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Friends of the Fox

In honor of their efforts to preserve the Fox Theater for future generations, the families of co-owners
Madeline Lawton (Preservationist) and Edward Charles Merlo (Architect) donated the historic structure to the
City of Stockton on November 24, 1999.

Thank you,

Beverly Lawton,Anita Merlo,Genevieve Sarabia,Charles McCleave, The Merlo Building Trust


The "Crown Jewel"
of Stockton

As printed in “Stockton’s Crown Jewel, The Bob Hope/Fox California” (2005) by Sylvia Sun Minnick:

The Friends of the Fox is a voluntary organization of individuals interested in preserving the memory and status of the Bob Hope/Fox California Theatre as a significant institution interwoven into the history and culture of Stockton.  This organization began in December 1995, by people motivated to support the restoration and use of the theater which they believe is a key element in the revitalization of downtown Stockton.  The board of directors actively assisted in the theater’s conversion from a privately-owned building to one, first leased and then, owned by the City of Stockton.  Its first President was local attorney Don Geiger (1995-1998) followed by Bonnie Mansfield (1998-2001).  The current President is Robert Hartzell.

When the city leased the Fox Theater from owners Lawton and Merlo, it also entered into a management agreement with VenuTech, a company hired to manage the theater and bring in high-caliber entertainment.  During this period the Friends of the Fox envisioned the theater as “The Crown Jewel”, or the centerpiece for the revitalizing process.

In January 2002, the theater was closed for major renovation.  The 2,000 plus seats needed repair and re-covering at a cost of $250 per seat.  The Friends of the Fox teamed up with the Downtown Stockton Alliance and the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce for a major fund raising drive called “Save My Seat.”  For each $250 donation, a brass plaque bearing the name of the donor was affixed to the arm of the selected seat in perpetuity.  The response from the community was gratifying in that, to date, almost 500 individuals and groups have “purchased” seats.  This is a continuing Friends of the Fox project.

For two years when the theater closed for renovation, the Friends of the Fox continued to meet monthly. City of Stockton officials reported on the theater’s progress and periodically sought advice.  On several occasions, The Friends of the Fox helped city officials resolve issues with the State Office of Historic Preservation and with the City of Stockton Cultural Heritage Board.  

Friends of the Fox Promises to...

  • Be recognized as the voluntary, public liaison body to the City of Stockton and theater management
  • Create a docent program to train volunteers to give tours of the theater
  • Present theater-oriented fund raising and community service events at the theater, such as classic and silent films, organ concerts, sale of CDs recorded on the “Mighty Morton”, sale of a new Fox Theater history book and other types of fund raising events or activities
  • Continue to fund the existing “Cultural Grown Fund” and assist individuals and organizations who would otherwise not have access to the theater and its activities
  • Publish a quarterly Friends of the Fox newsletter to promote membership and highlight coming attractions at the theater

The organization grew to over 300 members when the board of directors created a “cultural growth fund” to underwrite performances by local entertainers. The fund has been successful in making contributions to the annual Nutcracker Ballet so that some less privileged young people can attend this spectacular annual presentation.

Please join us as a Member of the Friends of the Fox!
Fox Theatre.png

Fox California Theater, renamed the Bob Hope Theatre in 2004, is a commercial building in Stockton, California built in 1930. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

The site originally hosted T&D Photoplay, the first theater in Stockton. Fox West Coast Theaters leased T&D Photoplay and renamed it The California in 1921. The building was demolished in 1929 and a new theater was built.

The theater has a two-story Rotunda with a circular mezzanine, a theater with mezzanine seating and a capacity for 2500 people, a 90 by 30 feet (27.4 m × 9.1 m) stage that is 70 feet (21 m) high, and a lower level with choir rooms, band rooms, offices, and dressing rooms.

The theater opened on October 14, 1930, showing Spencer Tracy in Up the River. Approximately 20,000 people attended the opening celebration.

The Fox Theater closed in 1973, although the building was used for a few events after that date. In 1979, Madeleine Lawton and Edward C. Merlo purchased the building, and nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places. The building was donated to the city in 2000.

Restoration of the Fox California Theater was partially funded by Alex G. Spanos who requested that it be renamed the Bob Hope Theatre in honor of his close friend Bob Hope. Additional funds were provided by grants from the United States Congress and from the state's California Bob Hope Heritage Fund.

Renovations included a new sound system and a 1,200 square feet (110 m2) Italian marble floor mosaic. The original chandelier and tile in the exterior lobby were preserved.

As part of the renovation, a 1928 Robert Morton theater organ which had been used to accompany silent movies in Seattle's Fox Theater was restored by Friends of the Fox, a volunteer organization for preserving the theater, and the Sierra Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society. The refurbished organ made its concert debut in the Bob Hope Theatre in 2005 and is played during classic movie showings.

The refurbished theater reopened in September 2004 with a performance by Jerry Seinfeld.

The Historical Fox Theatre

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