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Fox Theater Bakersfield

Fox Theater Bakersfield

Architects: S. Charles Lee (original design), Carl G. Moeller (1950s alterations)

First Opened: 25th December 1930 (91 years ago)

Reopened: 1st May 1953

Reopened: October 1994

Former Names: Fox Theatre

Website: thebakersfieldfox.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (661) 324-1369 Call (661) 324-1369

Address: 2001 H Street, Bakersfield, CA 93301 Show address in Google Maps (new window)


The Fox Theatre in Bakersfield opened on Christmas Day in 1930, as an atmospheric theatre with a Mediterranean village theme. In 1953 the auditorium was given a Skouras-style makeover, and today it remains one of the best preserved examples of this mid-century movie theatre style.

Featured Photos

Detailed Information

Original sketch for the Fox Theatre Building, by architect S. Charles Lee
Original sketch for the Fox Theatre Building, by architect S. Charles Lee

Architect S. Charles Lee originally envisioned the theatre anchoring a major retail center in downtown Bakersfield with open arcades at street level, however ultimately plans were scaled-back.

Ground was broken in late December 1929 and the theatre predicted was to cost $250,000; costs ultimately rose to $325,000 by the time of completion.

Lee designed the building in Spanish Colonial Revival style with mission-style tiles on the roof and white stucco walls. The building’s focal point is its eye-catching clock tower, positioned at a major intersection downtown and thus visible from the cardinal points in all directions.

The clock tower features Churrigueresque detailing around the lower windows, slender slot windows accentuating the height of the tower, “FOX” neon signage above, and large neon-lit clock faces at the top sitting just below a ornamental dome with a wind vane (weathercock) on the top.

The Fox was built primarily as a movie theatre but included stage facilities (full height scenery flying, dressing rooms, orchestra pit, etc) for vaudeville and stage presentations.

The Fox Theater Building in 2019
The Fox Theater Building in 2019

The building was somewhat scaled-down from the original plans, which called for a taller and more prominent clock tower. The lower part of the clock tower would have housed office space in an octagonal space.

The building was executed in poured concrete over steel, allowing it to withstand the 1952 Kern County earthquake (M7.3) that saw many other downtown Bakersfield buildings seriously damaged and subsequently demolished. The theatre suffered no major damage.

The lobby features dramatic sloping concrete beams, supporting the balcony, which were originally painted with stenciled geometric designs. The main floor level of the lobby featured murals depicting historic events in the history of California, along with tapestries, paintings, and maps.

The lobby stairs, rising up to the balcony level promenade overlooking the main lobby, originally featured a window to view the new and modern air chilling equipment installed in the theatre. This viewport was covered-up with a poster display area likely in the 1950s.

Sloping Ceiling of the Lobby
Sloping Ceiling of the Lobby

An original 1930s followspot, as used in the theatre, has been made a feature in the upper lobby. Also featured in this area are original “FOX” wooden chairs, still in situ from the theatre’s opening in 1930.

The 1,500-seat auditorium was originally designed in an atmospheric style, best described as “an escape to exoticism” and intended to transport patrons to a far-distant land, watching a performance al fresco under a starry sky with clouds lazily drifting past. The Fox featured a Mediterranean village theme, similar to the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara. The interior designer was Los Angeles-based, Brussels-born, Emil T. Mazy, who is well-known for painting the huge yet delicate murals of the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego.

The proscenium was flanked on either side by a trio of pillars mounted on large pedestal bases, supporting a dominant ante-proscenium reminiscent of a Spanish Mission, topped with a shallow sloping tiled roof. The Fox was designed with the Fox Grandeur process in mind, and as such the proscenium was an important framing device for the-then newer widescreen format.

Original 1930s Atmospheric Auditorium
Original 1930s Atmospheric Auditorium

Large building façades featuring imposing asymmetrical designs stood on either side of the proscenium, their large bulk hiding the organ chambers within. The rest of the auditorium sidewalls featured asymmetrical simulated buildings and ornamental walls draped with ivy, behind which were murals of rural Spanish countryside scenes painted onto the sidewalls giving way to the sky above, complete with twinkling stars and projected moving clouds. The whole affair was lit with hidden cove lighting and allowed for differing moods to be created, such as a sunset for warmth in the winter and blues during the hot summers to suggest coolness.

Brenkert F7 Master Brenograph
Brenkert F7 Master Brenograph

As was common with theatres of the time, the Fox had a Brenograph. These complex light projection machines, manufactured by the Brenkert Light Projection Company, were advertised as “Projecting Everything but the Picture”. They were most commonly used in atmospheric theatres to project moving clouds or other weather effects onto the “sky” auditorium ceiling. Brenographs were extremely versatile and could be used to project almost anything, from tableau scenes to song sheet sing-a-long words, animated effects, and enhancing the main feature presentation with color and/or surrounding projections. The Fox had the ultimate model, the F7 Master Brenograph, and as of early 2022 it is still in the theatre. It is not operational but it is in exceedingly good shape and ready for renovation, which the Fox Theater Foundation is planning for in its future strategy.

The theatre opened with a pipe organ to accompany silent movies and to provide entertainment during the intermissions of sound movies. According to robertmorton.org Link opens in new window the original organ was a Robert Morton 2-manual, 16-rank pipe organ. It is unknown when the organ was removed from the theatre, but it was certainly gone by the 1953 remodel and its removal probably aligned with that date.

Fox West Coast Theatres entered into bankruptcy in late 1933 and the theatre chain was sold to the National Theatres Corporation, led by Charles P. Skouras, one of the immigrant Skouras Brothers who came to the U.S. from Greece and would ultimately make their fortune in the Hollywood movie industry. The Fox was a first-run movie theatre for many years under the Skouras Brothers’ direction.

The Skouras-style 1950s Auditorium
The Skouras-style 1950s Auditorium

In 1953 the Fox underwent a major remodel, as did some 200 Fox theatres on the U.S. West Coast under the control of the Skouras Brothers. The style is best described as Art Moderne meets Streamline, utilizing a mix of heavy Art Deco and light rococo forms of gilded ornamentation, with monumental ornament and heavy use of swags and drapery. Skouras’ designer Carl G. Moeller gave the Fox a more modern, attractive theme at a time when movie theatres were battling against television to attract viewers.

Unlike most other theatres, this mid-1950s treatment has not been partially or fully reversed over time and the Fox retains its full Skouras-style treatment. The only other well preserved Skouras-style movie theatres which are still operating are the Crest Theatre Link opens in new window in Sacramento (built in the Skouras style) and the Babcock Theatre Link opens in new window in Billings, Montana, which like the Fox Bakersfield was remodeled from an earlier design.

Another aspect of the 1953 remodel saw a 45ft wide, 20ft tall (13.7m by 6.1m) CinemaScope screen added, accommodated by hacking-out the ornamental plasterwork sides of the original proscenium arch. This was a common approach to the 1950s modernization of movie theatres, and the Fox was not alone in the partial destruction of its original décor to accommodate changing tastes and technologies. Film projectors were also upgraded. Front-of-House areas were updated as part of the modernization with a large concessions area being added. On the outside of the building a new marquee and Skouras-style box office were added on top of brightly-colored terrazzo laid into the sidewalk. The theatre reopened May 1st, 1953.

Original atmospheric sidewall decoration, hidden behind the current auditorium sidewall
Original atmospheric sidewall decoration, hidden behind the current auditorium sidewall

Behind some of the auditorium’s drapes there are remnants of Lee’s original theatre design including columns at either side of the proscenium, organ grilles, and plasterwork medallions. Parts of the original sidewall murals and hidden cove lighting scheme also survive.

Mann Theatres took over the theatre in 1973, and in 1977 the Fox was closed, the original intention being to convert it into a four-screen theatre. The conversion never materialized and the theatre sat dormant.

In 1979 the theatre was sold to the Martinez Family for $260,000. In 1984 they leased it to an operator who intended to reopen the theatre as a performing arts center, however aside from a few small events the cost to realize this ambitious goal proved prohibitive. The Fox sat dormant for a decade.

In 1994 the nonprofit Fox Theater Foundation was formed, led by Cathy Butler and the Bakersfield Downtown Business Association, and their “Save the Fox” campaign saved the theatre from demolition thanks to generous donations from over 380 supporters.

The Fox Theater Foundation purchased the borderline derelict theatre for $500,000 in June 1994. The theatre reopened in October 1994 and renovations were ongoing until 2002.

Interior of the Clock Tower
Interior of the Clock Tower

The interior of the clock tower was originally the furnace (heating) room for the theatre, with a huge fan pulling-in fresh air and gas burners heating the air before it was distributed around the auditorium. After the Fox Theater Foundation took on the theatre in 1994, the room was transformed by foundation board member Walt Koch into a new home for the renovated clock mechanism and a mini-museum.

The Concessions stand in the lobby is a recreation of the 1950s-era Concessions stand and was based on historic photos. The Fox Theater Foundation’s 1990s logo appears subtly on the rear wall of the Concessions stand, indicating its relatively modern provenance.

The theatre retains its original Dumbwaiter system which allows items to be delivered from the lobby at street level up to the Project Booth area. It passes through an office at the balcony lobby level. The Dumbwaiter is still used to transfer film cans containing 35mm prints up to the Projection Booth.

The Fox is now a busy live events center which hosts a variety of events ranging from movies to ballet, community events and contemporary pop and rock acts. As of early 2022 the Fox is seeking to reinstall an organ into the theatre.

Rendering of the planned VIP Bar to the right of the main theatre entrance
Rendering of the planned VIP Bar to the right of the main theatre entrance

In early 2022 a plan was reported Link opens in new window to convert the long-dormant retail stores on the east side of the building into a VIP bar and performance space for ticket holders and special guests. The intent is that it will be a place to gather, socialize, and listen to live music – before, after, or during performances in the theatre next door.

Select artists who have appeared at the Fox over the years include B.B. King, Cyndi Lauper, Bernie Mac, Tony Bennett, Jamie Foxx, Huey Lewis and the News, the Moscow Russian Ballet, Tom Jones, George Lopez, Johnny Cash, Vince Vaughn, Olivia Newton-John, Bryan Adams, The Monkees, The B52’s, Ice Cube, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and Kevin Hart.

Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances

Music Videos

Videos from our YouTube channel:

Listed/Landmark Building Status

How do I visit the Fox Theater Bakersfield?

The Bakersfield Fox doesn’t currently offer tours so check out the theatre’s events calendar Link opens in new window for upcoming events.


Upcoming Special Events

“The Little Mermaid” (2nd July 2022, 12pm)

“The Little Mermaid”

Summer Movie Series: The Little Mermaid (1989) Link opens in new window.

A mermaid princess makes a Faustian bargain in an attempt to become human and win a prince’s love. 1989, Rated G, Duration 1h 23m.

Hot dogs, small popcorn, and drinks will also be available for purchase at $1 each!

Tickets $5.

Click here to go to the event website. Link opens in new window




“Aladdin” (16th July 2022, 12pm)

“Aladdin”

Summer Movie Series: Aladdin (1990) Link opens in new window.

A kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry Grand Vizier vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true. 1992, Rated G, Duration 1h 30m.

Hot dogs, small popcorn, and drinks will also be available for purchase at $1 each!

Doors 11am. Tickets $5.

Click here to go to the event website. Link opens in new window




“The Lion King” (30th July 2022, 12pm)

“The Lion King”

Summer Movie Series: The Lion King (1994) Link opens in new window.

Lion prince Simba and his father are targeted by his bitter uncle, who wants to ascend the throne himself. 1994, Rated G, Duration 1h 28m.

Hot dogs, small popcorn, and drinks will also be available for purchase at $1 each!

Doors 11am. Tickets $5.

Click here to go to the event website. Link opens in new window

Further Reading

Online

Books

Technical Information

Flying System
System Type
Single Purchase Counterweight operated Stage Right at Stage level
Grid Height
60ft
Linsets
30 @ 4-line Linesets
Lighting
Followspots
4 @ Lycian Super Star 2.5 (2,500W HMI/MSR)
Movie Projection
Projector
Christie DCP System
Stage Dimensions
Proscenium Height
27ft
Proscenium Width
48ft
Stage Depth
27ft
Historic Photos & Documents
Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of the Fox Theater Bakersfield

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditoirum: Orchestra
  2. Auditorium: Balcony
  3. Auditorium: From Stage
  4. Auditorium: Original Decor
  5. Lobby and Public Areas
  6. Other Public Areas
  7. Exterior
  8. Backstage
  9. Dressing Rooms
  10. Projection Booth
  11. Clock Tower
Auditoirum: Orchestra

The atmospheric-style auditorium, opened in 1930 and designed by S. Charles Lee, received a complete makeover in 1953 in Skouras-style, best described as Art Moderne meets Streamline. The Fox Bakersfield Theater is one of the few remaining comprehensive examples of this style.

Auditorium: Balcony

The atmospheric-style auditorium, opened in 1930 and designed by S. Charles Lee, received a complete makeover in 1953 in Skouras-style, best described as Art Moderne meets Streamline. The Fox Bakersfield Theater is one of the few remaining comprehensive examples of this style.

Auditorium: From Stage
Auditorium: Original Decor

A few remnants of the 1930 atmospheric-style auditorium still remain. A medallion on the House Left organ chamber is still visible behind the gold drapery (see the Historic Photos section, above, for original photos), as is one of originally three pillars upon its classical base and with capital at its top, on the House Right side.

Original side wall murals are still visible at Balcony level, hidden behind the 1950s plasterwork.

Lobby and Public Areas

The lobby is reasonably similar to its original 1930 design although stenciling on the ceiling has been repainted and stenciling on the diagonal concrete beams has been lost.

In the major 1953 makeover a large concessions stand was added. Original 1930 single seats with the word FOX are dotted around the lobby, and an original 1930 spot light from the theatre is a feature item on the Lobby Mezzanine.

The 1950s-era Concessions stand was recreated by the Fox Theater Foundation as part of the 1994-2002 renovation. It is notable for featuring small Fox Theater Foundation logos amongst the 1950s-style design.

Other Public Areas
Exterior

Architect S. Charles Lee originally envisioned the theatre anchoring a major retail center with open arcades at street level, however ultimately plans were scaled-back. The Spanish Colonial Revival style, with mission tiles on the roof and white stucco walls, was mostly retained during the 1953 the Skouras-style makeover which included installation of the current neon marquee.

Backstage

The 60ft (18.3m) high stagehouse retains much of its original counterweight installation by Armstrong Studios Inc.

The original lighting switchboard is also still in place.

Dressing Rooms
Projection Booth

The Fox Bakersfield Theater has retained its Brenkert F7 Master Brenograph, which would have originally been used to project moving effects and slides into the auditorium and onto the screen. As of 2019 the Brenograph is still in the theatre and is in exceedingly good shape and ready for renovation.

Clock Tower

The clock tower at Balcony level was originally the furnace (heating) room for the theatre, with a huge fan pulling-in fresh air and gas burners heating the air before it was distributed around the auditorium.

After the Fox Theater Foundation took on the theatre in 1994, the room was transformed by foundation board member Walt Koch into a new home for the renovated clock mechanism and as a mini-museum.



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