Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Yesterday I was out photographing various Oakland landmarks that had been saved through efforts of Oakland Heritage Alliance members. Here’s a startling one: City Hall itself!

After the Loma Prieta earthquake, there was a strong push to knock it over and start over. Luckily, our gorgeous Beaux Arts building got the seismic retrofit it deserved.

I was photographing these buildings for the Oakland Heritage Alliance newsletter, which I lay out. It's OHA's 25th anniversary, so I was trying to get images to illustrate a looking-back kind of article. Since Friends of the Oakland Fox, the group working to re-open the fabulous old Fox Theater which has been abandoned for decades, was an OHA offshoot, I decided to take pictures of the Fox façade.

Façade only, since the front is barred with chain link fence. I’d only been inside the theater twice, for very abbrievated looks.

So I was there holding my camera, peering through the fence, when I discerned a live human behind it, sitting in a chair. Upon seeing me, he rose to his feet and walked to the gate, saying, “You’re here to take photographs? Come on in.”
He was treating me like he was expecting me!

Although it crossed my mind to pretend I was whoever he thought I was (which always works in movies), I decided to come clean. “Are you expecting a photographer?”


“Someone from a newspaper, media?”

“No, a preservation group or something.”

“Oh. It’s just a random coincidence that I’m here taking pictures of the Fox. But I wonder… is that preservation group the Oakland Heritage Alliance?”

He wasn’t sure, but he was kind enough to let me inside anyway. I was blown away by the luck of my timing, to be there holding a camera when he expected someone holding a camera….

So for the third time in my life, I entered the cavernous and gorgeous Fox Theater, built in 1928 and moldering since the 1970s. The 4,000 or some odd seats are all gone, so the auditorium is vast and curved and empty. On either side of the stage are two gigantic Buddha statues. Back when the Fox was operational, incense would burn in the figures’ laps and their eyes would glow. One statue’s eyes glowed ruby, and the other’s emerald.

The theater was very dark and of course my flash didn’t serve to light the space, so the interior shots didn’t work. But here are some shots of the dazzling Art Deco entrance, where the ticket booth used to stand. The marquee and blade (the long vertical sign) were very badly deteriorated, and in 2001 the city paid to have them professionally restored, so they beam brightly at night although the Fox itself is still pretty dismal. 

The Friends of the Oakland Fox just kicked off a capital campaign to get the theater restored enough to hold performances there, sort of a placeholder until the whole thing can be restored. Even just this stopgap restoration, called the Ruins project (i.e., keep the theater as a ruin, but operational) is supposed to cost $27 million! I’ll be making a donation once I get my advance, and you should too!

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