Upon seeing the abandoned movie house on Chapman Avenue and Harbor Boulevard with its iconic, yet rusty, sign atop the roof, the Fox Theatre could be mistaken as the only historic site in Fullerton. The property is now strewed with litter and a boarded-up box office, which replace what was once a lavish spot for entertainment decades ago.
Although its current run-down state makes the theatre stand out among all the modern-day businesses and institutions throughout Fullerton, there are more pieces to the city’s history.
Today, Fullerton has a population of roughly 135,000, and is comprised of residential, commercial, industrial and educational environments.
Tom Elliot, owner of Past Times Collectibles, a sports memorabilia shop located at the Villa del Sol Shopping Center in downtown Fullerton, has seen the city grow and develop during his residence.
“We’ve got a city within a city, where you’re talking about Cal State Fullerton, Fullerton Community College, the College of Optometry, Western State College of Law,” said Elliot, who’s lived in Fullerton for more than 30 years. “When you think about it, when all those colleges are in session, that’s another 50,000 people in the city of Fullerton.”
Before it became what it is today, Fullerton was once a thriving agricultural town.
The city was founded by George and Edward Amerige, two brothers from Massachusetts who headed to Southern California in hopes of purchasing land.
After hearing a few Santa Fe Railway subsidiaries had similar aspirations, they began negotiating with George H. Fullerton, the president of the Pacific Land and Improvement Company.
Talks were successful, and in 1887, the Amerige brothers purchased 430 acres for $68,000 and the city of Fullerton was born.
Throughout the years, Fullerton gradually went from being an agricultural region to a booming city clustered with numerous urban landmarks.
Many of them were made using Spanish colonial revival architecture, known for its smooth stucco walls, balconies, and terracotta ornaments.
A Fullerton landmark built of such architecture is the Santa Fe Depot, located right by the Fullerton Transportation Center.
Built in 1930, it replaced the Victorian depot that was once there. Today, the Santa Fe Depot functions as an Amtrak ticket office, a cafe, and a passenger waiting area.
Kimberly Petras, 16, a local high school sophomore, often goes to the Santa Fe Express Cafe to unwind and have lunch.
“I like coming here not just because of the food, but just everything else about the place. It’s kind of rigid and dark inside which adds a nice vintage kind of feel to the cafe,” said Petras.
Another Fullerton historical site is the Muckenthaler Cultural Center. Before it became a museum and event venue, the “The Muck” was a mansion. Built in 1924 by Walter and Adella Muckenthaler, the 8.5-acre mansion housed 18 rooms. Harold Muckenthaler later donated the home to the city in 1965, requesting that the mansion be turned into a museum.
Due to the growing industrial economy in the early 1920s, new businesses and housing developments sprung up throughout Downtown Fullerton.
Today, “DTF” is a major hotspot for entertainment and hangouts. The district is home to many shops such as Buffalo Exchange, Otto and Roadkill Enterprise. Many restaurants and bars could be found as well, such as Florentine’s Downtown Grill, Stadium Tavern and The Olde Ship.
Lauren Black, 23, moved to Fullerton from Laguna Niguel in August 2012. She said she is enjoying what Fullerton has to offer so far.
She often visits music venues, such as the Slide Bar, Continental Room and the Commonwealth Lounge, to hang out and see her friends perform.
“I just love the atmosphere there, it’s a very different place,” said Black. “I feel like people are more real there and that’s kind of why I like this city.”
By Jennifer Nguyen