A few days before Christmas, the Fox Theater board and staff had a few things to celebrate as they gathered in the lobby.
Not only were they there on Friday to toast the 88th anniversary of the "majestic lady," as they affectionately called the theater, but also to announce the Fox Theater Foundation's new president: Gilbert LaRoque, who has been involved with the theater as a board member most recently and, before that, was employed there as theater manager.
"The Fox Theater Foundation's mission is truly to enhance the quality of life in Kern County through the effective operation of this historic Fox Theater and as a premiere cultural and community event center," LaRoque told the crowd. "I'm proud to become the next president of the Fox Foundation."
LaRoque, who now works in addiction counseling at Jason's Retreat, is taking the reins from past president Melanie Farmer, who served in the role for two years. Around the time she started, the foundation started running the theater itself, a change from years of having a promoter or operator run it.
"I'm so proud to work beside this guy," Farmer said of LaRoque. "He's an amazing, amazing man. He will do wonderful things for the Fox Theater. I'm very proud and honored to have worked for this majestic lady myself. It's been an amazing four years and more to come."
LaRoque took a moment to speak about his predecessor, who is also the president and CEO of the Bakersfield Downtown Business Association. In her time, the theater's staff grew from two part-time employees to five or six full-time employees.
"Taking over for Melanie Farmer is a big job to fill," he told the crowd. "Melanie is a person who puts her heart and soul into improving downtown, and of course this beautiful building. Her vision and commitment helped us all unite this past year."
Many staff members and board members were also present, each one introduced to the crowd. Andrea Hansen, a member of the foundation board and president of the Kern Dance Alliance, highlighted this coming Monday's screening of "Ballet Now," a documentary following Bakersfield native and world-renowned dancer Tiler Peck.
Another big reason for the gathering was to celebrate the theater's 88th anniversary. The Fox first opened on Christmas Day in 1930.
Mayor Karen Goh and City Councilman Andrae Gonzales were there too, each taking a moment to say a few words about the historic theater and the people who keep it going.
"I've been on the City Council now for two years, and we've talked a lot about downtown revitalization and the need to continue to support more growth," Gonzales said. "Downtown really has benefited from the success of the Fox Theater. What is good for the Fox Theater is good for downtown Bakersfield."
Goh agreed, but went one further, saying, "The Fox Theater is good for all of Bakersfield, and we celebrate this day." She also said in addition to all the stars the theater has brought to its stage, there are a few, too, behind the scenes at the Fox, referring to staff, board members and donors.
Farmer and LaRoque also took the opportunity to share a little bit about the theater's history, including when it closed in 1984 and was nearly turned into a store about 10 years later, before the DBA raised more than $100,000 to save it. Local philanthropist Cynthia Lake paid off the mortgage in 2014.
Looking to the future, and his presidency, LaRoque said he wants to continue focusing on ways to bring the community into the theater — not only in the seats as guests, but on the stage too.
"We here at the foundation are excited to continue this journey for many, many years to come," he told the crowd. "From all of us here at the Fox Theater, have a safe and happy holiday season. Happy birthday to this lady, and we'll see you at the theater."