OAKTOWN GEM: Fox Theater, which dates back 100 years and enjoyed a $75 million restoration in 2009, has helped restore the downtown Telegraph area of Oakland in its 15 years since opening. (Andrew Rosas photo)

Opening spurred new business in Telegraph area

General manager Tony Leong at the Fox Theater in Oakland, California, thinks there’s something in the water in the building.

Another Planet Entertainment spared no expense when first refurbishing the 100-year-old venue, which had been closed for 40 years and was at risk of demolition. Bolstered by a new sound system from Bay Area-born Meyer Sound, best known for their work with The Grateful Dead, venue staff treat the theater similarly to a hotel, with the room turned over in its entirety after every show so the next band that walks in encounters a spotless space. With a capacity of 2,800, the Fox is one of Another Planet Entertainment’s largest venues.

The venue itself features an abundance of middle-eastern architecture, much of its original structures restored. Downstairs features wide doors, a catering hall, elaborate green rooms and even an area for agents and managers to hang out in their own space.

“There was this grand plan for downtown Oakland, and specifically for this building,” Leong says. “With (former Oakland Mayor and California Governor) Jerry Brown and a few other people involved. I think there were a few different companies in consideration for this, but Another Planet seemed to be the partner they wanted to work with for various reasons. Our bosses, Gregg [Perloff] and Sherry [Wasserman] go way back with Bill Graham Presents, and we have deep roots in the Bay Area.”

Within five years of the venue opening, new businesses started moving into the downtown Telegraph area. The New Parish, a small club that has hosted concerts by Kehlani and Duckwrth early in their careers, is across the street next to the ice rink. Xolo is a popular Mexican restaurant across the street, with the Uptown Bar is right nearby. The old Sears building, which was long empty, has now been refurbished and transformed.

Perloff and Wasserman had some experience with restoring old buildings, the two working on the Wiltern in Los Angeles in the ’90s, which brought valuable insight to the Fox restoration.

Eric Barleen, vice president of concerts at Another Planet Entertainment, says there’s a growth mindset when it comes to booking artists at the Fox Theater.

“Between the Independent, Fox, the Greek (Theatre in Berkeley) and Outside Lands (festival at Golden Gate Park), we’ve really developed a relationship path for a lot of artists,” Barleen says. “We’ll say, ‘Why don’t we look at the Fox this year? And then we can concentrate on Outside Lands next year, and then bring someone back to do the Greek.’ We try to create this stepping stone, sort of ladder system within the Bay Area to continue to work with artists from 500-cap clubs to arenas.”

Leong notes that there’s something in the water of the building, as well. One former employee left to pursue a career as a DJ and music producer, where she now tours the globe as LP Giobbi. Wrapped around the Fox is the Oakland School for the Arts, a performing arts middle school and high school. (Editor’s note: the author of this piece attended Oakland School for the Arts). From August through May, Leong can hear the sounds of the students next to his office, often wondering which classroom sits above his.

PAC GRADUATE Kehlani, shown performing at the Fox Theater in 2023, is a graduate of the Oakland School for the Arts, which has its graduation ceremonies at the Fox. (Andrew Rosas)

The school has a partnership with Another Planet Entertainment and the Fox Theater, Leong working closely with the school’s executive director, Mike Oz, on annual showcases from students. Students of the school graduate on the stage of the Fox, and Jean-Francois Revon, who runs the school’s production design program, works with the venue for students to have internships with the stagehands of the venue. Among students who have gone through the internship program include Angus Cloud, best known for his role as Fez on HBO’s “Euphoria.” (For school performances, students in the internship program will be the one to take the lead on lighting, stage design and sound). Other successful alumni, such as Zendaya and Kehlani, come back to the school to speak to students and tour the venue.

“What’s cool is that we’ve been around long enough now that we’ve had people who graduated on the stage or gone to shows growing up and been a fan of this place, they’ve started their own bands that are huge now that are headlining this place,” Leong says. “That’s the coolest part about it.”

For the students currently at the school, opportunities frequently present themselves. Leong shares that at a recent fundraiser, Coldplay’s Chris Martin was in attendance as a performer. The chair of the vocal music department, Cava Menzies, asked if her students could provide backing vocals for Martin.

“I’ll never forget the moment when Chris said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’” Leong says. “They rehearsed with Chris on stage for an hour and he was just blown away by how talented they were and how much life they had. It’s a moment you can’t script. We’re really proud of it because it’s these kids that went to the school above us and around us. We got to showcase Oakland at its finest through these kids that go to the school. It wouldn’t have happened if the Fox wasn’t here and if OSA wasn’t there. Those only happen when you have these two entities that are pretty much one and the same.”