Last Thursday, I attended a rare screening of my friend Charlie Pecoraro's film "Circle the Wagen" at the Fox Theater in Fullerton. To my knowledge, this was the first screening inside the Fox since it closed down in 1987. The theater was saved from demolition (thanks to a massive community effort) over ten years ago. However, renovations have been slow-going. The theater still needs a lot of work before it is fully restored, but the "Circle the Wagen" screening gave me hope. The theater was packed, and people were giddy with excitement. My friend Cole told me, "I've grown up in Fullerton and have never been inside the Fox. This is amazing."
The Fox Theater is a real gem for downtown Fullerton. It was built in the 1920s by the same company that built the famous Egyptian and Chinese Theaters in Hollywood. It's a vaudeville-style theater in Italian Renaissance style. Classic movie stars had premiers here: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Errol Flynn, and others. I foresee a time when the Fox is up and running again, in all its former glory.
Before the screening, I interviewed Charlie, whose family owns Angelos and Vinci's restaurant, right next to the Fox. He remembers when the restaurant actually included the stage of the Fox. The theater is as much a part of his family's history as it is Fullerton's. Charlie's uncle, Stephen Peck, acted in movies like The Godfather II and others. Charlie's father was a touring jazz guitarist.
"Circle the Wagen" tells the story of Charlie's friend Dave, who bought a 1972 Volkswagen bus on Ebay, and tried to drive it from DesMoines to Los Angeles, along Route 66. This bus, which they affectionately name "The Croc", breaks down constantly. Dave enlists Charlie to accompany him on what seems an impossible journey. Along the way, the two friends discover an underground community of Volkswagen owners who help each other out. With the help of this community, Charlie and Dave inch ever closer to home. Through the journey, Charlie learned that "the 'good old days' are not some distant time in the past. The 'good old days' are right now."
As I sat watching this film about how it takes a community to revive a broken down thing, I looked around at the beat-up walls of the Fox Theater, and had an epiphany. The film is a perfect metaphor for the Fox. With love, incredible patience, persistence, and a big community, we can give this broken down old theater life again.