Fox Oakland Theatre
California| Posted: 2/11/2009
When the Fox Theater opened its doors in October 1928, 20,000 patrons visited Oakland's newest movie palace to experience music on the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, 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.
By the 1960s, the theater was in decline due to competition from smaller multiplex theaters and television. It stopped showing first-run movies in 1962 and permanently closed in 1970. After closing, the theater barely escaped destruction several times. It suffered an arson fire in 1973 but was not heavily damaged. The city considered tearing it down in 1975 to make room for a parking lot. The theater was spared when it was made an Oakland City Landmark in 1978. The following year it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1996, the City of Oakland bought the building for $3 million from a local couple who had dated at the theatre and couldn't bear to see it lost. Preservationists clamored for help when rains penetrated the dilapidated roof and ruined some of its walls and ceiling, even spawning mushrooms on the carpet.
The tide finally started to turn when a concerned group of citizens formed the Friends of the Oakland Fox, a private nonprofit organization, and began working with the City of Oakland and other parties to help rescue the theater. The group's involvement, along with that of the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, was an essential element in forming the public-private partnership that led to obtaining funds for restoring the marquee and sign blade and other monies for repair of the facade, which served as the catalyst for securing the remaining funding required to complete the massive rehabilitation project. California Capital Group, led by developer Phil Tagami, headed up the development team that transformed the badly-damaged theater into a live performing arts venue with ground floor retail space, and adjacent new construction that houses a public charter school for artistically talented youth. The grand opening of the Fox Oakland in February 2009 anchors the long-awaited renaissance of an Uptown entertainment district of theaters, restaurants, and nightspots.
THE PROPERTY and PROJECT
The art deco design and interior architecture of the Fox Oakland is distinguished by Indian and Hinduartistic motifs, making the building one of the few remaining structures of its kind from that era. Its rehabilitation includes the renovation of the existing theatre space and two commercial wings, with new construction above the latter. Other new additions include state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems, new heating and air conditioning, mechanical and electrical systems, and bathrooms, as well as cable and Internet access. A substantial investment was also made in a seismic retrofitting of the historic structure.
The complex now consists of a 3,800-seat performing arts theater; administrative, studio and classroom space for the Oakland School for the Arts, and a ground floor restaurant. The school, opened in 2002 as a public charter school, now has 340 students in sixth through twelfth grades who study vocal or instrumental music, theater, dance or visual arts. The high school is Oakland's highest scoring academically. Two-thirds of the students are Oakland residents, and about the same percentage is African American. The vision for the new school includes permanent classrooms, rehearsal spaces and use of the restored theater for special student performances. This will enable the school to vacate the tents and trailers it is currently occupying and expand its enrollment to 500 students. The school director envisions the space as serving as an arts center, with a youth symphony and an arts organization for underserved youth likely taking up residence. The Director also hopes a citywide youth jazz band, gospel choir and theater program will operate out of the Fox.
NATIONAL TRUST INVOLVEMENT
NTCIC partnered with its investor, Bank of America, to bring $11.4 million in historic rehabilitation and New Markets Tax Credit equity to the project. This infusion fulfilled a gap in financing that still existed despite the Oakland Redevelopment Agency's contribution of all possible resources. In 2003, the project received a $5,000 grant from the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors to assist with developing treatments for interior detail, and in 2006, it received a $75,000 grant from the Partners in Preservation program between the National Trust and American Express. That support made it possible to restore the original Art Deco ticket booth.
This project returns a beloved historic theater to a productive use and anchors the economic revitalization of Oakland's Uptown District. The project is expected to generate 600 permanent jobs in a one- to two-block radius of the theatre.
BY THE NUMBERS
Classroom, administrative and studio space for a high school and a 3,800-seat performing arts center
Total Development Cost:
$70 million (MM)
140,000 gross square feet
California Capital Group
Tax Credit Investor
Jim Heilbronner, Architectural Dimensions,
Kurt Schindler, ELS Architecture and Urban Design,
Key Project Financing:
$11.4 MM – NTCIF III federal/state historic and New Markets Tax Credit equity investment
$31 MM – Oakland Redevelopment Agency and Bank of America NMTC ($8.7 MM) equity investment
$18 MM—Managing member equity contribution (from corporate, foundation, governmental grants)
$6.5 MM –Bank of
Construction – 394
Permanent – 1,372
For more information contact:
Corinne Ingrassia, Director of Marketing, NTCIC
Phone: 202.588.6278. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org