Fox Fullerton Theatre

View of the Auditorium from the balcony.
View of the Auditorium from the balcony.

Originally known as the Alician Court Theatre, the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, California opened on May 28, 1925. Raymond Kennedy of the Meyer & Holler Architectural firm was commissioned by C. Stanley Chapman to design the theater. Meyer & Holler are also known for designing Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The 1,095 seat Fox was designed in the Italian Renaissance architectural style and had six large California-themed murals – painted by Anthony Heinsbergen – on the auditorium walls. It cost $300,000 to build the theater in 1925, which is $4,082,000 when adjusted for inflation. The complex also included retail spaces, one of which was originally occupied by a tea room run by Alice Chapman, the owner’s wife.

The Lobby of the Fox Theatre.
The Lobby of the Fox Theatre.

Like most theaters at the time, the Fox was built to be a vaudeville and silent movie theater. The Fox opened with a showing of Luna-cy!, an early 3D film, and Dick Turpin starring Tom Mix as the feature presentation. Julius Johnson accompanied the films on the Marr and Colton Concert Organ, Conductor Bayard Fallas led the orchestra and J. Charles Thamer served as the Master of Ceremonies.

The theater originally opened with 1,095 seats, but seating was reduced to 908 after modern seats were installed in 1955.
The theater originally opened with 1,095 seats, but seating was reduced to 908 after modern seats were installed in 1955.

Four years later in 1929, “talkies,” or motion pictures with sound, were becoming more and more prevalent. New sound equipment was installed for $35,000 to allow the theater to show Movietone News, Photophone and Vitaphone, which were the three major types of talking films at the time. On February 17, 1929, Give and Take, starring Jean Hersholt and George Sidney, was the first talking motion picture shown at the Fox. The following year even more upgrades were installed including a larger screen, more new sound equipment and a new marquee. Doughboys, starring Buster Keaton, was shown at the grand reopening in 1929.

A close up of the proscenium arch.
A close up of the proscenium arch.

The Fox went through a number of name changes through the years. It opened as the Alician Court Theatre, then became the Mission Court Theatre, Universal Mission Court Theatre, Fox Mission Theatre and finally the Fox Fullerton Theatre, which it remains today. A number of celebrities made personal appearances at the Fox to promote their films, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Janet Gaynor, Dolores Del Rio, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Jayne Mansfield. The Fox was modernized again in 1955 with the installation of a Cinemascope screen. The Cinemascope screen ran from wall-to-wall, and some of the decorative plasterwork surrounding the stage had to be removed to accommodate it. In 1962, the National General Corporation took over the theater, and had the murals in the auditorium painted over.

Two of the six murals in the auditorium were painted over several times, and will have to be reproduced instead of restored. The remaining four murals were painted over using a water-based paint, and could be restored.
Two of the six murals in the auditorium were painted over several times, and will have to be reproduced instead of restored. The remaining four murals were painted over using a water-based paint, and could be restored.

After a showing of Angel Heart starring Mickey Rourke, The Fox closed in 1987 and remained dark for almost twenty years. It was scheduled to be demolished in 2004 to make way for a five-storey apartment building, but was saved by the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation (FHTF), which was formed in 2001 to acquire and restore the theater. They officially took ownership in 2005, and the following year helped add the theater to the National Register of Historic Places. The city of Fullerton started to show films in the theater’s back parking lot in 2005 in an effort to help raise funds for the restoration. In 2015, Evergreene Architectural Arts, an Award-Winning Decoration & Restoration firm, replicated the original design elements on the auditorium ceiling as part of the restoration efforts.* At the same time, the “FOX FULLERTON” sign, which was removed for restoration in 2013, was reinstalled. The FHTF held a 90th birthday party for the the theater in May 2015 to unveil the restored ceiling and the reinstalled sign. In February 2016, a coffee shop opened in one of the refurbished retail spaces. The monthly rent from the shop will go towards the building’s restoration which is estimated to cost $26 million dollars, and $14 million has been spent as of 2016.

The Fox is one of only three courtyard theaters designed by the Meyer and Holler architectural firm.
The Fox is one of only three courtyard theaters designed by the Meyer and Holler architectural firm.
It was the largest motion picture theater in Orange County, CA when it opened in 1925.
It was the largest motion picture theater in Orange County, CA when it opened in 1925.
View of the auditorium from the stage.
View of the auditorium from the stage.
The theater was one of the first to show talking motion pictures in Orange County, CA.
The theater was one of the first to show talking motion pictures in Orange County, CA.
Murals painted by artist John Gabriel Beckman adorn the ceiling of this room.
Murals painted by artist John Gabriel Beckman adorn the ceiling of this room.
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A close up of one of the murals.

 

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*These photographs were taken before the restoration of the auditorium ceiling.

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