In honor of their efforts to preserve the Fox Theater for future generations, the families of co-owners Madeline Lawton, Preservationist, and Edward Charles Merlo, Architect, donated the historic structure to the City of Stockton on November 24, 1999.
Beverly Lawton
Genevieve Sarabia
Charles McCleave
Anita Merlo
The Merlo Building Trust

As printed in “Stockton’s Crown Jewel, The Bob Hope/Fox California” (2005) by Sylvia Sun Minnick:

The Friends of the Fox is a voluntary organization of individuals interested in preserving the memory and status of the Bob Hope/Fox California Theatre as a significant institution interwoven into the history and culture of Stockton.  This organization began in December 1995, by people motivated to support the restoration and use of the theater which they believe is a key element in the revitalization of downtown Stockton.  The board of directors actively assisted in the theater’s conversion from a privately-owned building to one, first leased and then, owned by the City of Stockton.  Its first President was local attorney Don Geiger (1995-1998) followed by Bonnie Mansfield (1998-2001).  The current President is Robert Hartzell.

When the city leased the Fox Theater from owners Lawton and Merlo, it also entered into a management agreement with VenuTech, a company hired to manage the theater and bring in high-caliber entertainment.  During this period the Friends of the Fox envisioned the theater as “The Crown Jewel”, or the centerpiece for the revitalizing process.

In January 2002, the theater was closed for major renovation.  The 2,000 plus seats needed repair and re-covering at a cost of $250 per seat.  The Friends of the Fox teamed up with the Downtown Stockton Alliance and the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce for a major fund raising drive called “Save My Seat.”  For each $250 donation, a brass plaque bearing the name of the donor was affixed to the arm of the selected seat in perpetuity.  The response from the community was gratifying in that, to date, almost 500 individuals and groups have “purchased” seats.  This is a continuing Friends of the Fox project.

For two years when the theater closed for renovation, the Friends of the Fox continued to meet monthly.  City of Stockton officials reported on the theater’s progress and periodically sought advice.  On several occasions, The Friends of the Fox helped city officials resolve issues with the State Office of Historic Preservation and with the City of Stockton Cultural Heritage Board.  The Friends of the Fox agreed to:

  • Be recognized as the voluntary, public liaison body to the City of Stockton and theater management
  • Create a docent program to train volunteers to give tours of the theater.
  • Present theater-oriented fund raising and community service events at the theater, such as classic and silent films, organ concerts, sale of CDs recorded on the “Mighty Morton”, sale of a new Fox Theater history book and other types of fund raising events or activities.
  • Continue to fund the existing “Cultural Grown Fund” and assist individuals and organizations who would otherwise not have access to the theater and its activities.
  • Publish a quarterly Friends of the Fox newsletter to promote membership and highlight coming attractions at the theater.

The organization grew to over 300 members when the board of directors created a “cultural growth fund” to underwrite performances by local entertainers.  The fund has been successful in making contributions to the annual Nutcracker Ballet so that some less privileged young people can attend this spectacular annual presentation.

Please join us as a Member of the Friends of the Fox!