Fullerton Fox Theatre: Curtain may rise in 3 to 5 years

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Leland Wilson, Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation president, said it could still be three to five years until the Fullerton Fox Theatre reopens to the public (Deanna Trombley/ Daily Titan).

Despite major renovations to the Fullerton Fox Theatre complex in the past year, Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation president Leland Wilson said it could still be three to five years until the building reopens to the public.

The foundation bought the theater in 2005 and anticipated its construction cost at $10 million. Since then, the price tag has jumped and is estimated to cost about $24 million to restore the theater.

According to former foundation executive director Jon Wagner, the high cost has been due to the amount retrofitting work the structure needs.

To help fund the project, the Foundation has received $2 million in grants from the state and a $6 million loan from the Culture of Redevelopment Agency.

There is also interest in the restaurant space that will help with the funding, said Wilson.

“If the foundation can raise money for the additional work, or receive grants through the state, then it (reopening the theater) will all depend on funding,” said Christine Pilatil, Fullerton city project manager.

Wilson said the theater was shut down by the city in 1987 in part because the owner would not seismically retrofit the theater.

Earthquake retrofitting, Wagner said, is very expensive but necessary to keep the building. In the event of an earthquake, a 30-foot extension wall will save the theater from falling.

The city of Fullerton has completed the portion of earthquake retrofitting, Pilatil said.

Other recent renovations include historic restoration, plumbing, electrical, exterior aesthetics and grease traps in the kitchen, which are now required in restaurants.

Although there has been a lot of progress, there are still a lot of things that need to be done, like providing enough light, Pilatil said.

Although the theater still holds events, she said it is by a case-by-case basis.

The city is currently working with the Foundation on getting tenants in the spaces in the Firestone building, the spaces around the theater and the courtyard, which are complete.

Located on the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Avenue, the theater has been a part of Fullerton for more than 90 years, and according to Wilson its reopening will benefit the community.

“I think it will bring us more sophisticated entertainment to the downtown, and it will bring us up to history to the community,” he said.

Wilson added that reopening the theater will also bring Hollywood to the community up to hold events where actors perform and movies premiere like it had in the past.

Businesses around the theater said reopening would create more foot traffic and attract more customers.

Eric Gardne, a barista at Starbucks on Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Avenue, said his location gets a lot of business from younger customers due to the bar scene in the downtown area and reopening the theater would bring in more families.

According to the Fox Theatre website, reopening the theater would have great business potential because there are no movie theaters in the downtown area, and the closest independent art film houses are over 10 miles away.

AMS Planning & Research, contracted by the foundation, estimates that The Fox will earn about 70 percent of its operating budget from facility rentals, ticket sales, service charges and fees.

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