sign atop the Fox Fullerton Theater; will the lights ever come back
Brief History of the Fox Fullerton Theatre
The Fox Fullerton
Theatre is located on the prominent corner of Harbor Boulevard and
Chapman Avenue in historic downtown Fullerton,
California, four miles north of Disneyland. The theater sits on
a 152-foot by 140-foot parcel (.49 acres). Constructed in 1924-25
by active local businessman C. Stanley Chapman (1899-1984), son
of the regionally famous Charles C. Chapman (1853-1944), the mixed-use
building was designed to function as a combination vaudeville/silent
movie house flanked by a one-story retail wing and a two-story café.
It was named Chapmans Alician Court Theatre after the builders
wife Alice Ellen (1903-1981), but as ownership changed so did the
name of the theater, and it was variously known as the Mission Court
Theatre, the Universal Mission Court Theatre, the Fox Mission Theatre,
and the Fox Fullerton Theatre. The theaters first manager
was C. Stanley Chapmans father-in-law Harry Lee Wilber (1875-1946),
who left another of Fullertons picture theaters, the nearby
Rialto (1917) at 219 North Harbor Boulevard, to operate the Fox.
The theater was originally located at 500 North Spadra (now Harbor)
Boulevard. In 1929, an L-shaped commercial structure on an adjacent
lot was added to the south side of the building. At various times
over the years addresses changed, and the Fox is now situated at
510-512 North Harbor Boulevard.
Renaissance-inspired theatre has been the dominant landmark in Fullertons
historic downtown area for over 70 years. Fullerton is one of the
few cities in Orange County and Southern California at-large to
both preserve and to maintain its downtown commercial core. The
citys oldest surviving commercial block the Dean Block (1899-1901)
is situated at 111-133 North Harbor Boulevard, just four blocks
south of the Fox Theatre. As Fullerton grew and expanded, downtown
buildings were constructed northward on Spadra (later Harbor) Boulevard.
The 1920s heralded an economic boom for the city, sparked in part
by the citrus industry and oil wells in hills to the north. Building
permits soared to a record $2 million, and the city launched an
impressive (by 1920s standards) $150,000 public works program to
make water, street, and sewage improvements. It was during this
era of expansion that the Fox Fullerton Theatre was constructed
at the then enormous cost of $300,000.
of both historical and cultural significance built between 1899
and 1930 surround the Fox. These structures represent the roots
of the community, and the downtown area still contains many of the
citys most impressive buildings. A number of nearby downtown
buildings are now on the National Register of Historic Places, including
the Sullivanesque Chapman Building (1923) at 110 East Wilshire Avenue,
the Beaux Arts Farmers and Merchants Bank (1904) at 122 North Harbor
Boulevard, the Spanish Colonial Revival Plummer Auditorium (1930)
at 210 East Chapman Avenue, and the recently restored former Masonic
Temple (1919), now the Spring Field Banquet and Conference Center,
at 505 North Harbor Boulevard, directly across from the Fox Theatre.
dedicated on May 28, 1925, the Fox Fullerton Theatre was the show
place of Orange County. Designed and built by Meyer and Holler,
Inc., an influential firm noted for its opulent commercial and theatrical
structures, the theater represented the height of Hollywood glamour
and sophistication. The Fox Theatre was Orange Countys first
authentic movie palace, and C. Stanley Chapman and his company Orange
Belt Theatres lavishly promoted the theaters opening and premier.
The opening night program featured the "latest stereoscopic
novelty" entitled Lunacy, vaudeville skits, and "the Famous
Pacific Coast Star" Miss Florence Roberts and her Company in
"The Woman Intervenes" by J. Hartley Manners, author of
"Peg O My Heart." Some of the musical numbers included
"The Voice of the Nightingale" with organ accompaniment,
and as a prologue to the feature film, Alfred Noyes poem "The
Highwayman" set to music, and a duet, "Moonlight and Roses."
The feature film making its West Coast debut was Dick Turpin, which
portrayed the cowboy star Tom Mix riding his horse throughout the
English countryside. The movie was accompanied by stirring music
from the orchestra pit conducted by Bayard Flass, who left the Orpheum
circuit to take the Fullerton post. The theater also featured a
Marr and Colton concert organ, which provided an extensive array
of musical effects. When installed, the organ was one of the best
in the world and the first on the Pacific Coast. The organ and the
symphony orchestra combined to provide the correct interpretation
of motion pictures.
the expansive 22,280 square foot theater was entered from Harbor
Boulevard through an arched garden courtyard with a staircase on
the north side reaching to the second story. Doors with mullioned
windows and radiant panels lined the open Alician Court area, which
served as a gathering place for theater- and moviegoers. In keeping
with the buildings Italian Renaissance theme, the exterior
featured a balcony, wrought-iron works, a fountain, reproductions
of terra-cotta urns and vases, flowers, vines, and shrubbery, and
a palm tree. The urn at the top of the stairs was the largest ever
cast in California at the time. Hanging plants topped the two-story
back portion. Above the loggia was an impressive Greek-inspired
theatrical mask, part of a stone motif facing the boulevard, which
had colored lights in the eyes. At the back of the announcement
signs, facing the street, was a battery of colored floodlights that
bathed the court.
When the one-
and two-story building was constructed it not only met but also
exceeded theatrical building requirements and standards and featured
the then state-of-the-art in lighting, heating, and ventilation.
The auditorium floor, interior partitions, and the framework were
of steel, reinforced concrete, and hollow-tile. The 1000-seat theater
auditorium featured a highly decorated proscenium arch, canvas murals,
elaborate doorways, and large chandeliers and Mica lamps hanging
from the ceiling. Large enough to accommodate traveling road shows,
the stage was 32 feet deep, 65 feet wide, and contained a 75 foot-high
loft for flying the scenery. The mezzanine featured Oriental rugs,
a sunken alcove with couches, comfortable chairs, and a fireplace.
Rather than padded carpeting, the Fox Theatre contained wooden floors,
tile floors in the restrooms, and in the case of the foyer, a squared
and stained cement floor. Oriental rugs were placed over the flooring.
There were ten dressing rooms as well as a lounge area under the
stage for actors and changing rooms for ushers. In keeping with
the Italian Renaissance ambience, an elegant fountain graced the
lobby, doorways to the loge and balcony were arched and had the
appearance of Italian marble, ornate moldings and columns were added
throughout the entire interior, lantern-like lamps with long, torch-like
standards were hung on walls, and Renaissance-looking painted figures
covered the domed ceilings. Blue and gold were the predominant colors.
vaudeville/silent movie houses of the 1910s and 1920s, the theater
was constructed to accommodate additional uses. The open courtyard
was designed to be flanked by retail and restaurant wings. Adjacent
to the north, but not part of the theater building proper, was the
two-story Mary Louise Tea Rooms (502 North Harbor), owned by Charles
C. Chapmans sister, Dolla E. Harris (1864-1960), who owned
the main tearoom in the Barker Brothers Department Store in downtown
Los Angeles. Mrs. Harris establishments were known for their
excellent service and dining elegance. Two years later, the Mission
Inn replaced the tearooms. Adjacent to the south was a retail wing.
Occupants of this single story section of the theater changed over
the years, but the original tenant in 1926 was Lauras Flower
Shoppe (500 North Harbor).
Over the decades,
the Fox Fullerton Theatre became popular with both tourists and
residents. Theater promoters encouraged visitors to engage in a
day of "motoring, dining, and theater" by taking the "orange-scented
highway" to Fullerton where they would see the best in vaudeville,
cinema art, music, and stage presentations. Movie premiers were
regularly scheduled, and the theater featured personal appearances
by many film luminaries, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford,
Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Mack Sennett, Vilma Banky, Colleen
More, Janet Gaynor, Dolores Del Rio, Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney.
Along with films, stock companies and big time stage shows, such
as "George Whites Scandals", continued to appear
at the theater until the 1950s.
AND HOLLER, INC.
Stanley Chapman selected the building firm of Meyer and Holler,
Inc. to design the Fox Fullerton Theatre, he hired a much sought
after design firm noted for its lavish and custom-built residential
and commercial structures throughout the Los Angeles area. Along
with Benjamin Marcus Priteca and S. Charles Lee, Meyer and Holler
dominated theater construction and design on the West Coast. Many
of the firms architectural designs, especially those introduced
at Graumans Egyptian Theatre, were imitated throughout the
United States. Known until the mid-1920s as the Milwaukee Building
Company, the firm was founded around 1907, maintaining offices in
Los Angeles (315 Wright & Callendar Building). The firm initially
specialized in building modest bungalows, but later the company
expanded and began to specialize in custom-built homes in Mount
Washington, Windsor Square, Santa Monica, Brentwood, and other fashionable
suburbs. After World War I, the firm moved out of the homebuilding
business into large-scale commercial construction. Hollers
son Wesley C. Holler (1893-1981) joined the firm around 1926 and
after 1932 succeeded his father as Mendel S. Meyers partner.
The firm remained in business until the 1940s, but the company began
to decline after the 1929 Crash on Wall Street when its lavish architectural
style became unfashionable.
In the 1910s
and 1920s, Meyer and Holler had many influential film and business
leaders as clientsHarry Chandler, Frank P. Flint, King Gillette,
Samuel Meyer, King Vidor, Henry Culver, etc.for whom they
designed and built homes and movies studios throughout the Los Angeles
region. Meyer and Holler also designed and built apartment buildings,
hotels, banks, and churches, including the Long Beach Museum of
Art (2300 East Ocean Boulevard), the historic Walker Building (401
Pine Avenue) in Long Beach, the Petroleum Building (417 West Olympic
Boulevard) in Los Angeles, and the Mary Tustin House (4973 North
Figueroa) in Los Angeles, a two-story Craftsman house built for
the widow of Columbus Tustin, founder of the City of Tustin. A number
of Meyer and Holler buildings are now on the National Register of
In the early
1920s, the firm won contracts for many large structures in the heart
of Hollywood, including the Hollywood Athletic Club (6525 Sunset
Boulevard), Graumans Egyptian Theatre (6712 Hollywood Boulevard),
Graumans (now Manns) Chinese Theatre (6925 Hollywood
Boulevard), the First National Bank Building (6777 Hollywood Boulevard),
second only in height to the Los Angeles City Hall when it was built
in 1927, and the Café Montmarte (6753 Hollywood Boulevard), one
of the most glamorous nightclubs of the time. It is primarily these
Hollywood buildings that have established the worldwide fame of
Meyer and Holler. The Egyptian Theatre is considered Hollywoods
first authentic movie palace, and Meyer and Hollers masterpiece,
the Chinese Theatre, is the most famous movie palace in the world,
still attracting millions of tourists to its legendary courtyard.
It was between the design and building of the Egyptian Theatre (1922)
and the Chinese Theatre (1927) that Meyer and Holler designed and
completed the Fox Fullerton Theatre. The Fox Fullerton Theatre remains
the firms major architectural contribution to Orange County.
It is also the only one of Meyer and Hollers small-to-midsize
theaters that survives.
their opulent movie palaces, Meyer and Holler specialized in what
is now called "exotic" or "theme-oriented" architecture
which catered to the wildest fantasies of movie patrons. The firms
movie houses generally featured a standard floor plan, forecourts,
and simple and plain surfaces. Approaches to the theaters were through
a dramatic courtyard opening on to a busy boulevard. Once inside
the forecourt, moviegoers were treated to fantastical, highly decorative,
and elaborate motifs, all magically designed to transport visitors
to another time and place. Each design elementtheater seats,
carpets, drapes, drinking fountains, stage curtains, furniture,
ticket booths, landscaping, etc.was organized around a central
architectural theme. The Chinese Theatre, for instance, featured
such Far Eastern effects as red doors, a pagoda, intricately carved
silver dragon sculptures, and a gong in the courtyard. The Italianate
Fox Fullerton Theatre, in turn, featured decorative elements and
motifs all designed to recall the Italian Renaissance. Each of Meyer
and Hollers theaters were unique, although imitation by other
architects quickly followed.
T. HEINSBERGEN AND COMPANY
unique feature of the Fox Theatres interior was six dazzling
canvas murals on the walls of the auditorium featuring different
periods of the discovery, settlement, and development of California.
The three panels on the right wall (facing the stage) depicted the
Spanish discovery and exploration period; the three panels on the
left wall displayed Californias earliest days, including the
coming of pioneers. C. F. Brunkhorst, an artist working for the
firm of A. T. Heinsbergen and Company, designed all of the murals.
In the 1920s when the company reached its height in popularity,
Brunckhorst was one of over 180 artist painters employed by the
company. These artistic crewmembers created tapestries and painted
spectacular ceilings and wall decorations, coordinating the artwork
to complement theater décor.
Anthony T. Heinsbergen
(1895-1981), a nationally acclaimed Dutch-born muralist, began his
craft as an apprentice in Holland. He migrated to Los Angeles in
1906. His reputation was established in 1924 when Alexander Pantages
selected him to do the interiors of his chain of 22 theaters. During
his long career, Heinsbergen decorated the interiors of 757 theaters
throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico (probably close
to 200 survive). The Fox Theatre murals were Heinsbergens
major commission in Orange County. His major commissions in Los
Angeles included murals for the Los Angeles City Hall (200 North
Spring Street), the downtown Biltmore Hotel (506 South Grand Avenue),
and the Wiltern Theatre (3790 Wilshire Boulevard), the showcase
movie palace for Warner Brothers. He was most proud of his classically
inspired murals for the Orpheum Theater in Vancouver, British Columbia,
where his favorite mural is 70 feet above the floor. A labor of
love, the mural was painted on canvas by Heinsbergen in his studio,
then applied to the dome like wallpaper. Heinsbergen used a variety
of painting styles for his murals, but he is largely remembered
for his "delightful mish-mash of byzantine sumptuousness, Art
Deco cubism and pure kitsch, perfect for the timeless and vulgar
opulence of moving-going."
In 1955, the
vibrantly colored murals in the Fox Theatre were painted over. In
1989, the owner of the Fox Theatre called out Tony Heinsbergen,
the son of Anthony Heinsbergen and the current owner of the company,
to determine the feasibility of restoring the murals. After examining
the murals, Mr. Heinsbergen noted that an initial sampling of them
indicated four were covered with a water-based paint and could be
easily restored. The rear two, however, hanging on the right and
left balcony area, had been painted over several times and different
paints had been used, making restoration difficult. Heinsbergen
recommended that these murals be reproduced rather than restored.
All of the original drawings remain at the offices of A. T. Heinsbergen
and Company in West Hollywood. The company now specializes in both
interior decoration and restoration work. The firm coordinated the
restoration of murals in the Fresno Tower Theatre and the Orinda
West Coast Theaters began to lease and manage the theater, then
known as the Universal Mission Court Theatre. West Coast Theaters
later merged with the Fox Film Corporation, and it was in the 1930s
that the Fullerton movie house became known as the Fox Fullerton
Theatre. The Fullerton theater was one of many cinemas operated
by the Fox West Coast Agency, but it was the largest theater owned
by the company in Orange County. The original builder of the theater
C. Stanley Chapman traded the theater and other buildings in March
1930 for a 940-acre ranch between Redlands and San Bernardino owned
by Mr. A. Gregory.
and exterior of the Fox Theatre were altered in 1929, 1930, and
again in 1955. Alterations to the theater paralleled technological
changes in the film industry. To accommodate sound and the advent
of "talkies", "highly scientific equipment"
was added to the then Mission Court Theatre in 1929 at a cost of
$35,000. Unveiled to an eager audience on February 17, 1929, the
new sound equipment brought all three types of talking picturesVitaphone,
Movietone, and Photophoneto the theater, making the Fox the
first theater in Orange County to feature talking pictures. The
first "all-dialogue" picture shown in Orange County was
Give and Take starring Jean Hersholt and George Sidney. In 1930,
the Fox West Coast Agency embarked on a mission to "modernize"
the theater. The entrance and forecourt were expanded and remodeled
using the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood as a model. The box office,
which had been located in the main part of the building, was placed
directly in the center of the forecourt near the sidewalk. The original
attraction board was removed and replaced by a neon marquee installed
directly above the arched entranceway to the theater. A large neon
Fox Theatre sign, visible for miles, replaced the illuminated Mission
Theatre sign on the rear roof. To bring viewing depth to featured
films, a mammoth Magnascope screen27 feet in length and running
the length of the stagewas added. The interior was also redecorated
and refurbished: new carpet was laid throughout the theater, new
drapes were added, and new furniture was installed in the foyer
and mezzanine. In 1955, the Mann Corporation made additional changes
to both the interior and exterior. To accommodate changes again
in technology, a new "stereophonic" sound system was installed,
and a wider "eye intensity" curved movie screen that ran
wall-to-wall and was adaptable to CinemaScope, 3D, or VistaVision
was installed. New seats, carpet, and drapes were added, along with
a colorful concession bar, and a new "free-flowing" Westinghouse
air-conditioning system. To take advantage of Americas growing
fascination with the automobile, which increased traffic down Harbor
Boulevard, glitzy changes were made to the theaters exterior.
The 1930 marquee was replaced with a projecting center neon marquee.
Glass frame poster boards were added, and the 1930 box office was
replaced by a modernized version.
In May 1987,
the theater was closed when it became too costly for the existing
independent theater operator to run and repair. Mr. Edward G. Lewis,
an attorney who lives and works in Los Angeles, currently owns the
Fox Fullerton Theatre, which is for sale. The Fullerton Redevelopment
Agency is seeking a qualified buyer who will sensitively restore
the theater, a City of Fullerton designated historic landmark.
Alician Court Theatre [Opening Night Program]." Fullerton,
CA: [Privately Published, 1925.
Theater at Hollywood, California." American Architect, August
20, 1927, p. 251-268.
Chapman City Holdings in New Hands: A. Gregory, Redlands, Exchanges
Fullerton Daily News Tribune, March 31, 1930, p. 1.
Court to Be Ablaze: Theatre in Hollywood Serves as Model."
Fullerton Daily News Tribune, October 2, 1930, p. 1.
to Get New Showhouse." Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1924,
pt. 5, p. 5.
and Robert Winter. Los Angeles: an Architectural Guide. Salt Lake
City, UT: Gibbs-Smith, 1994.
"Artist Was Famous for Deliberate Excess [Heinsbergen]."
Los Angeles Times, June 22, 1981, pt. 1, p. 14.
"A Theater Designed in the Egyptian Style." Architect
and Engineer, March 1923, p. 77-84.
Seats: Movie Palaces of Tinseltown. Pasadena: Navigator Press, 1997.
American Picture Palaces: the Architecture of Fantasy. New York:
Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1981.
Movie Palaces: Survivors of an Elegant Era. New York: Clarkson N.
Potter, Inc., 1980.
"Old Firm Keeps Young Remolding Past; Theater and Hotels Among
Its Major Restoration Projects." Los Angeles Times, April 28,
1985, pt. 8, p. 2.
Sexton, R. W.
and B. F. Betts. American Theatres of Today. New York: Architectural
Book Publishing Company, Inc., 1927.
M. The Fox That Got Away. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1988.
Films Open Sunday: Mission Theater to Offer Latest in Photoplay
Entertainment Here." Fullerton Daily New Tribune, February
16, 1929, p. 1.
AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE FOX FULLERTON THEATRE ARE AVAILABLE IN THE
LAUNER ROOM OF THE FULLERTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
questions about the history of the Fox Fullerton Theatre may be
referred to Debora Richey.