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Fox comparable to phoenix rising from its “depressed” roots

on February 6, 2009


By Greg Barco

Oakland’s Fox Theater first opened in October 1928, one year before the New York Stock Exchange crashed. Enter from stage left: Great Depression (and linger around until World War II shoves you off the stage). Fast forward to 2009: the Fox is once again opening, this time during the worst economic recession since the 1930s.

Residents of Oakland and the greater Bay Area – me included – expect the long-awaited re-opening of this theater to offer a place to go to be entertained in uptown Oakland during the evening. City of Oakland officials and citizens alike hope the theater will revitalize the city block on which the Fox sits — an area that features a Sears department store and is for all intents and purposes, deserted at night. But to do any of this, it’s got to overcome some truly awful timing.

The Fox, with its ornate plaster, painted details and wood-carved, webbed star-shaped ceiling accoutrements embodies the decadence of the grand movie houses, portraying the ideal image of the Roaring 20s. So it’s fitting that such a theater would be resurrected during the contemporary point in American history when, once again, the gap between rich and poor actually is nearer to a chasm.

How much can we, residents of Oakland and the Bay, expect from a single performance venue? With a smattering of performers representing many vocal backgrounds and genres, from Modest Mouse and Social Distortion (American punk rock) to Michael Franti and Spearhead (reggae, “hybrid dub-infused soul flavor with some hard-hitting dub rock production” says the Fox’s website) and many other types of entertainers, the $70 million question remains: will Oakland be entertained? More specifically, will the theater become a meeting point where a regular clientele comes to visit? Will it become a fun place where young people gather with their friends, as the often did in times past? Will the theater attract the type of ongoing traffic needed to support more restaurants and other types of establishments that would enliven uptown? The fact that the Oakland School for the Arts will occupy a portion of the complex during the day while at night the Fox will mainly be used as a concert hall means the space will get used for many more hours of the day than it would if the complex were simply a theater, a school, a collection of restaurants or offices.

For the sake of uptown and the morale of all of us during these hard economic times, I hope the Fox succeeds — sells out every night, with its performers earning rave reviews. With so much money invested Oakland cannot afford anything but positive results.


  1. V Smoothe on February 6, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Actually, the Fox is positioned in the middle of some of downtown Oakland’s most successful nightclubs, in a neighborhood where nightlife has been flourishing for several years. Venues like the Uptown nightclub and Cafe Van Kleef pack the house with regular live music offerings, while caddy-corner restaurant Flora fills the house nightly. The Fox is no doubt a thrilling addition to the neighborhood, but it would be a huge mistake to ignore the contributions of these other local businesses to the enlivening of Uptown.

  2. OaklanderOnline on February 6, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    I’m surprised to see that B.B. King is not mentioned in the Fox’s spring line-up! Economic recession or not, he sells out concerts wherever he plays. The last time he came to town he probably played at a venue like Yoshi’s, but decades ago, he was a regular in West O—at Ester’s Orbit Room, and Slim Jenkins’ Club, to name a few. His appearance at the Fox is nothing less than historic. I trust Another Planet Entertainment to lure in more great talent, and for Phil Tagami + friends to raise $5 million (they’ve already reached the $63 million mark!) needed to finish the project. Show listings can be found here:

  3. Ann Denoncour on February 6, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Loved your comparing the Fox to Phoenix Rising, how appropriate! Oakland is indeed looking for the reopening to help dramatically with the revitalization of the area. I also hope the Fox is sucessful in this.

  4. Joe B.B. on February 6, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Nice article, I too hope all goes well for the Fox.


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