Tag Archives: fox theater oakland

Music music music…

No Art Murmur this past Friday for me… we had tickets to The Flaming Lips at the Fox and wanted to check out the opening bands, which were actually pretty fantastic. First up was Thee Oh Sees with a blend of rock-a-billy garage pop that at times reminded me of punk bluegrass… They totally rocked, and their drummer actually performed a pretty sweet drum solo, which I can safely say, in the hundreds of shows I’ve seen over the years, I have never seen an opening band do.  Very cool.

Next up was Ariel Pink‘s Haunted Graffiti. Known for his impressive soprano, this guy (dressed extremely androgynously) could shriek an 80’s metal vocal like I’ve never seen.  This band rocked.  Period.  As my partner in crime suggested… Frank Zappa, but gay. And I mean that in the best way possible.  It was awesome!

Of course The Flaming Lips never disappoint.  Their shows are more performance art than concerts and though their bag of tricks is heavily recycled, it somehow never gets old.  I think I’ve seen this band about 5 times and I’m always surprised how they come out full throttle for the first song of the evening, giant balloons, confetti sprayed to the rafters, costumed dancers on stage, Wayne in his space bubble surfing the crowd… you have to wonder where they’ll take it from there (did they just blow their whole wad on the first song?!?) But somehow they manage to sustain and surpass, every time.  Highlight for me was the nearly 3000 audience members all singing Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1 at the top of their lungs.  Pure magic.

flaming lips at fox, fox theater oakland, the flaming lips live

oct 1 show flaming lips, oct 1 show fox theater

Sunday we caught Arcade Fire with opening band Calexico at the Greek Theater in Berkeley… these guys are the real deal.  And though I’ve seen Calexico before and always enjoyed their shows immensely (I just love the harmonic horns in their Tex-Mex styled tunes), this show was all about Arcade Fire for me.  You sort of wonder how they’re going to pull off the complexity of their studio albums live, but incredibly they do, not to mention the fact that nearly every member of the band plays like three different instruments, amazingly. It was a fantastic show.

More reading…

The Flaming Lips @ The Fox Theater, Oakland, CA 10-01-2010 (examiner)

Saturday Night: The Flaming Lips Play Laser Tag at the Fox Theater (sfweekly)

History of Fox Theater on Oaktown Art

Arcade Fire with Calexico at The Greek Theater in Berkeley. 10/2/2010

OSA Visual Arts Spring Exhibition

Last Friday was another First Friday here in Oaktown with Art Murmur in full spring swing. It’s become a real challenge these days to figure out what stops to make because the options are really expanding… lots of new galleries and funky mixed-use warehouse spaces filling in the gaps.

Next few posts will follow our Art Murmur escapades. First stop was the Oakland School for the Arts Spring Exhibition. I was eager to take friends after attending their stellar Holiday Small Works Show in December

OSA is housed in the ground floor commercial spaces of the Fox Theater, once occupied by malt shops and the like.  Now 40,000 square feet of renovated and expanded commercial space comprise classrooms, administrative offices, and student services, as well as music, dance, drama, and art studios.

What I loved about their holiday show, equally evident at the Spring Exhibition, is the incredible art available for truly affordable prices.  Because these kids are, well… kids, the prices are quite a bit more budget minded than those found at many of the professional gallery spaces on the Art Murmur tour.  Not that you shouldn’t support your local professional artists.  It’s just that these shows offer the opportunity to support budding young artists without putting a serious dent in your wallet.

oakland school for the arts, OSA, spring exhibition

osa, oakland school for the arts

The show included all kinds of drawn, printed, and painted pieces, both framed and sleeved in bins, and other media including sculpture, jewelry, and an amazing film screening of works from OSA’s Digital Media emphasisFriends and I stood mesmerized by the arty black and white silent film projected on the walla woman’s legs clad in black spiky pumps approach the camera, hands in silhouette flutter like birds into frame, peacock feathers dance and weave in front of a beautiful woman’s eyes… Hard to believe this piece was put together by high school students, but it’s simply a testament to the quality of work this school and its talented students are producing.

Also impressive was the live musical performance by OSA Instrumentalists.  My favorite was their final piece of the night, a composition by Bach, but here is a snippet of a more recognizable song, and a real crowd-pleaser…

What’s Moorish, Indian, Medieval, and Baghdadian?

Stumped?

(I bet you didn’t even know Baghdadian was a word… I didn’t!)

These are just a handful of the architectural influences of our majestic and recently refurbished Fox Theater. I’m kicking off my Art Deco series with the Fox despite its lack of Deco authenticity (we’ll get to more of what that means next week), because frankly, it’s kind of a big deal. And here’s why…

On Sept. 21, 1926 the Oakland Tribune reported “Oakland is to have two new motion picture theaters in the downtown district increasing the assessed valuation of the city by four million dollars or more…” The first of these was The Fox.

fox theater historical photo, fox theater circa 1928

Historical Photo circa 1928 (courtesy Dreyfus Report, 2001)

Originally called the Oakland Theater (or West Coast Oakland Theater) upon opening in 1928, the name was later changed to the Fox Oakland Theater, and at the time it was said to be the largest theater complex on the West Coast, with a capacity of between 3200 and 3800. This was the heyday of large movie “palaces,” dripping with atmosphere and ambiance designed to transport audiences to romantic and exciting distant worlds. “Persian gardens, Italian palazzos and Egyptian courts rose in cities throughout the country offering patrons an exotic afternoon or evening of entertainment.” (Dreyfus Report, 2001)

The architects of the Fox followed suit, drawing influences from a number of exotic cultures, most prominently Indian and Middle Eastern. In fact, the overall structure of the building, with its central high dome, resembles a typical Brahmanian temple of Northern India, and the interior auditorium space is flanked by two enormous sculptures of Hindu Gods. The entire theater was constructed to convey a lavish lifestyle, opulent with exotic woods, richly textured fabrics, jeweled light fixtures, intricate tile and plaster work, and highly decorative metal finishes.

Moorish architecture is “a term used to describe the articulated Islamic architecture which developed in North Africa and south-western Europe.” (Wikipedia) This influence is seen in the parapet (elevated wall) connecting the two primary pylons comprising the main facade of the building, as well as the continuing roof-line of the main commercial wings of the building, with its repeating pattern of terra cotta ornamentation, and distinctive key-hole windows (see below).

moorish architecture, fox theater oakland

moorish architecture, fox theater oakland

The medieval influence can be seen in the gargoyles perched atop the primary pylons (below, right).

gothic architecture, moorish architecture, fox theater oakland

And I’m not quite sure how the Baghdadian comes into play, other than the initial plans to call the theater “The Baghdad,” before settling upon the eponymous “Oakland Theater” instead.

So where’s the Art Deco you might ask?

Well… to be honest, there’s not a whole lot. But there is a bit, much of which was added during modernizing renovations in 1945. “The front façade and interior walls [were] covered with stainless steel sheathing in an art deco style zigzag pattern. The columns [were] sheathed in a streamlined stainless steel shape and the ticket booth replaced with a new one in the art deco style. The original tile floor [was] replaced with terrazzo, and the ceilings replaced by a stepped plaster ceiling in a cloud pattern, with neon accents… While these alterations represent fine examples of the art deco style, they resulted in the loss of a substantial amount of very significant historic material, and are inconsistent with the architectural character of the theater.” (Dreyfus Report, 2001)

Art Deco Terrazzo, fox theater oakland, terrazzo inlay

The marquee was also updated to a more modern art deco style, but was done 10 years prior and is, hence, considered to be a “contributing historic” element. Here’s a shot of the original marquee followed by its replacement in 1935 (now refurbished).

fox theater oakland, historical photo fox theater

Original Marqee circa 1929 (courtesy Dreyfus report, 2001)

art deco theater marquee, fox oakland marquee

art deco, fox theater oakland, art deco theater marquee

The Fox was a premiere entertainment destination for decades, but suffered a decline in attendance in the 1960’s, as did many of the grand movie palaces throughout the country, due largely to the increasing popularity of television and the trend toward smaller multiplex theaters. The Fox tried several options including showing soft-core porn movies such as “Paradisio,” but eventually closed its doors in 1965, opening only sporadically for films and events during the next seven years.

“The Fox survived an arson fire in 1973, but its increasingly shabby condition led it to be derided as ‘the largest outdoor urinal in the world.‘” Still, the theater avoided being turned into a parking lot in 1975, unlike its sister Fox Theater in San Francisco, leveled in 1963 to make way for eventual replacement by high-rise offices and apartments. And thanks to the efforts of Oakland Mayor Lionel J. Wilson, the Fox Oakland achieved city landmark status in 1978.

And then it sat. And sat. And sat. It changed hands a few times and saw a few sporadic performances, but for the most part it simply sat… and continued to deteriorate. The City of Oakland purchased it in 1996 for $3 million dollars. In 1998 an Oakland Tribune editorial declared “the only life in the theater almost two years [after the City’s acquisition] is a crop of mushrooms sprouting from the theater’s soggy carpet.”

Then things started to happen. In 1999, the city spent $1 million to repair the roofs. At the same time, a sub-committee of the Oakland Heritage Alliance was formed, Friends of the Oakland Fox. Their goal: the historic preservation of the Fox Oakland Theater, and its use as a live entertainment venue. The Friends convinced the city to spend more money to restore the marquee and vertical blade sign to generate public interest in the renovation plans. And finally, architectural consultants Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates were contracted to prepare a master plan for the Fox, generating two proposals that were both ultimately deemed undoable.

This is when Phil Tagami stepped in. He is the man who spoke before thousands at last year’s Uptown Unveiled block party to celebrate the re-opening of the Fox and the revitalization of Uptown. He is the hero of this story, the man who ultimately achieved what many said couldn’t be done. And can you guess what he did? Of course you can. The man raised money. And a lot of it. With a background in construction and prior experience restoring old buildings (including Kahn’s department store across from City Hall), he fashioned together a complex funding plan from various sources: private donations, city redevelopment money, grants, federal historic tax credits, large equity investments, and more.

An Oakland native, Tagami essentially donated thousands of hours of his personal time… his gift to the city, where he still lives with his wife and two children. Thank you Phil Tagami! We owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

And thanks as well to the City of Oakland, Friends of the Oakland Fox, and all those involved in this historic project.

The Fox Oakland Theater reopened on February 5th, 2009. Shows are currently booked by Another Planet Entertainment, the same folks who bring wonderful eclectic shows to the Independent in San Francisco. If you haven’t yet seen a show at the Fox, it’s high-time you high-tailed it to Uptown Oakland to check out this incredible gem!

fox theater oakland, fox theater box office, fox theater marqee