Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Fox Theater and the end of Downtown Anaheim

 Today's photos come from reader Dave Mason and show the demolition of Anaheim's Fox Theater "around 1979." It stood on the north side of W. Lincoln Ave., near Lemon Street, in the area that was Downtown Anaheim before the bulldozers arrived. The theater was opened in 1920 as part of the West Coast Theatres chain, and included a backstage area and dressing rooms for vaudeville shows. It initially operated as the California Theatre but soon became the Fox Theater.
A 1978 L.A. Times article about Downtown Anaheim began, "A move to get 24 downtown buildings listed in the National Register of Historical (sic) Places is politically motivated and aimed at hobbling downtown renewal, the Community Redevelopment Commission said... Chairman James Morris said the move to get the buildings listed for historical recognition is contrived solely to jeopardize or halt redevelopment.

Those 24 sites included Martinet Hardware, the SQR Store, the Rosemarie Apartments, the California Building, the Marietta Court  Apartments, the Fox Theater block, Zion Lutheran Church, the Kraemer Garage, the Carnegie Library, the Pickwick Hotel, the Masonic Temple, the Angelina Kraemer Hotel, City Hall, the Samuel Kraemer Building, the German Methodist Church, the Church of His Holy Presence, First Presbyterian Church, the Ferdinand Baxhaus House, the Richard Melrose House, the Union Pacific Depot, and Pearson Park. Essentially, it was the heart of historic Downtown Anaheim.
 In the article, I'm particularly amused (in a "black humor" sort of way) by Morris' indignation that anyone would try to stand in the way of ripping out the heart of their town in order to replace it with soon-to-be-vacant office buildings and a Von's shopping center. It's like a tiger complaining that a mother is trying to prevent a child from becoming a snack. The impertinence! 
 I only wish that Diann Marsh and her band of preservationists had prevailed. In fact, is there anyone today who DOESN'T wish that Downtown Anaheim had been saved? Which would you prefer: A historic downtown like Orange, or the mess that stands on the site of old Downtown Anaheim today?
 Luckily, at least a few token bits of Downtown were saved, including the Carnegie Library (now part of the "Muzeo") and the Kraemer Building. Also, the community's anger over the destruction lead to a movement that lashed out against the bureaucrats with PAC money and lawyers and succeeded in saving some of the city's historic neighborhoods. I know many people who live in those neighborhoods today, and the area is both unique and charming. Unfortunately, so much is already gone forever.
Let Downtown Anaheim's fate be a lesson to other communities that see wholesale destruction of their history as the path to glory. It isn't. You end up trading your soul for a strip mall and your individuality for a Jiffy Lube. And future generations will blame you for ripping their inheritance away from them.
Hopefully, the death of the redevelopment agencies will prevent this from happening again, but I presume it will only be a matter of time before the same old scam artists find a new scam.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post and very powerful photos. It saddens me greatly.

Anonymous said...

I never saw downtown Anaheim before its destruction but studying old photos and aerial shots presents an amazing contrast between what was and what is. Standing in the middle of the Vons parking lot, one would never imagine that they are right in the middle of what once was a very quaint and very cool historic business district. The Kraemer building now stands as a lonely monument to the past in the middle of what is essentially a boring office park.

pest control said...

A powerful presentation!

Davelandweb said...

Those photos hurt. Ouch. The lack of taste in removing those historic buildings is appalling.

CoxPilot said...

My Grandmother worked at SQR, and I first saw Bambe at the Fox. I remember walking from our house to the downtown area with my Mother to do her shopping. Miss it.

Anonymous said...

I don't plan on being anoymous My name is Diann Marsh and I LIVED THAT time--right in the middle of it! I was not an evil person, but an artist, wife, and mother of seven children. We lived north of redevopment, but I fell in love with the buildings downtown. Andy Deneau and I went to Norman Priest, Redevelopment Director and asked him how the buildings could be saved. He said that "if they were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, we would save them. We looked at each other and thought, We can do that."
And we did. We managed to get it through the State Historic Board, but when it went to Washington, Anaheim officials went to block it.
Bill Thom, Anaheim mayor said in a newspaper that they did not care how they got the area demolished, they wanted it destroyed. He was assisted by Richard O'Neill Chairman of the Democratic Central Committee, who went to Jerry Brown.
It was so sad to see the destruction. In the basement of the history room are hundreds of slides showing the destruction.

ANAHEIM HISTORICAL SOCIETY said...

Thanks so much for this post, Chris. Not a day goes by that we don't lament the destruction of our Downtown. It's the city's greatest tragedy, and certainly one that we have never fully recovered from (in over 30 years!). You just have to shake your head when reading over the list of structures that were to have been destroyed, and thank our lucky stars that the Kraemer Building and Carnegie Library are still here, and treasured.

Diann Marsh, thank you so much for your comment. You and Andy Deneau are legends, and Anaheim would have lost EVERYTHING if it weren't for your efforts. For that we cannot thank you enough.

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Anonymous said...

Chris,

Excellent work on the backstory behind the images. The hometown of our youth is gone forever... but thankfully there are those who value those memories and help to share them with a new generation.

With gratitude,
Dave Mason

Susan said...

I always try to tell my children about downtown Anaheim. My mother bought my girl scout uniform at the SQR store. I watched Dumbo at the Fox theater. It has always saddened me that Anaheim doesn't have their historic downtown and it's hard to explain to my children what it looked like back then. Great article.

Anonymous said...

I too miss the old downtown Anaheim. It was a great place to grow up and be a part of. Its a shame that people back then really didn't under stand what they were doing to the future. I remember all the stores participating in Halloween and dressing up themselves as well as their stores. It was so much fun!! We should all take a lesson. Just because something is old doesn't necessaily mean it should be destroyed and replaced. I loved those old buildings they had so much character. Thanks for your posts and pictures. Brought back lots of fun memories of my childhool.

Rich Dawson said...

Yes, the demise of downtown Anaheim was a travesty. I'm 46 now, and remember roaming downtown like it was yesterday. Good times. My father was especially mad that this had happened. He grew up in downtown and eventually started a family there after returning from the service. After moving away years ago, I lived in a small town called Galion in Ohio where my mother-in-law lives and helped renovate their local theater. It reminded me of yesteryear every time I went downtown. Some things cannot be replaced. The new is not always better.

Anonymous said...

Every time I drive down Lincoln I get a depressed feeling because downtown Anaheim is gone. If my mother is with us (she is now 90) she always says, "This used to be such a nice place. Now it is all gone." I remember going shopping there as a kid with my mom. We went to the SQR, Penney's and the variety stroe (was it Kresses?). When I got older and could drive my mom ofter sent me on errands to get take-out Chinese food from the Chines restaurant near the east end . What was the name of that place? I did go to the FOX Anaheim and can recall that set of seats toward the rear of the theater. It was a sort of raised area and it may have had those seats called "lodges". Anaheim lost it's character when they destroyed that historic downtown area. A previous posting inferred that Jerry brown may have had a hand in the ultimate destruction of these buildings by helping to block the naming of these buildings as historic monuments/buildings. Now he is trying to destroy the whole state.

Colleen (Joha) O'Brien said...

So sad to see that the town I grew up in is virtually gone! I remember painting on the store windows for the Halloween contest, selling Girl Scout cookies door to door,( pulling my wagon behind me in East Anaheim)and walking home from Fremont Jr. high. The SQR store was so special! I now live near Bellingham, WA and all the old buildings there remind me of Anaheim as it once was....

Rob Luskey said...

A wonderful post. I grew up nearby (on Resh Street...by Anaheim High) and distinctly remember going to the Fox Theater and the old downtown. It was a crime that the politicians were just narrow-minded developers. The area now is a wasteland. Shame on the city leaders that pushed for this. Shame shame shame...

PithywitBruce said...

As with many of your other commenters, I so fondly recall Downtown Anaheim circa 1955. Mom bought our new school clothes at SQR, we purchased our baseball gloves at Wissers Sporting Goods, Mom got her dresses at Mode O'Day. Our Folks could drop us off at the Fox Theater for ALL DAY at the Saturday Kid's Matinee and not worry about us. We marched in the Halloween Parade. All gone. Not just downtown, but Grampa's whole street of sweet little 30's bungaloes on Olive Street, and so many others. Shame on those (long gone) city officials.

Anonymous said...

I find it very sad to see how that area became blighted today. It was not like that back in the 60s and early 70s. Yes it could have been revamped like downtown Orange. But no, they had to destroy it and now it looks like downtown Tijuana, no lie. I would never do any business there. And I am not a racist, I am of latin decent but we sure were never brought up to live the life of anything but American pride. I find downtown Anaheim a disgusting barrio. Had anyone ever come to Anaheim before the early 70s, they would never believe it was the same place. Gone is the beauty that once existed, and yes, once upon a time, it was a safe place to live, walk and shop. What a shame!

Anonymous said...

I too grew up in Anaheim. I remember the SQR, Fox Theatre, Baton Music, Weisers Sporting Goods, etc. I visit Anaheim once or twice a year to go down the street where I grew up and then take a drive down Lincoln and check out Anaheim High School. It's sad to see the "improvements" made by big government.

Anonymous said...

I lived on N. Emily Street in the 1970's....much was starting to be torn down then. I miss " Old Down Town Anaheim ". They filmed a movie in that area in the 1980's...cannot remember the name of it though. I haven't been back there in years ...it would just not be the same .

Tony Lewis said...

Thank-you for this article. The amazing irony is that part of Disney's success was a depiction of "Mainstreet USA", while the real thing just outside the park wasn't seen as worth anything. If anyone ever took the time to look into who profited the most from the destruction of Downtown Anaheim, they will follow a clear trail to the top local politicians of the time. They cleaned up, and we lost our heritage.

Donald (Don) L. Kirk said...

Although today I preserve and restore buildings (mostly theatres), at the time, Anaheim had pictures of an elaborate Disney themed "mall" that was to be built. It had double the number of shops; as well as (I believe) a couple of amusement rides. It was to be really fancy. As the buildings came down, I grabbed a couple of souvenirs and dropped them off at the museum (SQR trim and a chandelier from the former movie theatre that the jewelry store used the lobby as their store. Once the buildings were down, suddenly the city came up with plans for the "dull" looking strip shopping center they built As a child I rode my donkey "Jack" in the Halloween parade. I went to the Fox. My mother worked at SQR, Kress, Owl Rexall Drug and another dime store; as well as the grill next to the Fox. At the Fox, Wolfman Jack MC's a show there one time and I saw him (didn't meet him). In 1969 I worked opposite his XERB radio show at KTBT. I was LA area's worst announcer but was beating him in ratings (Acid Rock music). He'd call me and ask me to leave the phone off the hook (he actually lived on the East Coast and couldn't otherwise hear me). We talked for hours, but again, we never met. I ate at the restaurant's last day and still have one of their menu's. A meal was $1.75 average. Mom always bought my shoes at the SQR. She worked in the basement's yardage dept. I miss downtown; but as much, I miss Harmony Park Ballroom, where in 1957, Cliffie Stone had a weekly TV show; and for 8 weeks I got to sing for Cliffie and get to know Molly Bee, Speedy West and be on stage with then teen idol Tommy Sands. Tennessee Earnie Ford was there once. I use the dressing room that it's said the the song Louie Louie was written in. I wish I could have saved Harmony Park; as it was my first work with the big name stars.