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Fox Fullerton: history + exterior views

512 N. Harbor Blvd. Fullerton, CA 92832 | map |

Also see: Fox Fullerton - interior views

The News: Construction resumed in March 2022. An opening is expected in 2024 with additional renovation work continuing into 2025 and beyond.

Opened: May 28, 1925 as Chapman’s Alician Court Theatre with Tom Mix in “Dick Turpin” plus vaudeville acts, a prologue, and the Chapman's Alician Court Theatre Orchestra. Prominent businessman C. Stanley Chapman was behind the venture. The Alician Court name was an homage to his wife Alice Ellen. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018

The theatre's address was originally on Spadra Road, now called Harbor Blvd. The theatre is on the east side of the street just north of Chapman Ave. The corner courtyard is an outside dining and lounge area for the coffee bar and a restaurant space in the Firestone Building. 


"A big event in the history of Fullerton" noted a flyer for the opening night, a copy of which appears on the theatre's Facebook page. It promised that for the opening "Motion pictures of the crowd will be taken." They initially changed programs three times a week. Other opening week features included Dorothy Devore in “The Narrow Streets" and Rin Tin Tin in “Tracked in the Snow Country.” The theatre was operated for Chapman by Orange Belt Theatres, Inc. with Harry Lee Wilber as the manager. The firm also had the Rialto Theatre in Fullerton.

It was also referred to as the Chapman Theatre and the Alician Court Theatre. The new theatre got a two page photo spread in the Motion Picture News issue of October 17, 1925. It's on Internet Archive. The two-story wing on the north side of the forecourt was originally occupied by the Mary Louise Tea Room. The one-story south wing was Laura's Flower Shop. By mid-1926 the theatre was renamed the Mission Court Theatre, also advertised as the Mission Theatre.

The theatre's glowing usherettes got a mention in the December 16, 1927 issue of Motion Picture News. It's on Internet Archive. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding this article as well as the one from 1925.

By 1930 Fox West Coast had the house and was calling it the Fox Fullerton. The theatre was allegedly the first Orange County theatre wired for sound.

Architects: The firm of Meyer & Holler designed and built the theatre. Raymond Kennedy was the principal designer for the firm. The Fox Fullerton, like the Egyptian and Chinese theatres done in Hollywood by the firm, had an entrance through an open forecourt. Here, though, the style of decoration was distinctly Italian. This was Kennedy's first theatre, although he had done a number of other high profile projects.

This photo of Raymond Kennedy appeared with a post by Christopher Crouch on Cinelog in 2010. Crouch notes that many lessons learned on the Fullerton project were later put to use on Grauman's Chinese, which opened in 1927. But Kennedy's theatre work wasn't to continue for long:

"After leaving Meyer and Holler, following the company’s depression era collapse, Mr. Kennedy divided his time between teaching at the University of Southern California and being a stage designer for several major film studios; briefly departing for Washington D.C. to take part in the design of the Pentagon. Raymond Kennedy wrapped up his illustrious career designing municipal buildings, for two leading California based architectural firms, retiring in 1960, at the age of 69."

The murals in the auditorium, later painted over, were executed by the Heinsbergen Co. with C. F. Brunckhorst as the lead artist. John Gabriel Beckman is credited for the  design of the balcony lobby ceiling murals, largely still intact.

Seating: 1,095 originally on main floor and balcony, 908 after a reseating. When the renovation is done they expect to have about 750 seats. Part of the loss is a proposed expansion of the lobby into the the last few rows of the main floor.

Stage: Motion Picture News in 1925 gave a depth of 32' (presumably including the apron) and 65' wall to wall. It was a hemp house with the sets operated stage right. The grid is wood. All the dressing rooms were below the stage. 

Remodels: Fox West Coast bought the building in 1944, reported as a $250,000 transaction. The theatre got a modernization by the firm in the mid-50s which involved a frame out in front of the proscenium for the Cinemascope screen and yards and yards of draperies. Plaster ornament protruding from the organ grille areas was lost. Auditorium murals murals were painted over in a big 1962 renovation that got a mention in Boxoffice. Mann Theatres ended up with it after they bought the remains of the Fox West Coast circuit from National General Corporation.

Closing: The City of Fullerton shut down the building in 1987 due to the owner's lack of interest in doing a seismic retrofit. The City ended up owning it. In its last years the theatre had been running as a $1 bargain house.

The eternal renovation: The Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation bought the theatre portion of the building from the City of Fullerton in 2005, thanks to the help of a $1 million anonymous donation they received. It's been sort of condo-ized with the City retaining ownership of some of the storefront space and also providing assistance with seismic and other life safety work. At the time of the purchase the Foundation anticipated the renovation cost at $10 million. Later the projected budget was $24 million. They received a grant of $2 million from the State of California and a $6 million loan from the local Community Redevelopment Agency. The property was placed on the National Register in 2006.

The renovation has now been going on for 15+ years and has burned through more than $8 million. The initial phases of the work had focused on rehabilitating the surrounding retail spaces and getting them leased to provide an income stream. The Firestone Building south of the theatre is part of the project. It's a 1929 design by Morgan, Walls & Clements. It now houses a coffee bar called Dripp. A second restaurant space had a tenant but is now vacant. The rehab of the larger restaurant space north of the theatre entrance hasn't been completed. The ceiling and portions of the proscenium and organ grille areas were restored by Evergreene Architectural Arts in 2015.

Although it's under eternal renovation, the city had been allowing the Foundation to do limited scale shows inside the theatre on a case-by-case basis by special permit. Without working restrooms portable toilets were rented. The group had also done a number of outdoor fundraisers such as "Movies On The Fox" where they projected films on the back wall of the stagehouse and had people bring their own chairs. Inside events have included community meetings, fundraisers and art walk shows.

Leland Wilson, at the time president of the Foundation, was quoted in November 2017 as saying he hoped the theatre would be open in time for the 100th anniversary in 2025. In 2017 the Foundation hired AMS Planning and Research to do a study of the theatre's proposed operation. Their estimate was that it would earn about 70 percent of its operating budget from facility rentals, ticket sales, service charges and fees. The rest would need to be raised from donations. They've had various promoters that might be potential tenants tour the facility.

A March 2018 story in the Fullerton Observer noted that Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva had announced that $2.5 million in funding for the theatre had been included in the state budget proposal of 2018-19. This appropriation resulted from a tour of the building by Jerry Brown in October 2017. They intended to start this Phase II work in Spring 2021. The Fullerton Observer had a December 2020 update that discussed the scope: a new electrical service, finishing the restrooms that were started long ago, installing a new HVAC system and ADA work. DLR Group are the architects. Thanks to Mike Hume for spotting several of the stories. 

Steven Forry was appointed executive director in November 2021. The Fullerton Observer had the news in "Fox Theater brings on fundraising professional...," a story by Todd Huffman. Spencer Otte, in "Fullerton Fox Theater executives aim to open by 2025," a November story for the Cal State Fullerton Daily Titan, noted that they had spent $14 million (including the cost of acquiring the building) and appeared to be half-way done. The plans for the next phase of the renovations were under review by the city at the time. In February 2022 Forry died unexpectedly. The theatre's Facebook page had a February 13 post with the news.

Status: Construction resumed in March 2022. "Phase II construction is underway," a March 30 Fox Facebook post had the news. Brian Newell, the Fox Fullerton Foundation board president, discussed the project in "More construction starting...," an April 1 story by Tess Sheets for the Orange County Register. The intent is that the projected $2.5 million "Phase II" work, funded by a State appropriation, will get them far enough along to receive a certificate of occupancy from the city. 
The current estimate is that they'll need an additional 10 to 15 million beyond that to complete the project. The city may yet get a deal done that would result in the construction of a parking garage east of the theatre. "New Development Consultant...," an April 2022 Facebook post, announced that Austin Barrow had been appointed to advise on the project. "Boom," a July 2022 Facebook post, announced the arrival of a donation of a Renkus-Heinz speaker system. It had been donated by the Warner Grand after that theatre got an upgrade.

Some of the results of an investigation of the auditorium murals done by Evergreen Architectural Arts, the project's decorative consultant and contractor. 
Part of a lobby ceiling study from Evergreene. 

A display from Evergreen explaining some of the techniques the company uses to determine appropriate treatments for a particular restoration project such as the Fox. 
More exterior views: 

1925 - The theatre as Chapman's Alician Court a few months after the opening. They were running "The Pony Express," a September release with Betty Compson and Ricardo Cortez. Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Granola for posting the card on that site's page about the Fox Fullerton. A version of the photo was also featured with "Fox Fullerton's Return to the Past," a 2011 Cinelog post by Christopher Crouch about the removal of the 50s vintage marquee. The card also appears on the Fox Fullerton Facebook page.

1925 - The Alician Court running "Seven Keys to Baldpate," a December release with Douglas Maclean. The Mary Louise tearoom was in the space on the north side of the forecourt. Thanks to Granola for posting the photo on Cinema Treasures. It's one also in the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation collection.   

1926 - The theatre as the Mission Court. The roof sign just says Mission Theatre. "The Shamrock Handicap" was a May release with Janet Gaynor and Leslie Fenton. Photo: Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation collection.

c.1929 - Vitaphone arrives at the Mission Court -- note the lettering on the arch to the left of the entrance. Also check out the new pedestal sign with the arrow pointing to the entrance. Photo: Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation collection.

1930 - A photo from the collection of the First American Bank that appeared in Christopher Crouch's  "Fox Fullerton 1930" post on Cinelog in 2009. Note the addition of the Firestone building to the south. The theatre was running "Min and Bill."

1934 - The south end of the building with a good look at the Firestone garage. The photo appeared with "Time To Rethink The Fox,"  a 2009 post from Friends For Fullerton's Future. Also see their other Fox Theatre posts about the development mess the City of Fullerton was trying to create on property around the Fox, something that was to be called Fox Village.

1934 - A view of the complex from the north. Photo: Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation collection.

1940 - The Fox running "Buck Benny Rides Again." The postcard, from the Fullerton Public Library collection, appears on the Fox Fullerton Facebook page.

1945 - A view from the Richfield station across the street with the theatre running a big double bill of "Bring On the Girls" and "Dark Waters." Photo: Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation collection.

1956 - "The Benny Goodman Story," starring Steve Allen and Donna Reed, was partially filmed at the downtown United Artists. See the Theatres in Movies post. Bruce Kimmel comments that this bill opened February 29. It's a photo from the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation collection. Note the island boxoffice in use at the time.

1964 - A look at the theatre's entrance from the Fox Fullerton Facebook page where they note it appears courtesy of Mary Might and features the yearbook staff of Sunny Hills High School. Their yearbook was named the "Helios." The image is also on the OC Cinema page about the Fox and on Cinema Treasures

c.1975 - Thanks to Matt Spero for this photo he took during the bargain run of "The Exorcist." $1 any time.

1982 - "Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip" was a May release. It's a photo that once appeared on the now-vanished American Classic images website.

1983 - Thanks to the American Classic Images website for this view.

1983 - A fine view looking in toward the entrance from American Classic Images. 

1983 - A look at the face on the wall up at balcony level. It's another "Officer and a Gentleman" shot from American Classic Images.  

1983 - An American Classic Images shot from the south. 

2004 - Picketers in front to raise awareness of the fundraising campaign to save the theatre. Thanks to Judy Berg for the photo and to Amy Cortland for sharing this shot and nine others in a June 2023 Facebook post. Amy comments: "A true story that needs to be told again and again: How Fullerton Residents Saved the Fox Theatre. On February 17, 2004 the Fullerton City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, voted unanimously to approve a $1.65 million 'challenge' grant to the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation for the purchase of the Fox Theatre."

2004 - "Save the Fox." Chaplin showed up to help with the fundraising. Photo: Judy Berg 

2004 - $2,810,798 raised. Photo: Judy Berg. Amy Cortland comments: "The Foundation was trying to raise $3.5 million by November to purchase the Fullerton landmark. The Fox Theatre Fullerton was one of three surviving courtyard theatres designed by Meyer and Holler, architects for the historic Grauman's Chinese and Egyptian Theatres."

2004 - "We Did It!" Photo: Judy Berg. Amy Cortland comments: "At the 11th hour in November 2004  Winkelmann Realty stepped up to the plate immediately, pledging the final amount of $5,000 needed to meet the City's challenge. Many thanks to Judy Berg who took and shared her photos of the community activists (while bringing them coffee) who worked day and night to raise the money to save the Fox."

2005 - Looking at the back of the marquee from the upper level of the forecourt you understand why they wanted it to go away. Thanks to Ken Roe for his photo, a post on Cinema Treasures.

2007 - A photo by Christopher Crouch appearing on the Cinema Tour page about the Fox Fullerton. See another of his 2007 photos on "Fox Fullerton's Return to the Past," a 2011 Cinelog post about that year's removal of the signage. "The Birds" wasn't getting run in the theatre -- it was part of the "Movies on the Fox" series projected onto the stagehouse. 

2010 - Construction beginning. Thanks to Amy Cortland for sharing this one on a 2023 Facebook post with eight other views of the theatre. Phase II didn't start until March 2022.

c.2011 - The 60s vintage boxoffice. Earlier there had been a Skouras-style one centered instead off to the side. Thanks to Amy Cortland for including this photo in her 2023 Facebook post

2011 - The view south along the facade. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for her photo on Flickr. See more of her theatre explorations via her Theatres-California album, the Theatres of Downtown LA album, and other albums of photos of various individual theatres.

2011 - A last look before the marquee came off. Evidently they didn't like the non-original look. But no new marquee went up. Driving by now it's not obvious that it's even a theatre. Photo: Michelle Gerdes

2012 - A look at the arches straight in from the street. It's a photo from the Fox Fullerton Facebook page.

2013 - A view into the barricaded entrance from the site Roadside Architecture. This photo and other exterior views of the theatre are on the site's California Movie Theatres page 4.

December 2013 - The beginning of taking the letters down from the roof sign. The photo appeared on the Fox Fullerton Facebook page where you can page through more views of the project.

December 2013 - An 'F" coming down from the roof sign. It's a photo from the Fox Fullerton Facebook page.

2014 - Looking north on Harbor Blvd. toward the theatre. Photo: Google Maps

2014 - On the theatre's roof. The frame for the roof sign is naked as the letters were getting an LED retrofit. It's a photo from the Fox Fullerton Facebook page .

2015 - The sign re-lit. It's a photo on the Fox Fullerton Facebook page from a May "Speakeasy Days" album.

2015 - The fountain on the north side of the forecourt. Thanks to Amy Cortland for her photo, one of 32 in her Visiting the Fox Theatre Fullerton on Facebook.  

2015 - A peek in toward the entrance doors. Photo: Amy Cortland on Facebook.

2015 - A look out toward Harbor Blvd. from the upper level of the forecourt. Thanks to Sandi Hemmerlein for her photo. For the full accounting of Sandi's adventures at the Fox Fullerton (and many intriguing photos) see her Avoiding Regret photo essay "Fox Theatre Fullerton, 90 Years Old and Starting Over."

2015 - The vista up toward the stagehouse and the restored roof sign. Note the bolts on the wall from some of the seismic bracing work. Photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - Avoiding Regret 

2018 - The north side of the forecourt. This space has housed a number of different restaurant tenants over the years. It needs more work to make it rentable again. That slab on this side of the fence was the location of a 50s boxoffice installed by Fox West Coast. Photo: Bill Counter 

2018 - Looking over toward the former restaurant space. Photo: Bill Counter      

2018 - The entrance arcade. The original boxoffice window was behind that big display case. Photo: Bill Counter 

 2018 - The fountain area. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - On the other side of the arch at the north end of the arcade seen in the previous photo. At the far left, an exit from half way down the house left side of the main floor. The window goes into a janitor's closet near the men's room. The doorway beyond the window goes into the manager's office and old boxoffice area. That partially open door on the right goes to the marquee letter room under the stairs. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - The marquee letter room under the stairs that go up to the upper level of the forecourt. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - Looking toward the house left exit, now sealed off. Note the edge of the tile on the floor marking where the exit corridor was once walled off from the restaurant space. Photo: Bill Counter 

2018 - In the unfinished restaurant space looking out toward Harbor Blvd. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - A look toward the theatre entrance. Photo: Bill Counter   

2018 - That's the entrance at the end of the arcade. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - The south side of the forecourt from the street. Photo: Bill Counter

 2018 - The upper level, an exit from the balcony. Photo: Bill Counter 

2018 - Checking out the big urn. Then the theatre opened in 1925 the urn had "smoke effects" -- presumably using steam. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - The stern guy above the upstairs windows. The eyes and mouth were originally backlit.  Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - The windows flanked by the white pilasters can be seen inside on the stairs to the balcony. The balcony exits are up the steps. Photo: Bill Counter 

2018 - The building from the north. Photo: Bill Counter  

2018 - The space at the north end of the complex. The exit stairs are new. This area under one restaurant tenant c.1926 was an open-air dining patio called the Jardin d'Amour. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - A look into the forecourt from across the street.  Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - A roofline detail from the south. Photo: Bill Counter  

2018 - A closer look at that guy on the urn. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - The east side of the building. Photo: Bill Counter 

2018 - A peek between the stagehouse and the Italian restaurant next door. Photo: Bill Counter

2022 - The forecourt with "Fox" letters that had been taken off the 40s marquee that had spanned the entrance. Photo: Bill Counter

More Information: Amy Cortland has a fine 2015 Visiting the Fox Theatre Fullerton album of 32 photos on Facebook. The Cinema Treasures page on the theatre has many interesting comments and about 25 photos of the building, including some interior views.

The Cinema Tour page on the theatre has 27 exterior views from the 2003-2007 period. See Christopher Crouch's OC Cinema page on the Fox Fullerton for lots of interesting data and photos.

"Fox Theatre Artwork and Murals" is a fine 2018 Fullerton Observer article by Terry Galvin on John Gabriel Beckman and his mural work at the theatre. Check out Mike Hume's great page on the Fox Fullerton on his Historic Theatre Photography site.

Check out the the May 2016 Fox Fullerton Theatre post by Matt Lambros on the "After The Final Curtain" blog for a full photo tour, along with a history of the theatre. For Sandi Hemmerlein's adventures at the Fox Fullerton see her 2015 Avoiding Regret photo essay "Fox Theatre Fullerton, 90 Years Old and Starting Over."

The L.A. Times ran a 2008 story about the renovation project. The UC Fullerton newspaper, The Daily Titan, had a 2009 story "Fox Theatre still shines." A 2013 story in the Titan hopefully proclaimed "Fullerton Fox Theatre: curtain may rise in 3 to 5 years." A November 2017 Titan story detailed a town hall meeting the mayor held at the theatre to discuss parking and other concerns about the renovation.

There's a 2 minute clip on YouTube touring the theatre in 2010. Wikipedia also has a page on the theatre with a 2008 exterior view.

The Fox Fullerton pages: back to top - history + exterior views | interior views

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