If any one night set Oakland's past apart from the future, it was Feb. 5, 2009. Women in gowns and men in tuxedos replaced the homeless people who once congregated around the long-neglected Fox Theater.
Exactly a year later, crowds gathered on the anniversary of the Fox's reopening to celebrate the venue's "living legacy," as Friends of the Fox Executive Director Chris Edenborough put it Friday during a tour of the Baghdadian behemoth.
It was an anniversary long in the making. Opposition dogged the project nearly from the day that city officials and historic preservation-minded boosters joined up in 1998 and decided that it was now or never to save the movie palace.
Detractors complained that the original $60 million budget should go to affordable housing, schools, a community center — anything but the restoration of another movie palace just blocks from the likewise majestically restored Paramount Theatre.
Supporters argued that the theater would anchor a downtown revival. And it did.
A Fox Theater T-shirt for sale Friday night read, "Who's Bridge and Tunnel Now?" The theater and the development around it have made a difference.
No doubt about it, said Al Wasserman, a Berkeley resident who saw the neighborhood slide downhill after the Fox shut down in 1965.
"This was dead street before," he said after Friday's tour. "Now there's hope it will come back."
This first year, however, has not been perfect. But even before Friday night, the theater already met the goal of holding 50 events and 100,000 patrons in the first year.
According to Community and Economic Development Agency figures, Another Planet, the concert promoter that runs the Fox, had booked 48 shows by October and seen 113,000 people come through the Art Deco doors — usually gawking. But they had to sink some money into acoustic fixes to improve the sound of the 100-year-old theater for acts like Pixies, B.B. King and, on Feb. 23, the Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band.
And just when it seemed safe to exhale a sigh of relief at success, city staff were back tugging at the municipal purse strings for another $2 million — on top of the $89 million price tag the renovation has cost so far. The city alone already had invested $48.8 million, making Oakland an entertainment impresario in charge of two of the nation's largest surviving vintage theaters.
City officials promised to conduct an outside audit of the complicated financing plan, but so far no plans have been finalized.
The relationship between the Fox Theater and Oakland School for the Arts also caused a stir last summer when an OSA student, who has since graduated, complained that students were not getting fair access to the Fox stage for performances. Tongues began to wag.
The lease allows the students to use the Fox up to 12 nights per year for performances or other events, but OSA has to pay for it. The cost depends on the show, but between the lighting and sound technicians supplied by Another Planet and the other costs of just opening the doors, the bill adds up fast.
For example, the school paid Another Planet about $31,000 for a two-night performance of "The Wiz" in December. OSA students put on five shows in the first year (between January 2009 and January 2010), according to the school's director, Don Harris.
Harris said he expects things to run more smoothly now that they've worked out some of the kinks that come with being a school attached financially and physically to a concert venue.