Historic Theater Faces Uncertain Future

By Kathryn Roethel
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Redwood City Redwood City's Historic Fox Theatre has been in foreclosure since November 2009.

REDWOOD CITY – Today marks the third straight month of darkness for Redwood City’s historic Fox Theatre, and city officials are searching for buyers who could bring downtown’s foreclosed landmark back to its glory days.

“It’s something that the community’s really concerned about,” Redwood City Mayor Jeff Ira said. “I’ve been getting tons of phone calls from people wanting to know what’s happening to the Fox and if everything’s okay. I’d love to get it back online for sure by the summer time.”

Fox Theatre, located at 2215 Broadway, and the Little Fox night club next door went into foreclosure in October 2009, after longtime owners John Anagnostou and Michael Monte defaulted on their $1.3 million loan.

Palo Alto investment firm Coast Capital took ownership of the theater and tried to sell it at a Nov. 30 auction, but the opening offer of $70,000 did not receive any bids.

In addition to the auction price, a buyer would have had to assume millions of dollars in loans, penalties and property taxes. Debt that Anagnostou estimated totals nearly $10 million.

“We couldn’t get our debt refinanced,” Anagnostou said. “And in 2009, we couldn’t afford to bring in the kind of talent that the Fox Theatre deserves because we ran out of money.”

Anagnostou, who purchased Fox Theatre in 1998, cited the troubled economy for his economic downfall. He added that tenants of his other properties didn’t pay him, so he couldn’t pay what he owed on the theater.

Stonecrest Capital, a former branch of Coast Capital, now owns Fox Theatre. The San Jose firm declined comment, and Ira speculates that they don’t know what to do with the theater.

“Stonecrest is still in the exploratory stage as far as I know, and I don’t think they quite know where they want to go with this,” Ira said. “I think it’s a little overwhelming to them. They’re in the business of collecting loans, not the business of running a theater.”

The outdated marquees and paper-covered windows of today are a far cry from the Fox Theatre of old. In 1929, the Sequoia Theatre movie house opened with great fanfare. Over the years, it changed hands and changed names, eventually becoming the Fox Theatre and switching from movies to plays and live music.

Anagnostou and Monte bought the property in 1998 and began a $10-million restoration project. They reopened the Fox in 2002, and it attracted billboard performers including Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Itzahk Perlman and Bill Cosby.

The Fox Theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Anagnostou, who still owns the domain name foxdream.com, said he’s trying to figure out a way to buy the theater back.

“I want to see it continue on the path of what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “If I can’t buy it, I’ll help who does buy it. I’ve had more than 1,000 musicians contact me wanting to help because there’s nowhere else for them to go now.”

Local musicians are not the only ones concerned. Ira, who took office last month, named the Fox Theatre one of his 2010 priorities and is creating a city committee to help identify potential buyers. He stressed that although the Redwood City is not in a position to buy the theater, officials do want to help Stonecrest Capital identify a suitable buyer.

“The city budget is tight, and we’ve already put $50 million into [improving] downtown,” Ira said. “But I think there are potential investors out there… I’m feeling optimistic that someone might be buying this. We’ve had a few people sniffing around.”

Until there is a buyer, Redwood City will be without a major live music venue, and local businesses are feeling the effects.

The Portobello Grill is across the street from the Fox Theatre, and manager Miguel Coronel said he looks forward to the day the theater reopens.

“We’ve had less reservations [since the theater closed]” Coronel said. “When they had big shows, we’d get more reservations – we’d get really busy. We definitely could have made more money [in the last two months] with the Fox Theatre here.”

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