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Fox Theatre

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The Visalia Fox Theatre is a landmark movie palace and theater in downtown Visalia, California. Opened in 1930 as a part of the Fox Theatre chain, it was converted to a three screen multiplex in 1976. After a brief closure in the late 1990s, it was restored by a community group and reopened in 1999 as a live performance auditorium with a seating capacity of 1,275.

The Fox is an atmospheric theatre designed to evoke the feeling of being outside in a far-away place. This style of movie theater was common during the roaring twenties and into the Great Depression, when they were particularly popular as a fantastical escape from harsh realities outside.

Atmospheric theatres were created to be unique experiences. Each was made with a different theme in mind, and the interior of the Visalia Fox emulates a temple garden in India or South Asia. The ceiling is dotted with stars which flicker and glow during movies and performances to give the appearance of a clear night sky. There are elaborate "temples" or "pagodas" flanked by murals on either side of the stage, and a hand-sculpted genie-a fearsome face between two elephants-above the proscenium arch.

The decadently lavish ambiance of the theater is the result of an artistic technique called trompe-l'œil, a French phrase indicating an object that appears to be something it is not. Common at the beginning of the culture industry and the Golden Age of Hollywood, this kitsch approach to construction was a simple function of finances and practicability. As the studios stepped-up competition for the attention and admiration of their audiences, hundreds upon thousands of elaborate environments were erected across the world. Architects and contractors eschewed prohibitively expensive materials like high-quality wood, gold leaf, and marble for more reasonably-priced ingredients like plaster and paint.

History of the Fox: The Glory of Yesteryear

The Fox Theatre tells a lot about the community of Visalia. Opened in 1930 in the early days of "talking pictures," the theater was the grand showplace in town for over 40 years. Going to the Fox was an unforgettable experience. It let you leave the streets of Visalia behind to enter the garden court of an East Indian temple resplendent with wall murals, green trees, and of course, the unforgettable twinkling stars above.

The Fox first made headlines in the Visalia Times-Delta when on January 5, 1929, a front page story announced that a grand new theater would be built for
Fox West Coast Theaters, the largest chain of motion picture theaters in the country. Fox built hundreds of theaters to promote their films, six of them in
California. Movies gained respectability through association with elaborate movie palaces, and the Fox is typical of the "atmospheric" style of theater-designed with elaborate motif so grand that the movie goer could escape from the realities of the Great Depression into romance and fantasy before the feature ever began.

The theater was to be built on the west edge of town, at Main and Encina Streets, and work soon began to raze the garage and small residence that occupied the site. As construction got underway, "talking pictures" debuted in town at the old Visalia Theatre, and the Fox Corporation promised that their
grand new theater would be an all-talky movie house. Fox contracted with Western Electric to provide the highest quality sound and much of the projection

Up in the box office tower, the famous Fox Theatre clock was installed. The three-way clock was the largest of its kind ever constructed at the time. Its face
measured over six feet in diameter and was rimmed in neon so it lighted up the sky in all directions at night. Only trouble was, it apparently never kept very good time. Management eventually spent hundreds of dollars trying to get the intricate mechanism to work properly.

A year after construction began, the theater was almost complete. The new theater had cost $225,000 to build and had every convenience-including the best
heating and cooling system. Patrons were assured that the auditorium would be constantly filled with pure, fresh air which was washed by passing through a screen of water.

First Opening: February 27, 1930

Finally, on February 27, 1930 at 6:30 p.m., the Fox Theatre opened. Huge spotlights shined their beams skyward to announce the opening. The streets were
blocked for some distance by onlookers and patrons waiting their turn to attend one of the two movie showings. The opening night billing was typical of movie houses of the day-an all-talking western, plus a newsreel, a "Mickie" Mouse cartoon and a Laurel and Hardy comedy.
As patrons entered the theater, they were awestruck by the beautiful foyer with its Oriental atmosphere of subdued richness, crowded with baskets of flowers
sent by many business firms of the city. The décor was elaborate in every detail. Softly carpeted stairways led up to the balcony. Beautifully woven tapestries lined the walls. Elaborate mirrors, mosaic vases, fountains, plaques and chandeliers completed the effect.

Inside the huge auditorium, all 1,300 seats were filled. The audience was surrounded by a garden court of an East Indian ruler with blue sky and stars
above and towering temples at either side of the stage. From the depths of the orchestra pit came rich organ music, the pipes hidden behind the ornate carvings.

Early Days

In the early days, live acts were a part of the entertainment. Local residents remember watching singers, dancers, roller skaters, impressionists, magicians
and hypnotists, as well as concerts-both amateur and professional. The Saturday afternoon Kiddie Klub featuring young talent was a great attraction for children, and the Fox proved a long-term babysitter when you consider there was generally a newsreel, a serial, a cartoon or two, plus a double feature to keep the younger set enthralled. Uniformed usherettes with flashlight in hand helped patrons to their seats and were supposed to keep children out of
the balcony. There was no concession stand in the early days. Eventually a portable candy case was installed, which gave way to today's more traditional
concession stand.

The magic lasted into the 70s, but television changed the movie industry. The big movie houses were being replaced by multi-plex theaters. In 1976 the Fox was divided into three theaters, and that division brought the end of an era. The Fox continued to show first-run movies for 20 more years, until November 1996 when the opening of a 12-plex at the Sequoia Mall brought the closing of the theater after 66 years.

Friends of the Fox

But immediately after the theater was closed, the Friends of the Fox was formed. Their goal was to acquire the building, restore it to its original glory and
make it a performing arts venue. It took three years of struggle and fund raising, but finally on November 2o, 1999, the Fox reopened, beautifully restored at it had looked nearly 70 years before.

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Details and Specs

Hours of Operation:
Mon7:00 AM6:00 PM
Tue7:00 AM6:00 PM
Wed7:00 AM6:00 PM
Thr7:00 AM6:00 PM
Fri7:00 AM6:00 PM
Sat7:00 AM6:00 PM
Sun10:00 AM6:00 PM
Notes: None Listed


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