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Home / 1920s / San Francisco’s fabulous Fox Theatre was a lesson in the city’s tenuous loyalty and devotion.
San Francisco’s fabulous Fox Theatre was a lesson in the city’s tenuous loyalty and devotion.

San Francisco’s fabulous Fox Theatre was a lesson in the city’s tenuous loyalty and devotion.

When the Fox Theater was built in 1929, it seemed as if there weren’t enough adjectives to describe the movie theater’s magnificence.

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  • The San Francisco Chronicle called the opening “a spectacle of such beauty and magnitude that it seemed rather a fancy of one’s mind rather than the inaugural night of another commercial enterprise.”

OPENING NIGHT

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  • But the life of the 4,651-seat theater was a lesson in how tenuous loyalty and devotion can be in San Francisco, whether it’s politics, business or even architecture.
  • Three decades later, the Fox was declared a “monument to bad taste.”

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  • The people who wanted to save it were a “sad cult.”
  • Chronicle columnist Herb Caen openly mocked the theater, while business journalists wrote breathlessly about the tower complex that would be built in its place.

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  • On March 1, 1963, it came down, to be replaced by a dull office and apartment complex.

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  • The steel wrecking ball painted a lackluster gold for the occasion, crashed through the west wall of the opulent Market Street movie palace at 10:33 a.m. high above some 200 generally disinterested bystanders.

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  • Inside, on the abandoned third floor, a wall-length mirror shattered in the cavernous ladies’ lounge. A stained glass sign, made in 1929 by Tiffany’s, swung violently in a corridor lined with faded red satin.

SAN FRANCISCO’S FOX

The Fox was the largest theatre west of Chicago.

  • A hundred stars, celebrities, and studio heads were shuttled up to San Francisco from Hollywood on a second section of the all-Pullman SP Lark, including Gary Cooper, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Joan Crawford.
  • A newspaper reporter was so blinded by the spectacle, all he could do was string together seemingly random words jotted down in his notebook.

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  • Baroque in almost every aspect, the Fox also anticipated the coming of Art Deco in such details as light fixtures and the balcony cosmetic room.
  • William Fox made sure his wife, Eve Leo Fox, was kept at arm’s length away from the project. Mrs. Fox considered herself to be an interior decorator and she had insisted on being allowed to personally oversee the decoration and appointments of the other three “Super Foxes” built during that period.
  • With her work on the Detroit, St. Louis, and Atlanta Foxes, she was kept too busy to oversee the appointment of the San Francisco Fox.

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THE LAST MAJOR MOVIE THEATRE

The Fox was San Francisco’s last major movie house. More than half again as large as anything else on Market Street, and three long blocks from the hub of the movie house district, the Fox was not always a spectacular money maker, but neither was it, as too often pictured a white elephant. Nevertheless, by the late 50s, its mighty overhead and shrinking revenues were converging perilously.

When neither the city government nor the voters could imagine the big house as a performing arts or convention facility (an idea but half a decade ahead of its time), the Fox was doomed.

A memorable benefit show closed the house on February 16, 1963. By late summer it was gone, eventually replaced by a dull and bland combination office and apartment tower.

THIRTY-FOUR YEAR HISTORY

The San Francisco Fox existed for a mere 34 years. Before demolition, the interior furnishings and decorations were auctioned off. The main Wurlitzer pipe organ was removed from the Fox and later installed in Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre.

In designing the Los Angeles Theatre, architect S. Charles Lee included many of the details from the San Francisco Fox. The Los Angeles opened in 1932 and is still standing today. It offers many movie events and is used for film & TV locations.

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ALL ABOUT THE FOX

On opening night a colorful parade lit the dozens of Hollywood stars with units from the Army and Navy as well as city and, county officials.

  • Fireworks and dancing at the Civic Center and the introduction of the greatest list of notables ever assembled in the city were the programs for the day.
  • Chief interest, however, was the theater itself, hailed by architects, – builders and world-famous theater executives as the most beautiful in the world.
  • Two years under construction, the $5 million palatial theatres, magnificent, luxurious and grand were the superlatives on the lips of everyone attending the formal opening night.

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  • The vast auditorium was spread over an entire block, seating nearly 6,000 persons.
  • Decorated in delicate gold and ivory shades and minus the unappealing gingerbread effects ao common in theater construction it was hailed as one of the artistic triumphs of theater construction.
  • The comfort of patrons was the first thought of the builders, including luxurious restrooms, smoking rooms for both women and men and special cosmetic rooms for the ladies.

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  • Spacious foyers abound with a grand lobby extending across the entire front of the building.
  • The grand lobby ended in the beautiful grand stairway which is comparable to that of the famous Paris Opera House.
  • Broad stairways, approach every level, ascending easily to the topmost balcony promenade.
  • From the grand lobby, two roomy passenger elevators ascend to the upper reaches of the balcony.

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  • The stage, upon which a battalion of soldiers could be massed, is equipped with every modern device known to stagecraft.
  • Almost the entire stage platform is an elevator that can be raised and lowered at will. The floor of the orchestra pit and the organ consoles are also on elevators.
  • There are three organ consoles in the new Fox.

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  • One is on the stage, another in the pit and a third in the lobby with Its console on the mezzanine floor.
  • This last mentioned organ will be used to entertain patrons who are waiting for seats.
  • Stage dressing rooms are the finest, a new ventilation system assures a plentiful supply of washed, Jce cooled air at all times, New lighting effects are innumerable.
  • For the Fox Organist Jamie Erickson, one of the most celebrated of American organists was engaged as the solo and presentation organist for the Fox Theater.
  • Organ numbers were played the world’s largest and finest organ will be one of the weekly musical features of Fox theater programs.

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