Fox Performing Arts Center
It is now one of the great theatre trivia questions of all time:
"Where did both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz have their world premieres?"
Answer: At the Fox Theater in Riverside, California.
Even today Hollywood will always hold "sneak previews" of films.
Sometimes they are announced ahead of time (not the title, only
the fact there will be a free sneak preview and a survey afterward.
I remember seeing Chocolat this way in a West LA shopping
mall theatre in 2000) and sometimes it will be a surprise showing.
This theatre at the corner of Seventh Street (now Mission Inn Avenue)
and Market Street in Downtown Riverside is just a block from the famous
Mission Inn, a favorite "get-away" spot for the stars who didn't want to
drive all the way to Palm Springs to keep the reporters off their trail.
It got to be so well-known that it became a perfect wedding site;
Bette Davis was once married here, as were Richard and Pat Nixon.
Sneak previews held at the Fox meant that stars and producers could stay at the
Mission Inn, have a short, easy walk (in almost guaranteed good weather) to the
theatre, and even in the 1930s Riverside was only about an hour's drive from LA.
No wonder it was such a favorite spot for advance showings of Hollywood films!
Riverside (Fox) Theatre, c.1935
"The Riverside Theatre opened on June 11, 1929 with White Shadows in the South Seas starring Monte Blue & Raquel Torres. Film star Monte Blue appeared in person, and the Wurlitzer 2 manual 10 ranks organ was opened by Warren Wright. With a seating capacity of 1,550 in orchestra and balcony levels, it was built for vaudeville and movies by Fox West Coast Theatres.
In 1939, the Fox Riverside Theatre held the first public sneak preview screening of Gone With the Wind, and Vivian Leigh made a personal appearance. Over the following years, the theatre was often used by the film studios as a sneak preview theatre for upcoming films and a sign on the front of the theatre would be illuminated to notify when one was to take place.
In 1942, the stage house was sealed off from the main theatre, and was converted into a second movie theatre to the plans of Clifford Balch. It had its own entrance at the rear of the building, and was named the Lido Theatre.
During its last gasps of life, the Fox Theater was exhibiting Spanish language films and the Lido Theatre had become an adult movie theatre as part of the Pussycat Theatres chain. Both finally succumbed to economic pressure and were closed in around 1992. The building stood empty and unused, the victim of thieves and vandals for many years.
In 2001, the abandoned theatre was purchased by a local individual, with plans proposed for a renovation, but years past by, and nothing happened. It was purchased by the city in 2006, and in 2009, the city spent 32 million Dollars to restore the theater back to a single space, with a working stage. It now has 1,646 seats. with 971 in the orchestra, 234 in the mezzanine and 441 in the balcony. The program includes touring Broadway shows.
It reopened on January 15, 2010 as the Fox Performing Arts Center, and presents live performances, live theater and Classic movies. The Nederlander Organisation have a five year lease on the theatre and they will book three to five shows a year, but not concerts or other events."
(contributed by Ken Roe)