Outfoxed? 

The city of Oakland is banking on the Fox Theater to revive Uptown, but where will that leave the Paramount?

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"The Fox is essentially a brand-new theater," says Chew. "I don't know. Certain maintenance will be taken care of by the public entity."

"The City of Oakland?" Johnson queries.

"I don't know," Chew responds. "I can't answer that question."

"The problem is our needs are more immediate," Killian says. "We can't even get on the radar."

Chew asks whether they've put their concerns in writing. They have.

"The city does not have general fund money for capital improvements," says Johnson. "It's surprising for a city the size of Oakland."

"The Fox gets $2; why did we have to beg for ... $1?" Killian asks, referring to the Paramount's recently increased facility fee. "We get treated like we're beyond orphans."

Stewart points out that the city used to put $150,000 a year into the Paramount.

"The city thinks you're doing okay," says Chew. "Your investments seem to be doing pretty well."

"This is not a one-off," says Johnson. "This is a partnership. The Paramount has been run thoughtfully by volunteers. We need to make sure the partnership continues."

Chew promises to meet with the city manager's office to express their needs. "I'm a big fan of the Paramount," he says.


The Not-So-New Kid on the Block

For years, the Fox Theater was a decrepit, inactive hulk blighting Oakland's Uptown district. Once the city decided to redevelop the neighborhood, momentum began building to restore the historic site. To finance the costly project, all signs pointed to a for-profit operator.

According to FoxOakland.org, the Friends of the Oakland Fox Web site, the North Indian–inspired theater opened in 1928, and it too dodged the wrecking ball on more than one occasion. By 1965, it had stopped showing first-run movies, and was only open sporadically until it caught fire in 1973. The city considered demolishing it to build a parking garage. But a few years later, a grassroots movement helped proclaim the Fox a city landmark worth saving.

The City of Oakland purchased the building for $3 million in 1996. By then, it was badly damaged from a leaking roof and a homeless encampment. But because the property was on the National Register of Historic Places, tearing it down was no longer an option. So in 1999, after relocating the homeless occupants, the city patched up the roof. Members of the Oakland Heritage Alliance formed Friends of the Oakland Fox. "There was such an interest," recalls Dedekian, one of the founding members. In 2001, the city completed restoration of the Fox's marquee and sign.

That same year, the city hired architectural consultants Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates to produce the Fox Theater Master Plan — a series of studies on the need and market for an arts and entertainment facility in Oakland. The studies offered possible configurations and cost estimates for the Fox — ranging from a minimal investment of $19 million for a venue with 600 seats, to a $69 million investment for a 2,550-seat facility.

The studies also revealed potential pitfalls. A needs assessment expressed concerns about "lack of daytime traffic, the dependence on a supply of product, cultural relevance, and the relationship to the Paramount." Interviews with four promoters — BGP, Cal Performances, SF Performances, and Jam Productions — cited the need for a "bigger, cheaper, better Paramount," and "more progressive/music programs." However, the study's authors concluded that the Bay Area is well supplied with facilities with several thousand seats, but that Oakland lacked small and midsize community arts facilities. The problem is, serving community arts just isn't economically viable.

The next study, released in January 2001, described improving the Paramount as "critical" to any plan concerning the Fox. "The theater is an underused asset," the report stated. The consultants suggested expanding its stage house and improving its acoustics, but noted the following challenges. "The building suffers from a legacy of resisting use and users," the report said. "Additionally, it is a very expensive building to use. Failure to address the Paramount issues while the Fox is being renovated will have severe impact on the theater. Including Paramount improvements in this project will make the fund-raising easier and heighten the complementary relationship of the two theaters."

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