Fox Oakland Theater Restoration Project
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Curtain set to rise on reborn Fox Theater

When the Fox Theater opened its doors in October 1928, 20,000 patrons thronged Oakland’s newest movie palace to experience music on the Mighty Wurlitzer, a live stage show and one of the latest innovations, the “talkies” that were replacing silent films. But one of the biggest draws was the massive domed theater itself, an opulent and exotic mix of terra cotta tiles, dizzyingly detailed paintings and golden deities, reminiscent of a Brahmin Temple.

For more than three decades, the Fox held its own as a first-run movie house in a bustling downtown entertainment and shopping district. But as the advent of television dealt a blow to the movie business and suburban malls and multiplexes began to lure people away from downtowns in cities nationwide, Oakland was no exception.

The Fox closed its doors in 1966. Downtown lost its theaters, its department stores and much of its vitality. The grand Fox, closed longer today than it was ever open, escaped the wrecking ball more than once, but suffered fires, leaky roofs, decay and graffiti. Schemes for its revival, including hollowing out its interior for a shopping mall walkway, came and went.

But now, the staccato bursts of jackhammers and circular saws at Telegraph Avenue and 18th Street are heralding a rebirth that will give new life not only to the Fox but to the surrounding Uptown neighborhood. Eighty years to the day from its Grand Opening, the Fox is scheduled to reopen on October 27, 2008, as a live music venue, arts school and restaurant, its aged and rain-damaged interior restored to its once-breathtaking beauty. The hope is that the theater’s opening finally will anchor the long-awaited renaissance of an Uptown entertainment district of theaters, restaurants and nightspots.

“It will activate a full city block,” said developer Phil Tagami, managing general partner at California Capital Group, who is leading the $58 million restoration effort. “This is kind of a higher calling. How can you not have a sense of pride when you can put it all back together and respect the history and heritage?”