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Fox Backers Hope for a Miracle in Last Reel

Times Staff Writer

They marched. They pleaded. They lighted up Fullerton’s Fox Theatre with Klieg lights. And this weekend, in a final, desperate try, preservationists hired a Charlie Chaplin mime to attract last-minute donations.

“Save your Fox!” the actor shouted Saturday, breaking his silence before a small, rowdy crowd of supporters clad in T-shirts from the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation, which is spearheading the restoration project.

One of the volunteers, Irene Shaw Broden, 68, said she remembers watching Cary Grant films at the theater as a young child.

“This is a special spot, a crown jewel,” she said.

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“It’s going to be awful if this place ends up in the obituaries.”

But with one day left before a deadline to raise enough funds to buy the 1920s landmark, support for the drive appeared destined to fall short.

The Fox’s owner is asking about $3.5 million for the once majestic, now dilapidated, building at Harbor Boulevard and Chapman Avenue.

According to foundation President Jane Reifer, about $850,000 in cash and pledges have been raised, in addition to an earlier $1.6-million pledge from the city. A $300,000 loan offer last week still leaves the group about $740,000 short.

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“This is our last appeal,” she said. “We’re still hoping to reach the magic figure in time to turn the money into the bank on Monday.”

As Fullerton struggles to save the Fox, leaders of similar projects in Southern California say saving these old theaters doesn’t come cheap. And it doesn’t happen quickly.

Fundraisers say it would take two to three years to raise $4 million, not 10 months, the length of the Fullerton campaign. Preservationists need an organized fundraising drive that has “the right recipe,” said Tara Jones, a San Diego consultant who has worked on Los Angeles’ Broadway revitalization downtown.

Those taking on a campaign must develop a marketing strategy and organize a fundraising base, said Jones, who did consulting on the Fox project.

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In Newport Beach, renovating the historic Balboa Theater began more than a dozen years ago. The theater enjoys passionate support but won’t be open for four more years. That will give philanthropic leaders a chance to raise the $6.5 million needed to renovate the former 325-seat vaudeville theater, which was built in 1928, said Christopher Trela, a theater spokesman.

“It’s been a slow process,” he said.

The Balboa Arts Theatre Foundation is several million shy of its goal.

The Miramar Theatre in San Clemente is also from a simpler time, when a cartoon, newsreel and double feature cost a quarter.

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Built in 1937, the cinema is closed and empty now. Ownership has changed hands this year, and the theater in a Spanish Revival design is part of revival discussions by a city task force.

“The motivation is there,” said Lee Van Slyke, president of the San Clemente Historical Society.

The Port Theatre in Corona del Mar was sold recently by the owner, who had dreamed of returning it to its former glory. But renovation costs were about $3 million. The new owner plans to restore the Art Deco building as a theater, adding a restaurant, bar and coffeehouse.

Fullerton preservationists’ short fundraising campaign may also may have sealed the theater’s fate.

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“I’m sorry, but 10 months is too short,” said Killis Almond, former president of the League of Historic American Theatres. “The fact that they’ve raised that much in 10 months is a great job.”

Last week, the Fox foundation suffered a blow when it sought a $1.8-million loan from the city but was denied. The foundation’s resolve was buoyed when it received the last-minute $300,000 loan offer Tuesday.

Leland Wilson, a Fullerton city councilman, said that even if the foundation fails to raise the money, the Fox is not in immediate danger because it has been designated a historic landmark. Any effort to raze the building would require extensive environmental-impact studies, he said.

Last-minute pledges and contributions are being collected at the foundation office, 131 W. Commonwealth Ave., and also at the theater, 512 N. Harbor Blvd.

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Restoring old theaters

Preservationists say it requires years and millions of dollars to buy and restore historic theaters to their former glory. Some projects in Orange County:

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Fox Fullerton

510-512 Harbor Blvd., Fullerton

Opened: 1925

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Status: $743,761 needed to meet purchase price of $3.5 million.

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Balboa Theater

707 Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach

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Opened: 1928

Status: Foundation says

$6.5 million needed to renovate.

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Port Theatre

2905 E. Coast Hwy.,

Newport Beach

Opened: 1950

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Status: Owner wants to restore theater and add a restaurant at an estimated cost of $3 million

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Miramar Theatre

1736 El Camino Real,

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San Clemente

Opened: 1937

Status: The city hopes to turn the theater into a community performance space or restaurant.

Staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

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