A Longer History of the Fox Complex
Built in 1925 as a combination vaudeville/silent movie house by prominent local businessman C. Stanley Chapman, the Fox was originally named Chapman’s Alician Court Theatre in honor of his wife, Alice Ellen.
Often called a “theater with a pedigree,” the Fox is the work of Meyer and Holler, the firm that designed and built Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian Theatres, as well as hundreds of other famous southern California landmark buildings. The Fox Fullerton remains the firm’s major architectural contribution to Orange County.
When it opened, the Italian Renaissance-inspired theater was the show place of Orange County, 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 theater 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 theater 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. If restored, the Fox murals would pre-date all others in the city.)
The building decorator for the theater was John Gabriel Beckman, who was then working for Meyer and Holler. He was responsible for the elaborate artwork in both 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 theater are the large, handcrafted wrought-iron chandeliers, dimensional plasterwork, and hand-stenciled artwork throughout the building. Unlike most older theaters, the original proscenium (stage opening) has been protected for decades by drapery, and is intact. There are dressing rooms below the stage, an orchestra pit, and “lofts” for a pipe organ, which could be replaced by a donation offered by the Orange County Theatre Organ Society. 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 theater changed owners and names several times. After a 62-year run, the Fox Fullerton closed in 1987.
The Tea Room
The Tea Room, also built in 1925, is an independent, two-story structure adjoining the theater proper. It opened as a café that featured a veranda terrace and special loge entrance for customers to enter the theater auditorium. The original café was the Fullerton location of the very popular Mary Louise Tea Room at the Barker Bros. Department Store in downtown Los Angeles, run by Dolla Harris, C. Stanley Chapman’s aunt. While this facility changed hands many times over the years, it is most known for its uses as a restaurant, most recently as the former location of Angelo’s and Vinci’s Italian Restaurant (which also contained Stephen Peck’s dance school and cabaret theater).
The Firestone Building
The Firestone Building, attached to the theater on its south side, was built in 1929 by C. Stanley Chapman’s father, C.C. Chapman, who was famous as the “father” of the Valencia orange industry in southern California. He was also Fullerton’s first mayor, and a major benefactor of Chapman College (now Chapman University).
Mr. Chapman contracted the well-known Los Angeles architectural firm of Morgan, Walls & Clement to design and construct this project. The firm was responsible for hundreds of landmark buildings including both the Mayan and the El Capitan Theatres, as well as the ziggurat-style Samson Tyre & Rubber Company now known as the Citadel Shopping Center.
The Firestone Building was planned as an automotive garage, and retained that use until 1978 when it was converted to a multi-space retail venue.
The Firestone Building is in Spanish Colonial Revival style, although the conversion to retail space obscured much of its style and charm. A unique feature of this building is that it is one of the first examples of on-site parking in southern California. Previously, most buildings were built right up to the sidewalk. This building is one of only two remaining Morgan, Walls and Clement structures in Orange County, and the only one in north Orange County.