On Telegraph Avenue in Downtown Oakland stands a building whose architectural style is breathtaking, yet not quite definable. With an exotic mix of terracotta tiles, rich and vibrant colors, detailed paint work, and intricately designed golden accents on statues of deities, the style could be described as Indian, medieval European or even Babylonian. In fact, back when it opened in 1928, it was originally going to be named “The Baghdad.” Instead, it was named “The Oakland,” and it opened to the public as a 3,200-seater, making it the largest creative space Oakland had seen till then.
Today, after a rollercoaster ride that has taken the venue through several phases – through initial golden years as a home of the creative arts in Oakland, including some of the first movies with sound, a lean period that led it to close its doors, years of abandonment, and eventually restoration, it is now The Fox Theater.
Named after an early owner, William Fox, who bought the chain of West Coast Theaters and merged it with his own Fox Theaters Chain, the Fox spent three decades as a hot spot for movie lovers and music enthusiasts who liked their art to come in a fabulously jeweled box, before suburban sprawl took its toll even in 60’s Oakland, and the venue shut its doors in 1966. In the decades that followed, the space did reopen occasionally for a while, to host one-off shows – pop-ups before pop-ups were pop-ups – but income was a challenge and eventually the Fox was just abandoned ruins. Two fires in 1973 – probably arson – made it more of a heap than a building, and Babylonian splendor seemed a long way off.
Eventually, though, things started to look up. Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson designated the venue as an Oakland City Landmark in 1978, and the theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places the following year. And in 1996, three decades after the place had shut down, restoration works began. A 13-year process ended with the rebirth of the Fox Theater in 2009.
This time, it opened as a 2,800-seater, and the grand opening night celebrated the theme of the roaring twenties in honor of the theater’s rich past. The space as we know it today houses a school and a restaurant, and is a popular live concert venue. It has hosted performances from some serious legends, including B.B. King, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and President Barack Obama (on his 2012 reelection campaign), with countless acts besides: Kylie Minogue, The Allman Brothers, Korn, Green Day, twenty one pilots, Marina and the Diamonds, Metallica, Widespread Panic, Primus, Alice in Chains, Atoms For Peace, Black Star, Lorde, Animal Collective, X Japan, The Decemberists, and Van Morrison.
Next time you’re in Oakland, whether you’re into history, music, cinema or just amazing spaces, the Fox is a venue that you undoubtedly must check out. Coming up, the Fox will be welcoming Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Mickey Hart & Friends, Joan Osborne, Pura Fé, Cary Morin, Dawes, LP, Hippo Campus, and Alan Walker.
Photos courtesy of Another Planet Entertainment