Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fox Theater, 620 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, CA

Opened on August 17, 1951, the theater opened to great fanfare with a weekend filled with events to mark this opening: searchlights out in front for the first evening movies being shown, a Saturday western double bill with an in person visit by Monty Montana a B western movie “star” at the time. The opening feature that night was the 20th. Century-Fox film “Meet Me After the Show”.
It had a loge section with cushier seats that required a more expensive ticket, a huge screen and for the time a good sound system. In the days before digital, the films were delivered to the theater by motorcycle riders called taggers who carried the prints from one theater to the next and one time there was great concern that the films hadn’t arrived in time so someone had to go on stage to announce the delay just as the tagger was running in the front door.

The Fox had 'cry rooms' at the back, glassed in rooms with their own speakers ostensibly for theatergoers to bring their babies to.
During the boom years of its existence a Fox Venice schedule was the hip accessory for every self-respecting refrigerator door in Los Angeles. The theatre's mailing list read like a who's-who of the entertainment industry. The schedules (printed by Peace Press during the Cumberland tenure) featured, on the front, pictorial representations of the films, usually double features, and on the back, capsule descriptions telling why each and every one was a must-see. For some people that was true, and they came almost every night!
The schedule included a notice to filmmakers: "We want to see your movies! We are screening and cataloging many films, many rarely seen, for possible exhibition," and alerted them that the theatre was available during the day for special screenings in 35mm or 16mm formats. On another occasion, the back of the schedule said, "Our audiences want to see your short films!...Our audiences are distinctly expressive in their appreciation! The Fabulous Fox may even be able to qualify your film for Academy Award consideration."
At the Fox, the film inspection department habitually cleaned, scrutinized, and repaired every reel that came through the door - especially if it had passed through the hands of "certain West Los Angeles theaters run by amateurs and fools." The management was justifiably proud of its craftsmanship. "We're one of the few places around that still care more for the art of film than the money," was the Fox's claim to fame. A number of producers and directors agreed, and loaned their pristine personal prints to the theatre to run in place of the scratched-up general release prints.
The fare was generally new and different every day of the week. You might find almost anything on the screen at the Fox. Documentaries about ancient bluesmen, political activists, Findhorn, the ballet. Such beloved oldies as Todd Browning's Freaks. Outrageous animation. Films that sank without a trace, like Dylan's Renaldo & Clara. There was always a fantastic variety of foreign films: Wertmuller, Antonioni, Roeg, Mifune, Varda, all those guys. The Fox hosted the Los Angeles premiere of Fassbinder's Satan's Brew

Over the years the theater offered live concerts by Bonnie Raitt, Tom Waits, Richie Havens, Oregon, Canned Heat, Little Feat, Caldera, David Bromberg, John Klemmer, the Japanese group Bow Wow, and many others, including many great blues players such as John Lee Hooker for its Blues Night series.

In 1975 the theater hosted the sneak preview of the Rocky Horror Picture Show the night before it opened in Westwood. That special midnight screening, attended by an overflow crowd of the play's camp followers and various performers, started the tradition of audience participation midnight screenings that continues to this day.

A nice Art Deco theater once operated by the Fox Theater chain, the Fox Venice showed standard Hollywood fare until the early 70's when it became a very popular revival theater.

It was a beautiful theatre with murals on the walls.
The Fox Venice Theatre, the quintessential Venice institution, was operated by Cumberland Mountain Theaters, Inc. from 1973 to early 1979. Previously it had faltered under National General Corporation operation as a large, single screen neighborhood theater in the new era of multiplexes.
Photo courtesy of William Gabel
There was an animated short film they used to show. In outer space, a strange looking craft whizzes by. Cut to another spaceship of a different design. Back to the first one, then the second one, music, and finally the two space borne objects get together in the same frame. They slow down enough so you can see that one is a cigarette and the other an ashtray, and the cigarette puts itself out in the ashtray while the words NO SMOKING appear.

In early 1979, the Cumberland era ended and subsequently the Fox was run for a couple of years by Parallax Theatres, which changed their name to the Landmark Theater Corporation.
For its last few years, to its closing in 1988, Rafigh Pooya owned the business. Upstairs, there were couches, and windows that overlooked the marquee.
Discovery of asbestos in the theater's acoustic treatments in 1988 doomed the once vibrant hall, and after it was stripped of its furnishings, screen, curtains, and interior it never came back, but instead was converted into an indoor mini-mall and flea market.

The ceiling dome is still there and the vertical sign remains without the name and neon.
There is remnants of the old theatre still when you visit. The concession area lighting and moulding is there, all the ceiling moulding in the auditorium remains, and much much more.
Its marquee remains intact.

Jerry performed here on
4/18/75 Great American String Band
Jerry did not perform at this show. John Carlini was the guitarist.

6/14/75 Early and late shows Legion Of Mary

1.)^Hartman, Pat, The Fabulous Fox Venice,
2.)^Erikson, B., Martinez, Ray, Gabel, William,
3.)^Murrow, Rol, Theater Operator and Show Producer, 2012-10-22.

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