Owners save Fox Theatre in Taft — for now

Owners save Fox Theatre in Taft — for now
TAFT, Calif. -- Don't ring down the curtain yet.

Both the property-owners and the business running the Fox Theatre in Taft say they'll keep the doors open. The future looked had dim when the site went on the auction block Friday morning. But, this chapter of the story has a happy ending.

"It was foreclosed upon and there wasn't an outside bidder to buy the property, so the mortgage-holders took back the property," Realtor Paul Joyce told Eyewitness News by noon. "What they've decided to do is fantastic news for Taft and the community."

Resident Tamra Johnson agreed.

"I think that's wonderful," she said. "I think we need stuff like that downtown."

The big building housing the historic theater sits square in Taft's downtown on Center Street. Taft folks had worried about the looming foreclosure.

"Were it to be boarded up, it would destroy downtown Taft," Jessica Miller said. She's a local resident and works downtown. "I definitely want it to stay open because it really is a center piece and it's a jewel on Center Street."

Built in the early twenties, the property houses the big theater, five shops along Center, and even four apartments on the second floor. Joyce described the mortgage-holders as private investors, and said they want to fill the property to capacity.

"They've got businesses that are interested in filling these store fronts," Joyce said. "So, they're going to fill them up. And they've got four beautiful apartments upstairs. They're remodeled, redone, and they're just fantastic."

The theater itself has been a labor of love by its current operators. Joyce estimated they poured some $2 million into adding new seats and fixing up the three theaters inside.

A lot of work has been done to keep the historic character of the building. The lobby has a special mural, the theaters feature ornate detail on the ceilings and painted murals beside the screen.

"It was a very high-class place that had a lot of celebrities back in the day," Tyler Leaf explained. He's worked at the Fox for the last couple years. He's now one of just a couple staff, and said the theater is now open only on week-ends. It's been part of his history, too.

"I came when I was little, and it closed down. And then back in 1997 it opened up again, everyone was excited in Taft." Leaf hopes the theater can stay open.

Joyce said while the mortgage-holders will keep the property, the owners of the theater operation want to sell their business.

"That still is going to be operated in the short term by these folks, and they have a five-year lease with options," Joyce said. "They want to sell this business entity." Joyce said he talked to those owners Friday morning, and they indicated they hope to find a buyer in the next three or four months.

The property-owners are committed to keeping the building going, but they could also make a deal.

"The building is for sale. You could put a package together to buy the whole building, or you can just by the Fox Theatre and operate that."

Joyce said the operators of the theater are asking $150-thousand for their business. He said the price for the entire property had been at $850-thousand.

The Realtor and a number of Taft folks say they're not only relieved the property won't get boarded up, and the theater will keep going -- they really hope a local business or local group can be found to buy the movie operation.

"It's already a viable business, and it just needs somebody to take if off," Joyce said. "So much money has been invested, so much energy, with somebody local operating it, it can be a gold mine for someone."