The Fox Fullerton Theatre: Will Fullerton see those dazzling lights once again?

Aaron Untiveros

Mystery surrounds the grand building located in Fullerton on the northeast intersection of Harbor Ave. and Chapman Blvd. Gated all around and no sign of movement, it makes people wonder what the building is, what it was and what may become of it.

Opened in 1925, the Fox Fullerton Theater carried through the years as a popular source of news, socialization and entertainment in Orange County.

Early Fox
Movie goers stand in line for tickets as Fox Fullerton Theatre features "1964 Helios" in technicolor and cinema scope.

The theatre was built by the same architects from “Meyer and Holler’s” that constructed the “TCL Chinese Theatre” and “Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre” in Hollywood that continue to represent the city’s glamour. Like many others during its time, vaudevilles and silent films shaped the theatre’s design.

Local businessmen Stanley Chapman, son of Fullerton’s first mayor Charles Chapman, built the Fox Fullerton Theatre that was known at the time as Chapman’s Alician Court Theatre. The theatre changed owners and names multiple time, but still met its closure in 1987.

Fox 1934
Street view of the Fox Fullerton Theatre during the mid 1930s. Photo credit: Fox Fullerton Theatre

“You would get a bunch of kids in the neighborhood. One mom would drive and another mom would pick up,” said Andy Gigliotti as she reminisced over her youth when she would visit the Fox Theatre for double features in the late 1960s. “It was an entire day thing.”

A campaign from the early 2000s saved the theatre from demolition and from there set a way to restore the theatre.

Stage- close
The Fox Fullerton Theatre stage lights up during the Fullerton Art Walk on Oct. 9. Photo credit: Aaron Untiveros

Led by The Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation, a non-profit organization with its eyes fixed on the reopening of the Fox Theatre, the restoration began in 2005. The theatre went from a run down, hazardous building to a theatre with a stage capable of hosting an art gallery, which did happen during the Fullerton Art Walk on Oct. 6.

So far, approximately $10 million has been spent on the restoration of the Fox Fullerton Theatre with a total of over $13 million of work accomplished due to hours of work from volunteers.

Many community members got the chance to see the inside progress of the Fullerton Fox Theatre during the Fullerton Art Walk held on October.

Chandelier
The chandeliers shine brightly in the Fox Fullerton Theatre. Photo credit: Aaron Untiveros

“I’m impressed with what it looks like.” Gigliotti said standing in front of the theatre stage. “The ceiling looks beautiful. The chandelier looks beautiful. The stage is still very pretty.”

Although about $13 million of work is said to have been done, some community members who walked into the theatre don’t think the theatre is restored enough to where it should be.

“I thought they had raised all this money and that the city council had approved all this stuff,” said Dona Dolan, a Fullerton resident, during the first time she looked inside the theatre since the early 1980s. “Obviously that’s not the case.”

Lobby
Two doors lead to the main level of the theatre. Photo credit: Aaron Untiveros

There is still a lot to do before its official reopening. It is anticipated that $10 million is needed for a 22,000 square feet addition to the theatre for office space, basement storage and a roof top restaurant.

Roughly another $6 million is needed for the purchase of technology to update the theatre.

The restoration also needs to fix miscellaneous issues such as HVAC, Electrical, Plumbing and historic restoration. This will cost about $9 million, totaling to $25 million to complete the theatre.

Announced early August by the foundation, AMS Planning & Research was hired and is expected to get the ball rolling for a major capital campaign planned for 2018.

AMS was hired for their connections and skills needed to put together a plan to present to presenters, contributors or lenders. The planning and research organization will also represent the foundation when meeting with potential contributors.

The current plan is to raise $15 million through the capital campaign, borrow $10 million and then use the tax credits to pay back the borrowed money. The foundation is expecting about $4 million to $6 million in tax credits.

Typically, a capital campaign begins with an analysis of the situation called a feasible study. This will determine what objections the foundation could receive while asking for contributions to finish the project. This study will be anywhere from about $50,000 to $60,000.

After the organization finishes with the study, the next step would be to reach the identified group of possible contributors. The biggest and smallest possible contributors will be contacted.

If the capital campaign is successful in acquiring $15 million and receives more donations, the foundation will be able to borrow less money to finish the theatre.

“It’s symbolic really of the city in many ways,” said Bruce Whitaker, mayor of Fullerton. “If we can bring it back to its former glory, I think it would be a real nice centerpiece”

Although not set in stone, LeLand Wilson, president of The Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation, believes the Fox Theatre will have its grand reopening on May 28, 2025. This will be the 100th anniversary of the Fox Theatre.

LeLand Wilson
LeLand Wilson, president of the Historic Fullerton Theatre Foundation, stands in front of the Fox Fullerton Theatre stage during the Fullerton Art Walk on Oct. 9. Photo credit: Aaron Untiveros

“It’s not that far into the future when you consider how long it takes to do things,” Wilson explained. “If you have a couple years on the capital campaign and couple years of planning, and architecture and all that kind of stuff and then a couple years of building—you’re 4 to 5 years away.

“So, 7 years from now in 2025 is probably realistic. The only thing that would speed that up is a quick raise of money with some angel contributors.”

For more information on future event and volunteering opportunities, visit their official website.