History of the Fox

The Fox Fullerton Theatre has a pedigree. Her Hollywood sisters are the better known Egyptian Theatre and perhaps the most famous movie theatre in the world, The Chinese Theatre. All three were designed by Raymond M. Kennedy working for Meyer and Holler and share the “court theatre” design concept.

Meyer and Holler completed the Fox in 1925. Although they built hundreds of structures, it was primarily their 1920’s Hollywood buildings that established Meyer and Holler’s fame; buildings such as Grauman’s Egyptian and Chinese Theatres, the Hollywood Athletic Club, and the CafĂ© Montmarte. Having also built many movie studios, it can be said that Meyer and Holler may have been the firm most responsible for giving architectural form to the early entertainment industry in southern California. The Fox Fullerton remains the firm’s major architectural contribution to Orange County.

The Fox was built as a vaudeville and silent movie house by prominent local businessman C. Stanley Chapman, and was originally named Chapman’s Alician Court Theatre in honor of his wife, Alice Ellen.

When it opened, the Italian Renaissance-inspired Theatre was the show place of Orange County, a movie palace representing the height of Hollywood glamour and sophistication. It was the largest structure of its kind in northern Orange County, and was an integral element in the social fabric of downtown life, where people gathered for news, entertainment, and socializing. In addition to its shows, the Alician Court offered a unique atmosphere – from its courtyard “lobby” to its lavish interior. The open courtyard was an innovation in theatre design that took advantage of outdoor spaces and their visibility to the street, creating a sense of excitement as passers-by witnessed large crowds gathering for a show or premiere.

Another special feature of the theatre is six large murals created by Anthony Heinsbergen and Company, one of the foremost building decor firms of the era. The firm’s work includes art at Los Angeles City Hall, the Biltmore Hotel, and the Wiltern Theatre. (Interestingly, Fullerton is becoming known as a destination for mural art due to its unique historic and contemporary mural works. When restored, the Fox murals will pre-date all others in the city.)

The decorative painter for the theatre was John Gabriel Beckman, who was then working for Meyer and Holler. He was responsible for the elaborate artwork in both the main and mezzanine lobbies, and the design for the original curtains. He went on to design the extensive mural work at the Avalon Casino, and later became a set designer for Paramount Pictures.

Other special features of the theatre are the large, handcrafted wrought-iron chandeliers, dimensional plasterwork, and hand-stenciled artwork throughout the building. Unlike many theatres built during the 20’s and later remodeled, the original proscenium (stage opening) is intact, protected by the mid 50’s addition of a wide movie screen and masking drapery. Original dressing rooms and an orchestra pit are also in place, as well as lofts for a pipe organ that was part of the building until sound motion pictures made it obsolete. The outdoor rooftop scaffolding sign is unique as it was originally lit, not by neon, but by dozens of incandescent light bulbs.

Through the years, the theatre changed owners and names several times. After a 62-year run, the Fox Fullerton closed in 1987. After a successful campaign to purchase the property and save it from demolition in the early 2000’s, plans took shape to rebuild, renovate and bring the Fox Theatre to life again.