It’s only fitting that today, on the 88th anniversary of the Fox California Theatre’s grand opening, Friends of the Fox will show one of its monthly classic movies.

And, not just because the first event ever held at the theater was the showing of a film.  

Rather, the Fox California, rechristened the Bob Hope Theatre in 2004, is still standing in large part because of the organization.

According to Sylvia Sun Minnick’s book, “Stockton’s Crown Jewel,” a group calling itself Friends of the Fox was formed in February 1979 to fight the Stockton City Council’s plan to demolish the struggling theater and turn the property into a parking lot.

The State Office of Historical Preservation stepped in and declared the building a landmark to spare it the wrecking ball, but the theater’s live performances in the 1980s drew inconsistent crowds and by 1989, it closed.

When Joan Darrah became mayor in 1990, she began the push for the revitalization of downtown Stockton and understood the role the Fox California could play.

The city entered into a deal with the theater’s owners in 1995 and hired a firm to book acts into it.

That same year, the Friends of the Fox, as we now know it, was born anew, to not only offer advice to the agency, but to promote the theater.

It began showing movies on the screen — essentially for the first time in decades — in 2000 after volunteer Kenneth Walters repaired the projectors and three new speakers were donated.

The group bought the Morgan pipe organ for $6,000 and, led by specialist Dave Moreno, spent 4½ years refurbishing it. Its debut concert was in 2005.

The theater closed in 2002 for an $8.5 million refurbishing project, and Friends of the Fox helped round up support, including working with others to get 500 people to pay to have their names on seats, which offset the cost of $250 to recover each seat.

The Friends of the Fox purchased a popcorn machine and brass stanchions and velvet ropes. It helped revamp the upstairs lounge into a private reception room.

When the “Crown Jewel” reopened on Sept. 18, 2004, with Jerry Seinfeld performing, the Bob Hope-Fox California Theatre held out the promise of lots of live performances.

Tickets, though, were sometimes too pricey for some in Stockton.

That’s why the Friends of the Fox restarted its Classic Film Series. It wasn’t to make money. The group is lucky if it breaks even on the monthly shows.

The films, besides offering film fans an opportunity to see classics on the big screen, as they were when they first were released, offer folks an opportunity to enjoy the Bob Hope-Fox California Theatre.

It really is a gem, with its gilded columns and mosaic art that rests where a water fountain once stood.

People don’t dress up for movies like they did on Oct. 14, 1930, when they lined up for three hours before the doors opened for the first time, but the sense of being somewhere special when you walk through the front doors hasn’t changed.

On that day, fans walked in to see a Fox movie called “Up the River,” with Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart in very early roles. Bogart plays a prison warden and Tracy a prisoner in a reversal of roles to come.

The Friends of the Fox didn’t want to show that today.

“It is barely available,” explained Dave Scheffer of Friends of the Fox. “It’s on a two-sided disc of John Ford films and there’s no guarantee as to the quality.”

Besides, Scheffer said, he’s seen “Up the River,” and it’s “terrible.”

Rotten Tomatoes gives it an audience approval of 17 percent, so Scheffer isn’t alone in his thinking.

Instead, Friends of the Fox will screen “King Kong,” the 1933 version starring Fay Wray and ranked the 43rd best film of all time by the American Film Institute.

The move debuted at Radio City Music Hall and the Roxy Theater in New York on April 7, 1933. It made its way to the Fox California on April 30 after a week’s buildup of “King Kong is Coming” in the theater’s advertisements in “The Stockton Record.”

So popular was the film, it was held over for two extra days, ending its initial run on May 3.

And now it’s back as the theater celebrates an anniversary.

Besides the movie, Friends of the Fox will offer special tours and offer the full history of the theater. There will be birthday cake and special door prizes, though probably not dishes or glasses, which the theater used to give to patrons during the heart of the Depression when tickets were 50 cents.

The Friends charge $8 for its movies, but the opportunity to spend time in the Crown Jewel of Stockton is priceless.

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or lgilbert@recordnet.com. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.