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The Riverside Fox Theater, built in 1928, is a Mission Revival style building in the heart of downtown Riverside, Californiamarker. The theater is the centerpiece of Riverside's Arts & Culture initiative and is currently undergoing a major renovation and restoration to become a regional performing arts facility. Renovation is expected to be completed in the Fall, 2009, with a grand-reopening in January, 2010.

The theater is best known for being the first theater to preview the 1939 film"Gone With the Wind".

History

The Riverside Fox Theater was designed by the well-known Los Angeles-based architects Clifford Balch and engineer Floyd E. Stanberry, who were responsible for designing many of the "West Coast Theaters," and later, Fox Theaters. The theater was part of a chain of West Coast theaters built by Mike and Abe Gore, Adolph Ramish, and Sol Lesser. This partnership constructed neighborhood theaters in the Southern California area throughout the 1920s. In 1928, this group sold a controlling interest to William Fox of Fox Studios and the corporation became known as Fox West Coast Theaters. This alliance with Fox created a seamless production to distribution system for the film industry. The partnership was short-lived, however, due to both antitrust and financial difficulties of Fox, and the corporation went into bankruptcy in the early 1930s. The theater came under control of the Skouras Brothers in 1932 and became part of the National Theaters chain, the largest and most successful theater chain in US history.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Fox Theater was used by the Hollywood-based film industry to show previews of future releases before final editing. Riverside was a useful preview site because it represented, demographically, small town America. By previewing their future releases in Riverside, the film companies believed they could register the reaction to their movie within the country's largest viewing demographic without having to travel too far. On September 9, 1939, the Fox Theater served as the first preview house for "Gone With the Wind," arguably one of the most important films in the history of motion pictures. Because it was the site of the first public viewing of the movie, the Fox Theater was designated a "Landmark" by the City of Riverside's Cultural Heritage Board on March 15, 1978.

During Word War II, the building served as a makeshift dormitory after the soldiers from the nearby military bases filled the city's available sleeping spaces. Manager Roy Hunt allowed the soldiers to sleep on the thick carpets of the lobby and auditorium. In 1942, the Fox Theater converted its stage and surrounding dressing rooms into a 536-person secondary theater named the "Lido," which served as a "second-run" film house for headline pictures. Alterations and additions to the original design included the small secondary theater in the former stage house, alterations to the proscenium and various new sound absorption finishes in the auditorium.

After World War II, changing demographics and fading fortunes of the surrounding neighborhood combined to decrease the viability of the Fox Theater. In 1978, the theater was acquired by Walnut Properties who used the main auditorium to show Spanish language films, while the Lido Theater became the "Pussycat Theater" where adult films were shown.

Determined eligible for entry to the National Register of Historic Places, the Fox Theater, located at the intersection of Mission Inn Avenue and Market Street, is recognized as an important locale in the history of motion pictures.

Renovation

In 2006, the City of Riverside acquired the property in order to provide a performing arts facility in the downtown area for community use. The renovation of the Fox Theater is part of the $1.68 Billion Riverside Renaissance. The Riverside Renaissance program anticipates completing more projects in five years than were completed over the last 30 . The $29.9 Million renovation of the Fox Theater was started in 2006 and is anticipated to be completed by Fall 2009. Rehabilitation of the theater will occur on all three levels of the Fox Performing Arts Center and will include an expanded stage, new stage floor, new seats, modern lighting, a restored decorative ceiling and a refurbished lobby. Once completed, the Fox will boast a 1,640-seat performing arts theater that captures the original grandeur of the building with updated amenities for patron enjoyment and comfort.

About the new operators

The renovated Fox Theater will be operated and managed by the Nederlander Organization.

References


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