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A Curtain Call for ‘Save the Fox’ Show

It’s an overcast, looks-like-it-could-rain Tuesday afternoon in early November. Not election day, but it feels like one at the spare headquarters of the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation on West Commonwealth Avenue. Walk in and you’ll find an abundant supply of T-shirts, stickers, leaflets and passion.

The foundation’s campaign to save the historic Fox Theatre is winding down, staring at a suddenly fast-moving clock, and the foundation and its supporters are up against it.

Foundation President Jane Reifer says she’d be happy to talk but has to work the phones in these dwindling hours. She’s got to tap donors, both real and potential, hoping to close the gap of several hundred thousand dollars that now is keeping the group from buying the theater in downtown Fullerton.

This week -- today, in fact -- has been set as the deadline to raise $3.5 million to buy the grand old theater on Harbor Boulevard, a 1925 creation that stood through Hollywood’s golden age until it was boarded up in the late 1980s. Since then, it’s been collecting dust, rainwater and mold.

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Not to mention a place as a historic landmark.

That’s what the campaign is all about. A developer wants to raze the Fox and build apartments, a decision that spurred the foundation to spirited action in January. Had the foundation been able to raise the $3.5 million, the developer would have ceded the dilapidated building to the preservationists.

“We’ve been raising lots of money lately,” says foundation member Chuck Estes, “but we’re faced with these deadlines.” He says it with exasperation, noting in the next breath that the building has been vacant since 1987. “What I don’t understand is that it sat there for so many years, and now all of a sudden, we’re out of time.”

Later, Reifer suggests that backup plans are in the offing, including asking for another extension. She acknowledges that, at least for now, the preservation campaign is going down in flames -- but she refuses to let the dream die. “I will keep working until it is no longer possible [to save the Fox],” she says.

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People told the foundation it was nuts to think it could raise the money to buy the theater, which now looks more like the Alamo than a grand palace.

“We are nuts,” Reifer acknowledges, “but we’re coming very close.”

Board member Robert Gonzalez, a self-described former punk rocker now in the financial industry, sees the drive to save the Fox as a noble calling.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he says. “We can all say we tried, and that distinguishes us as people that embraced the strength to change our environment positively.”

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Typical of a campaign headquarters, information filters in -- some dressed as fact, some disguised as rumor. “Jackson Browne came through,” someone says early in the afternoon. In campaign shorthand, that means a friend of the singer-songwriter (a former Fullerton resident) is one of two business partners who remodel old theaters. Within the hour, the partners are eyeballing the Fox -- but are quick to say it’s too early to make any commitment.

Still, that’s the kind of uptick that breathes new life into a campaign. And the preservationists -- like any underdog campaign worth its salt -- are playing this one to the end. “I would have liked to have seen more financial support early on,” Estes says, “but I don’t feel it’s over, no. Sadly, yes, it’s all about money.... I told [other Fox supporters] on the first night that I was in this for the long run and that we were going to do whatever was necessary to save that theater until it was no longer a possibility. Until there was nothing to save.”

By late Tuesday afternoon, it hadn’t rained.

At least not yet. And neither had the clock stopped moving.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.


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