Reopening: Riverside, CA – Fox Theatre

Controversy over a new digital marquee on a historic theatre.

Way Off The Marquee

10:00 PM PST on Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dan Bernstein The Press-Enterprise

At its switched-off best, Riverside’s new $250K Fox Theatre marquee resembles a mutant Groucho moustache.

At its lit-up worst, the monstrosity looks custom-made for the Dallas Cowboys, not a painstakingly restored historic building.

This marquee, ushered to “administrative” approval without a syllable of public comment, couldn’t survive the city’s own sign code. But downtown Councilman Mike Gardner bears good news: “The city is exempt from its own sign code.”

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Even Gardner was “taken aback” when the marquee went up. It’s being toned down. No more digital balloons or fireworks. Less casino-grade glare. The center panel will just say something like “Fox Theatre.” The city spent $250K for glitz it will no longer use. Shrewd.

Meanwhile, two side panels will slowly blink coming acts. Gardner: “The display can’t change any more rapidly than Caltrans standards for electronic signs along the freeway.” (I’d always dreamed the Fox would meet Caltrans standards.) Gardner, who campaigned for “open government,” now says the “public should have been involved” before a marquee went up. What happened? “I honestly don’t know.” I do.

Electeds who could’ve reined in the city manager’s office were napping. Gardner: “I just never really focused a lot on the marquee.”

Still, he says, some think the marquee is “magnificent.” Others don’t.

Dave Leonard, prez of the Old Riverside Foundation: “We recognize the reality of applying current technology to a historic theater. But the content and size of the sign overwhelms the building. Why would you spend $30 million to restore a building to the way it looked in 1939 and diminish it with this type of sign?” Quoting Gardner: I honestly don’t know.

The low-slung marquee obscures or at least dilutes the effect of three arches at the Fox entrance. Skinnier digital panels could have preserved a clear view of the Foxitecture. An old Fox marquee did exactly that.

via Way Off The Marquee | Columns | PE.com | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California.

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