OAKLAND — The Baghdad. Brahaman Temple. Baghdadian behemoth Gateway to the Orient — such were the nicknames applied to the Fox Oakland Theatre, one of the city's glamorous cinemas, with its graceful domes, sumptuous tapestries and mahogany doors.

Call it what you will, but the curtain is set to rise on the old-time movie palace — once the largest theater on the West Coast — 38 years after the last images flickered across its screen.

Oct. 26 is the target date to rekindle some of the old-time glamour and magic, 80 years nearly to the day after the picture palace opened its doors.

In this reincarnation, the Fox will be filled with live entertainers instead of talking pictures.

Hello Beyonce, goodbye Gloria Swanson.

It was the end of an era when Fox's screens went dark for good in 1970.

Legend has it the final film was the Beatles' "Let it Be."

Motion pictures came to Oakland in 1901, the first one screened in a little theater on Broadway and 13th Street.

By the end of the decade, they had taken over, sparking controversy along the way. An Oakland Tribune editorial from the time rebuked motion picture houses as "dirty and dangerous," as the book, "Theatres of Oakland," tells it. Strangely enough, the Tribune later turned one of the oldest theaters, the Pantages Theatre, into a newspaper plant.

The Fox went into business Oct. 27, 1928, seven months after the first talkie ("The Jazz Singer") arrived in Oakland, and just one year and two days before the infamous Black Tuesday stock market crash.


Cinemas like the Fox were meant to be temples where patrons could worship at the altar of entertainment and adore their golden idols. Evidently, the owners didn't see the Great Depression coming.

The collapse of the U.S. economy was good for movie business, though, even if it also spelled the end of live shows at the Fox (let's hear it for the Sunkist Beauties!).

Oakland's World War II boom days were even kinder by creating jobs that put extra change in people's pockets. The Fox stayed open to 5 a.m. to accommodate them.

By 1949, the city had 43,330 seats — one for every seven 302,000 residents, according to Theatres of Oakland. But that year, close to $10,000 was found missing during an audit after the Fox's manager committed suicide by jumping in front of a truck.

Maybe it was a sign of the times to come.

Few old-time theaters remain, except in photographs, reminders of better days when shops and venues were bustling day and night.

Like other struggling cinemas, the Fox tried to adapt by showing nudie films in 1962 (Oakland even had two Pussycat theaters in the 1970s), according to the Web site of Cinema Treasures, a movie theater preservation group.

That business plan apparently didn't work out too well.

The Fox barely escaped the wrecking ball and the cruel fate of becoming a parking lot. Attempts at resuscitation sputtered.

The ailing picture palace was saved by a nostalgic couple, Erma and Mario DeLucchi, whose high school courtship was played out complete with gardenia corsages to the background of the Fox's ruby- and emerald-hued golden sculptures, called "the Buddhists," which resembled exotic deities with streams of incense smoke perfuming the theater.

The Fox was the place to be in the 1930s and '40s, said Erma DeLucchi.

"We had one of the best cities because of our theaters. We had everything to choose from," she added. The Fox had closed by the time their daughter Diane was old enough to hear the stories of its grandeur.

The couple couldn't bear to see it become "just another pile of rubble," Erma DeLucchi said, recalling how she more or less accidentally became the new owner in 1978 by being the highest bidder ($340,000) in the end — while her husband was still trying to find a parking place outside. "There I was with a theater on my hands," she said.

"It's not like buying a new hat or something.

"But we couldn't take a chance that someone would buy it and tear it down."

The Fox was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and sold to the city of Oakland in 1996.

Fast forward to the 21st century. 

The Fox resembled some ruin in the lost city of Atlantis.

The grand lady wasn't beyond repair but she wasn't too far from it. The graffiti sprayed on the walls just summed up the story of Oakland's downtown decline.

Renovation plans include a performance space which can double as an open dance floor with seating, a bar, a restaurant and a charter school to house the Oakland School for the Arts, currently operating out of portables behind the Fox.

All to the tune of as much as $70 million (the Friends of the Oakland Fox restoration project is still taking donations to continue the historical restoration.

The hope among many is that the Fox will anchor the Uptown district's rebirth as Oakland's entertainment district.

If successful, the Fox will be like a monument to that success, just as the picture palaces were monuments to the success of the movie industry.

The theater isn't called Fox Oakland for nothing.

That's all for now, ladies and gentlemen. But if you have a cool shindig e-mail me at awoodall@bayareanewsgroup.com or visit the Night Owl blog http://www.ibabuzz.com/nightowl for more oddities, events and prowling.