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Fox Riverside Theatre restoration begins with a cloud of dust

posted by Philbert Gray on December 14, 2007 am31 7:50am

RIVERSIDE, CA — The Fox Riverside Theatre began it’s $30 million dollar restoration last Wednesday with the demolition of the rear wall to extend the intact stage another 27 feet for future theater productions. Ongoing work includes earthquake-proofing, rebuilding the orchestra pit and lobby, adding restrooms, a bar, cafe area, and backstage dressing rooms.

Robert Wise, the city’s project manager, said the theare will be rehabilitated to its original design but will be enlarged in some areas and have other modifications. Architect Richard McCann, who has restored about 30 historic theatres, including The Wilshire in Los Angeles and the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle was hired to restore the theatre. This will be the first time in decades that much of the original interior artwork of the theatre has been exposed.

Separate sources list the opening of the theatre as either June 11, 1929 or October 8, 1929.  The Riverside Theatre was one of a chain of theatres built for West Coast Theatres. It was designed by Lewis A. Smith in the Mission revival style. It functioned as both a vaudeville and screen venue and had a seating capacity of 1900. The first public showing of Gone With the Wind took place at the Riverside the theatre at a sneak preview.

The theatre was acquired by the city through eminent domain in 2004 after several attempts to restore the theatre stalled after its closure in the 1980s. It last operated as a Spanish-language theatre. In addition to the failed restoration attempts the structure was burglarized in 2005. Thieves stole chandeliers and tiles valued at $251,000, according to city officials.

The city of Riverside sees this as an integral part of their ongoing downtown revitalization. Completion of the project to turn the theatre into a 1600 seat performing arts center is expected in the first quarter of 2009.

An article on the state of the restoration to date can be found at the Press-Enterprise web site along with two photos of the interior and back of the theatre. 

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