California Theatre

345 South First Street,
San Jose, CA 95131

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Showing 26 - 49 of 49 comments

GaryParks on December 24, 2004 at 4:34 pm

The pleasure was mutual, Douglas of Fresno! Since you and others have commented on the “Casablanca” screening, I’ll just share a minute observation which particularly delighted me, and that was how the gold leafing of the organ grilles and surrounding ornamentation sparkled subtly in the glow from the movie screen—a sight not seen in this theatre regularly for decades.

STELLARB on December 20, 2004 at 9:16 pm

I was there for the 7:30 showing this past saturday. What a great evening it was…I had only ever been inside this palace once befor, to see “Scrooge” in 1972.Even back then it was a very impressive house,despite it’s decline…I love the new vertical marquee too…so much classier than the old FOX marquee that hung outside for decades.I also had the pleasure of meeting Gary Parks. I’ll look forward to the next movie night at the California!

bruceanthony on December 19, 2004 at 11:12 pm

I saw the 300PM showing of Casablanca at the California today what a superb presentation. I had a hard time finding a seat in the balcony it was so full. The sound of the wonderful Wurlitzer organ proceeded the Newsreel Of President Roosevelt visiting the troops in North Africa,followed by a Warner Bros Bugs Bunny cartoon,followed by a wonderful print of Casablanca. It was a thrill to see this in a restored movie palace and the curtains opened and closed for the presentation. The lobby area is magnificient and the auditorium is beautiful. I love the new vertical marquee. Thanks again to Mr Packard and his foundation.brucec

deleted user
[Deleted] on December 19, 2004 at 4:29 pm

saw the showing of “casablanca” at the theatre last night. super great … the renovation will remind you very much of the stanford, right on down to the mohair seats.

i could rant on and on, but really, you should just go.

deleted user
[Deleted] on December 13, 2004 at 10:11 pm

i just received a postcard in the mail (addressed to my ex-wife, no less) advertising movies here and googled to see if there was any earlier showings than what the postcard was pimping.

the copy says that “casa blanca” is showing saturday – thursday, dec 18-23, every evening at 19:30 … matinee sunday only at 15:00 … all seats $5 “for this special celebration” … doors at 19:00 so you can listen to the organ.

650-324-3700 (presumably the stanford theatre foundation)

dig it or don’t.

4pugsley on September 26, 2004 at 1:53 pm

Does anyone know how to get a schedule of events going on at the Fox/California San Jose for November? Thank you!

rp2813 on September 24, 2004 at 9:17 am

When I toured the California a week ago for its grand re-opening, I had one “burning” question remaining that none of the docents were able to answer. Perhaps Mr. Parks will know.
What became of the original “fireproof asbstos curtain” with its majestic depiction of what I believe was one of the volcanic peaks outside of Mexico City? This curtain was in the down position when I toured the old Fox when the restoration contract was up for bids, and it brought back memories of the entire process involved when the lights went down and the movie was about to start, the above mentioned curtain rising, leaving the more sheer curtains still covering the screen as the first images appeared on it, and then those curtains parting in the middle to allow the viewing to begin. I realize that asbestos is a problematic material and that the original curtain could have presented health concerns, but I would think that with all of the money that was spent to get everything done right on this project, that a process to either make the original curtain safe or transfer the image to a new curtain would have figured in to the restoration plans. But nobody I asked last week even knew about this curtain at all. Can anyone out there advise on what became of it? This beautiful work of art was a major player in the overall visual treat that this auditorium provided and it’s very sad to think that it’s gone forever.

rp2813 on September 17, 2004 at 10:04 am

As of today, Sept 17, you can update your site to status this theatre as “open” again. Opera San Jose’s opening night is sold out. They will be throwing the doors open at 4PM today for docent-led tours for the general public and I intend to go. I spent many hours there as a kid watching Disney fare and Beatles movies, having been sent by Mom with bus fare and admission but never quite enough to buy one of those big Charms suckers they always had prominently displayed on top of the (now removed) snack bar by the entrance. A couple of articles that appeared last week in the Metro and Mercury have stated that films will be shown here too, both old and new, but no schedule has been given yet. This morning on a TV report about opening night it was also stated that performers of the Tony Bennett genre have expressed interest in this venue. The clear bulbs of the marquee and blade sign are flickering wildly with the various sequential routines, adding a lively atmosphere to this stretch of South First not seen since the old boxy 1957 F-O-X signage was working. Finally the City of San Jose has gotten one project right. But not without David Packard keeping them on track. Without him and his financial influence, this project surely would have been seriously compromised and full of
disappointments. I look forward to coming to this theatre for all types of entertaiment in the future. As a San Jose native, I have yet to set foot in the HP Arena, but you can bet I’ll be inside the California for a performance the first chance I get.

bruceanthony on September 13, 2004 at 10:39 pm

I can’t wait to see a classic film in the California.I wish more restored movie palaces would show film during there down time as a live stage theatre. I can’t wait to see the new vertical marquee spelling out California. Im sure glad Mr Packard is a fan of film and the wonderful theatres that showed them. Everyone should experience seeing a classic film at Mr Packard’s Stanford theatre.brucec

Ross Melnick
Ross Melnick on September 10, 2004 at 8:11 am

And one more article from the Mercury News…

Ross Melnick
Ross Melnick on September 9, 2004 at 11:09 am

Here’s a terrific article about the restoration efforts, published by Metro.

RobertR on September 9, 2004 at 9:05 am

This is a magnificent story and a theatre that was treated with respect and brought back to life. All New York has is greedy landowners who hacked away the facade of the once beautiful Sutton so it could not be landmarked. California should be commended for all the theatres they have restored, and continue to show classic films in.

Patioboe on September 9, 2004 at 8:03 am

Opera San José is in the hall for rehearsals! Acoustics, from what I’ve been told, are wonderful.

scottfavareille on September 8, 2004 at 3:20 pm

One other comment—In its last days as a movie house in the early 1970’s, they operated as an “All seats 49 cents” theater.

scottfavareille on September 8, 2004 at 3:19 pm

They are already running radio ads for the upcoming opera of “The Marriage of Figaro” by Opera San Jose at the “California” theater. (They do not use the word Fox in the ads)

Patioboe on September 8, 2004 at 12:27 pm

I heard that a movie is scheduled for sometime in October.

sknaster on September 3, 2004 at 9:41 am

I received a brochure in the mail stating that the California will also be home to Symphony Silicon Valley (see Does anyone know about a movie schedule for the theatre?


Scott Knaster

GaryParks on July 31, 2004 at 1:41 pm

Update from a walkby the other day:

The ticket lobby is nearing completion and is looking beautiful. Marble cladding of the columns is complete. The multi-paned arched windows and doors of the entrance vestibule are in place. Exact replicas of the original poster case frames are in place. Lantern-style wall fixtures replicated from photos of the originals are in placde. The ornamental plaster of the false balconies overhead have been brought back to their original dark faux woodgrain coloration. The marquee has been finally trimmed out and completed. Work is still in progress on installing the poster cases and the marble slabs to the surfaces which frame the entrance and face the street, and the floor of the ticket lobby has yet to be tiled. The vertical sign still has yet to arrive for installation. Preparations were underway for a new sidewalk surface in front of the entire South First Street frontage. The new structures adjacent to the original facade appear to be all but complete, from what I could see beyond the construction barricade. These additions are simple and modern, but subtly continue the feel of the monumental historic facade without detracting from it.

The new Market Street extension facade and entrance is nearly complete, having been clad in stone and tile. There is an obvious and, I believe, successful attempt to harmonize with the facade of the adjacent Sainte Claire Hotel. There is a nice exterior balcony on the second floor which will enable patrons to stand outside and watch passersby and theatre patrons coming and going via the Market Street entrance. The very simple marquee over said entrance has an LED reader board. This new entrance is equipped with its own box office window and two pair of doors.

I spoke briefly with one of the construction workers there, and he was clearly proud to be working on such a high-profile and beautiful project. He profusely praised the decorative painting of the interior.

GaryParks on May 15, 2004 at 3:20 pm


The California Theatre will reopen in September, 2004 with the beginning of Opera San Jose’s new season. Classic movie lovers can also look forward to many nights of patronage of this theatre also.

Last week I was privileged to have a personal tour of the still-under-construction theatre. While the technical improvements to the whole facility and the new architectural additions to the building are numerous and state-of-the art, I was very pleased to see that within the space of the original building everything has been brought back to 1927. Those very few details which had to be altered a bit for code or customer service and comfort reasons blend in perfectly well with all that is original. The replica of the marquee has been installed. The finish on it is perhaps shinier than what was there originally, but then this marquee won’t need repainting every few years like the marquees of old did (with rust always winning out in the end). The vertical sign was not yet installed, but the facade is completely restored, with a beige and white color scheme (the original was a uniform salmon pink). I could see very little in the entrance foyer, which was still obscured by scaffolding, but workmen were busy recladding the concrete colomns in marble which matches the surviving marble so perfectly it’s uncanny. The Grand Lobby still preserves the original stenciling on the ceiling—apparently having only been cleaned and touched up in a couple of places. The chandeliers are magnificently restored with stenciled mica duplicating the original. The walls once again look like adobe, with the niches made of lime or sandstone. The Mezzanine and lower inner lobbies were still very much works-in-progress with plastering and brightly painted undercoats being applied in readiness for overglazing. The auditorium has been brought back to its original color scheme, with painting complete save for the front and soffit of the balcony, People who may have seen this room when I was conducting tours in the 1990s will find the current colors rather muted compared to the carnival-like color scheme applied during the aborted renovation of the theatre in the 1970s, but the new colors are true or very close to the original 1927 palette as far as I can ascertain, and will look fantastic once the original chandeliers illiminate them and give added warmth and ambience. The restored painted panels over the proscenium with their heraldic crests and garlands are particularly spectacular, as are the gilded plaster faces atop the columns flanking the organ grilles. Installation of both the auditorium and lobby organs is just beginning, with much of the organ restoration work having been done offsite.

The new spaces around and under the historic part of the theatre are simple and modern. In the end, they will certainly contrast with the original areas, but the differences in style will not harm the historic areas, as you can’t really see the modern areas from the historic, access between the two being only through standard doorways and a few arched openings.

Underneath the building is a warren of passageways with dressing room after dressing room. I hope they are planning to install directional signs, as this underground complex is like the underground areas at Radio City on a reduced scale.

The stage…is gargantuan…
If anyone ever complains that it is too small (and someone will someday—they always do) they need to…“go away.” There are well over fifty lines for flying scenery, an orchestra lift, a nice little room for storing the organ console, and a shelf way up high on the stage-right stagehouse wall for the organ’s Diaphone pipes.

As was promised by the architects and by David W. Packard, all the stage lighting in the auditorium used for live performances will be hidden from view when movies play, save perhaps on the front edge of the balcony. The racks of ubiquitous black cans we old theatre fans cringe at seeing on the walls will simply be invisible—either hidden in the ceiling beams, behind hatches in the ceiling, or sliding out of the way behind the original wrought iron false window grilles in the sidewalls. The integration of all this wizardry into the restored plasterwork and decorative painting is truly remarkable.

While my wife and I are planning to be there on the operatic Opening Night, I am equally looking forward to attending classic movies at this plush venue, as I have done for over a decade now at the Stanford in nearby Palo Alto.

If you like the Stanford, you’ll love the California. Having been designed by the same architectural firm in the 1920s, it is (and I mean this with complete respect) like the Stanford on steroids AND in drag!

William on October 10, 2003 at 1:22 pm

The Fox California is located at 345 South First Street. It seated 1749 people and was designed by the firm Weeks and Day in a Spanish Colonial design.

Manwithnoname on October 9, 2003 at 10:57 am

We, Wagner Electric Sign Co., have been contracted to reproduce the marquee and blade for this historic theatre. You will be interested to know that the name has officially been changed. It was the Fox California, but is now called the California.

We are patterning the blade after the original that is now on the California Theatre in Dunsmuir, CA. The marquee was distroyed years ago and we will pattern the reproduction on photographs.

GaryParks on August 17, 2002 at 1:51 pm

Construction update:

All remnants of 1950s remodeling in the entranceway have now been removed and steel studs are in place for replication of the original postercase arrangement.

The facade is covered in scaffolding and a protective debris/dust shroud for restoration work.

Work proceeds on the new courtyard area next to the entrance. The concrete wall which will be a backdrop for a fountain is now in place.

The lower courses of the new stagehouse are being constructed.

A new double layer roof, which will soundproof the auditorium from the sound of jets overhead (Downtown San Jose is in the flightpath of San Jose International Airport), is being built, replacing the original wooden roof.

Meanwhile, at an offsite location, restoration of the auditorium and lobby organs continues.

GaryParks on April 27, 2002 at 3:54 pm

The architects of the Fox (California)were Charles Peter Weeks and William Day. The theatre began life as part of the West Coast Theatre chain, which was soon added to the William Fox empire. The marquee shown in the photo dates from 1957, when the theatre underwent a facade and lobby redecoration, and the name of the theatre was shortened to FOX. Restoration plans call for replication of the original California rectangular marquee and replication of original lightbulb vertical sign, which is one of a number of identical “California” verticals manufactured for the West Coast chain, featuring lightbulb outlining in a California poppy motif.

Also part of the restoration will be a Wurlitzer organ in the auditorium, AND a smaller restored Wurlitzer in the lobby. This will be the first time since demolition of the San Francisco Fox that a Bay Area movie palace will have a lobby organ.

I was privileged to be a tour docent in this theatre at various times from 1991-1993, and took hundreds of fascinated citizens through the building. It was an experience I will always treasure.

RonPierce on January 13, 2002 at 12:49 am

San Jose, California Fox: Local preservation society:
See continuity newsletter, Fall 2001,
Fox Theatre groundbreaking, p. 8. For great architectural drawings check out:
1904 vintage Jose Theatre: then go to Historic Jose Theatre box and at the bottom of that box you will see
Update! City Council Agrees to 10- year lease with improv comedy club.