In the 1920s and 30s, Fox West Coast Theaters built and acquired dozens of theaters around the United States. This was the golden age of the movie palace, and some Fox theaters were the most opulent ever built. When it opened on April 24, 1931, the Fox Theatre in Pomona California was a glamorous addition to what was, at that time, a small agricultural community on the outskirts of Los Angeles County.
Designed by Balch and Standberry of Los Angeles, the Pomona Fox had a big city flair, with its Art Deco design, 1750 seats, and $300,000 price tag. The 81 foot tall corner tower, crowned with a rotating red and blue neon FOX sign, was the tallest structure in the valley and visible from neighboring cities. The sumptuous interior featured murals and tapestries, elaborate plaster panels, ornamental iron work, couches, and one of the first commercial air-conditioning systems in the country.
Audiences were treated to the complete movie palace experience-- Wurlitzer organ preshow, newsreels, cartoon and comedy shorts, Saturday serials and the latest big picture releases. Occasionally, there was another special treat. Thanks to Pomona's demographics, which were similar to important markets across the country, the major studios did test screenings at the Fox. People in Pomona loved having this small contribution to Hollywood’s magic. They treated previews as if they were world premieres, wearing their most glamorous outfits and competing to spot the stars that came to watch audience reactions. Filmakers occasionally pandered to the crowd, mentioning Pomona on the screen to encourage positive reviews. In Sunset Boulevard, William Holden's character passes judgment on the fading career of Norma Desmond saying, “They'll love it in Pomona.”
Thanks to its vaudeville stage, the Fox also hosted a wide range of live performances, such as concerts, talent shows, travel lectures, holiday dances, and political events. Two especially memorable radio shows were hosted by Bob Hope and featured Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Shirley Temple, and Lawrence Welk. When times were tough during the Great Depression, the Fox held fundraisers for charities and families in need. However, there are sad memories of the the Fox, as well. During the 1930s and 40s, Latinos and African-Americans were sometimes only allowed to use "the cheap seats" at the back of the balcony. At the outbreak of World War II, the Fox hosted rallies for enlistment in the military--outside, Japanese-Americans (including some families from Pomona) arrived downtown on their way to incarceration at the Los Angeles Fairgrounds and then internment at remote camps for the duration of the war.
Movie houses lost audiences in the 1950s, but the Pomona Fox hoped a major "modernization" would help. Art Deco chandeliers and the historic ticket booth were removed, and a new, splashy neon marquee was added. Moviegoers were unimpressed and the Pomona Fox began a long decline. Making matters worse, downtown Pomona as a whole was losing customers and businesses to suburban malls. The last theater chain to own the Fox, Mann Theaters, closed the theater in 1976.
Efforts to "save the Fox" began immediately, and the City of Pomona leased the building in 1977 and allowed Valley Community Theater to present plays such as Don't Drink the Water and Fiddler on the Roof. Months later, after an acrimonious 3-2 vote, the City Council failed to purchase the building for $350,000. Businessman Barry Reicher then purchased the theater and showed Spanish-language films. Revival movies from Mexico were a specialty, starring actors like Cantinflas, Vicente Fernandez, El Santo and Sasha Montenegro. In 1980 the theater’s storefronts were leased to El Merendero Restaurant and Bakery, a popular Mexican eatery.
Community efforts to purchase the theater failed again in 1989, when the theater was leased to Iglesia Universal del Reino de Dios, a “neo-Pentecostal” church from Brazil. For years, fiery sermons and healings could be heard on the downtown’s empty streets. In 1994, the area around the Fox Theatre was designated the Pomona Arts Colony, a cluster of artist lofts, galleries, restaurants and nightclubs. Drawn by this emerging success, Amos Wallace, a promoter of dance party “raves,” leased the Fox in 1999. Wallace vandalized the interior of the theater, demolishing the 1938 Charles Shouras concession counter, breaking and removing historic fixtures, and painting over many original murals. His events were plagued with criminal behavior and violence. Galvanized by such abuses, the City closed the theater and then purchased it for 1.1 million in 2002.
The renovation of the building into a multi-venue entertainment complex is underway, and the grand reopening is set for April 2009.