograph of the theater around 1945. (Spencer Otte / Daily Titan)

Later, in the 1950s and 60s, the theater underwent extensive renovations. Murals were painted over and the elaborate plaster ornamentation on the organ chambers to the sides of the stage was removed, and the proscenium was covered with drapes to make room for a wider Cinemascope canvas.

In 1987, the town of Fullerton Fox closed for good because the owner refused to pay for seismic retrofitting.

While the foundation told the Fullerton Observer late last year that they had hoped to complete Phase II of their construction plans, Newell said not much construction has been done in the last 18 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Because of the closure, it has really stopped almost everything,” Newell said.

Fox Fullerton raises money from Dripp Coffee, which occupies what was once a Firestone garage that was added to the premises in 1929, but otherwise the foundation is completely dependent on donations.

In 2018, they received a $ 2.5 million scholarship from then-Governor Jerry Brown, who had toured the theater the year before. Newell said the project has so far cost $ 14 million and is more than halfway completed.

When it opened in 1925, Fox Fullerton doubled as a vaudeville scene and featured state-of-the-art dressing rooms and areas behind the scenes. When the theater finally reopens, Newell said he envisions a similar mix of live entertainment and movie programming. The foundation also plans to rent out restaurant premises in what was once Mary Louise’s tea room.

During the week, Fox will act as a revival house showing classic movies, saving the stage for concerts and other live performances on the weekends.

Forry said the theater is not important to Fullerton just for its historical and architectural value, but that it will continue to bring revenue to the city for years to come.

“So when people are here in the theater, they buy drinks, they buy dinner before they come to the theater, so it’s an economic driving force too, so it’s very important and integrated into what Fox Theater wants to be,” Forry said.