It's official: Downtown Oakland is now home to the Bay Area's nicest popular music venue. Huge and opulent, with art deco detailing that makes it look like a Moorish temple, the Fox Theatre has got everything you could ask for in a venue: gargoyles, a stunning interior, terraced seating with incredible sightlines, a capacious balcony, lots of bars, easy access to BART, and ample space for the projected 1,500-2,800 patrons who will attend a spate of A-list shows in February (including Social Distortion, Stephen Marley, and Cake). Located about a block from the swank new Uptown development (665 residential units, plus retail), it will turn Oakland into the epicenter of Bay Area musical entertainment — riots be damned.
It's been a long time coming. Since former Mayor Jerry Brown unveiled his "10K" plan ten years ago, Oakland residents have been waiting — and waiting, and waiting, and waiting — for a revitalized downtown. All of a sudden, it is here. Just one month in advance of the official February 5 grand opening of developer Phil Tagami's newly restored Fox Theatre, the surrounding four-block radius of downtown looked dazzling — if not quite complete. People were hanging out in front of the Uptown club; the restaurant Flora bustled inside of the building that once housed the Floral Depot; the Uptown apartments, with their private gymnasiums and cobblestone walkways, looked like Manhattan's Upper East Side. The Fox, which began life as a first-run movie house in 1928, degenerated into a venue for soft-core porn flicks in the late '60s, and closed in 1970, will be the centerpiece of this transformed neighborhood.
The theater's 39-year dormancy (during which time mushrooms apparently grew through the floor) and multimillion-dollar restoration ultimately proved salutary. It now offers many things that the neighboring Paramount does not — not only in terms of aesthetics and capaciousness, but in its flexibility. In addition to being the new flotilla leader for Berkeley concert promoters Another Planet Entertainment, it also will house the Oakland School of the Arts by day. The Fox celebrated its inaugural on Saturday with a concert by soul balladeer Al Green, who threw roses at the audience and played a 55-minute set that included most of his greatest hits. Presented by One California Bank, it was a chance for the dignitaries of Oakland to marvel at the new wraparound theater with its many bars and courtyards, its terra cotta façade and its glittering blade sign. The crowd adored Al Green, and Al Green loved his audience (although he booked off the stage with no encore). But mostly, we loved Oakland and its new crown jewel. For one evening, at least, it was enough to take everyone's minds off the disatrous events of the days before.
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