Fox Theatre at 90: Celebrating Our Movie Palace Home

Fox Theatre at 90

Since being purchased by the San Diego Symphony in late 1984, Copley Symphony Hall has been one of the Symphony’s most important assets, a truly grand piece of real estate amidst a downtown San Diego profoundly changed since it opened as The Fox Theatre movie palace at the dawn of the Great Depression, on November 6, 1929.

Though the fortunes of downtown San Diego waxed and waned repeatedly over the decades following its opening, the Fox Theatre remained a “safe space” for families to drop off the kids for a day’s entertainment, or to attend together for a memorable night at the movies. That continuity of use and popularity is one of the factors that allowed the San Diego Symphony to take ownership of the Fox at a critical moment for both entities. AA massive redevelopment in the late 1980s resulted in the enclosure of the theatre within Symphony Towers and the Marriott Hotel complex.


How lucky we are that entrepreneur William Fox and local developer Philip Gildred fulfilled their vision to build a theater ready to accommodate entertainments on a scale never before seen in San Diego – a place where the best of cinema, dance, opera, musical theatre, and symphonic music could be seen and heard by anyone in surroundings resplendent in beauty and glamour. And how lucky we are, again, that beloved friends such as The Copley Family, Lawrence Robinson, and Joan and Irwin Jacobs have provided vital support to the Symphony over the years, allowing us to flourish in our historic home.

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As programmer of our silent film selections within the Fox Theatre Film Series, it is always my pleasure to honor the movie palace history of Copley Symphony Hall by encouraging audiences to come in, have a seat and partake in a little cinematic time travel. I believe it is important to preserve for modern filmgoers the experience of enjoying – on the big screen – the efforts of these great writers, actors and directors, working at the highest artistic level with what, at the time, was the most cutting-edge technology available. Despite the limitations we may now perceive, what they were able to achieve quite often remains glorious to 21st century eyes.

And so, to honor this month’s 90th birthday of Copley Symphony Hall, formerly The Fox Theatre, we are thrilled to present a film born in the same critical year of 1929: Pandora’s Box. This movie, considered by many to be the last important one of the Silent Era, defies easy description. Suffice it to say, it is loaded with vivid incident, strong personalities, plot twists and a brazenly feminist perspective that left 1929 audiences rather shell-shocked. The young, dazzling Hollywood starlet Louise Brooks collaborates with master Weimar Germany filmmaker G.W. Pabst to create “Lulu,” a woman whom you won’t soon forget. Organist Russ Peck once again underscores the silent onscreen drama with our mighty Robert Morton Fox Theater Organ, which made its own debut here 90 years ago as well. So now…sit back, relax, grab your popcorn and ENJOY!

JD Smith is the San Diego Symphony’s Director of Marketing and Sales Technology. He has curated Silent Era films at Copley Symphony Hall for the past seven years, and he gives monthly public tours of the Jacobs Music Center from October through May.

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