Visitors get last look at Riverside's Fox Theater before makeover begins

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Friday, May 4, 2007

By DOUG HABERMAN
The Press-Enterprise

Inland residents got a glimpse of history on Thursday as the city of Riverside opened up the 1929 Fox Theater downtown for a pre-restoration celebration.

A $25 million to $30 million extreme makeover will convert the Fox into a 1,600-seat performing arts center for Broadway-style shows and more.

At the celebration, a string quartet played, a caterer served hors d'oeuvres, and two actors portraying Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara greeted visitors from the stage as people strolled down one aisle, past the stage and up another aisle.

The actors were paying tribute to the 1939 sneak preview of "Gone With the Wind" that took place at the Fox.

The theater opened Thursday a little after 6 p.m., with hundreds of people pressing to enter at Market Street and Mission Inn Avenue.

By 7:45 p.m., nearly 1,300 people had passed through, according to a count by city of Riverside special events coordinator Margie Haupt.



Mark Zaleski / The Press-Enterprise
More than 1,300 people shuffled through the Fox Theater in Riverside on Thursday
as a preview celebration to its makeover. By the time the new stage is finished, it will
be the second or third largest of Southern California's restored old theaters.



Riverside Councilwoman Nancy Hart said she was not at all surprised by the large turnout.

"We all dated here," she said. "C'mon!"

Many people brought cameras or video cameras or used cell-phone cameras to capture their visit.

Daniel Underwood shot video as he walked through. It was his first time inside the Fox, though the 30-year-old grew up in Riverside.

"I think it's beautiful," Underwood said. "It's going to be even more beautiful when they finish working on it."

Robert Wise, the restoration-project manager for the city, said the project includes a complete redo of all the plasterwork inside that simulates the appearance of painted wood.



Mark Zaleski / The Press-Enterprise
Michelle Baldwin, left, and Patrick Brien, as seen from the projection room,
stand on the Fox Theater stage greeting people during a city-hosted tour Thursday.



"It's going to look like it did when it opened in 1929," Wise said.

New seats and new carpets are also part of the plan.

The architect guiding the restoration, Richard McCann, said the stage when expanded would be the second or third largest of Southern California's restored old theaters.

New sound and lighting equipment will be installed to meet the needs of any performance artist, group or troupe making an appearance, Wise said.

"We really want to have classy acts come in," he said.

The city is hoping to complete the project by December 2008.



THE FOX Theater Highlights

OPENS: Jan. 11, 1929 (originally called the Riverside Theater)

LOCATION: 3801 Seventh St. (Renamed Mission Inn Avenue in 1995)

WESTERN TALKIE: The Oscar-nominated "In Old Arizona" is one of the films to play at the Fox Theater

CLAIM TO FAME: Shows sneak preview of "Gone With the Wind" in 1939

FOX OWNERSHIP: William Fox buys the theater and changes the name to "Fox West Coast, The Show Place of the Orange Belt"

MARCH 1942: Large stage space converted into small theater, opens as The Lido

MARCH 1978: Designated a historical landmark

APRIL 1978: Walnut Properties Inc., which owns the Pussycat Theater chain, buys the Fox

1978-1993: Shows Spanish-language films

1990s: Hosts the Riverside Film Festival

MARCH 2001: Businessman Joe Zivnak buys the Fox for $1.4 million

DECEMBER 2005: City of Riverside buys the Fox from Zivnak for $2.9 million after filing an eminent-domain case

MARCH 2006: Riverside City Council approves design and development plans for renovation

SOURCES: GLENN DEHART PAPERS (1981) (AT RIVERSIDE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM ARCHIVES), FOX THEATER PROJECT MANAGER ROBERT WISE, THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE