Friday, September 11, 2009

An Atmospheric Theater

"No buildings in America have been, collectively, as audaciously romantic, blatantly derivative, and wonderfully original as the movie palaces." So reads the introduction to the Fox Theater in Hanford, California, on its web page.

The opening of a new movie theatre in town was cause for public celebration, with all the hoopla normally reserved for a major movie premiere.

Even in Hanford, located about 15 miles west of Visalia, front page coverage of the December 1929 Grand Opening of The Fox dominated the Christmas holiday news.

We found the Fox simply by finding the town square in this town of 40,000. Being located near the town's center seemed appropriate, since we believe the theater has played a central role in re-establishing the downtown.

The restored Historic Hanford Fox Theatre, has 889 seats downstairs and 142 plush rocking chairs in the balcony where snacks, soft drinks, beer and wine are served.

Built by William Fox of Fox Theaters in 1929, and one of 900+ across the United States, the Hanford Fox Theatre is designed as an atmospheric theatre.

This type of theatre, as opposed to the ornate or art deco style, is designed to create the illusion of being located in a romantic far-off place. The locale is a Spanish courtyard, complete with twinkling stars and crescent moon in a dark night sky.

There are tile-covered buildings with lighted windows, balconies and turrets, silhouetted and backlighted by the glow of a village beyond.

With tripod in hand, I roam the dimly-lit theater, photographing different parts of the restoration using multi-second exposures.

Greco-Roman columns support the proscenium. Further back are Mediteranian and Spanish renaissance influences, but the over all decor is Mission Revival.

One of Kate's many responsibilities while she was Director of Student Life was scheduling performance events in a college union. During our tours of these old theaters, she will talk shop with our guides about the functions of a full stage, the dressing rooms, fly and orchestra pit.

While photographing these sections of the proscenium, workmen were apologizing for the "work in progress" appearance of the stage. They were clearly proud of the work they were doing and wanted to show off completed works.

I reassured them that this was not a planned visit, that I was not taking pictures of the work area, and that we thought the theater looked magnificent.

As we moved backstage to continue our tour, we passed this old camera and spotlight.

This side room on the way to the dressing rooms was unique among the theaters we've visited. Not only were the signs unlike any we had seen in the dark, narrow corridors common to the great majority of theaters, it seems that some customers will choose to spend the evening in this space. Here they can move around and drink, while watching the performance on the closed circuit TV.

I loved this "rainbow row" of small dressing rooms off to one side of the stage. The dressing room of the featured artist is opposite this row--and larger.

Located under the stage at the end of a very narrow corridor with a low ceiling, was this organ. Silent films are still shown during special times, benefits, and film festivals with the appropriate accompaniment from this organ.

The lobby, hallways, and back rooms assume the status of gallery for a large number of movie-themed prints. Understandably, we were not able to photograph these, but this chandelier in the lobby was a worthy substitute.

The pride in the restoration work and in the new life of the Hanford Fox came through in the enthusiasm shown by Nick, our guide.

Many, many thanks, Nick.