The city-owned theater (8463 Sierra Ave.) has been leased to Stargazer Productions for light Broadway entertainment, as well as dining, since 2008. The exclusive lease expired in December, has been extended monthly since then, and ends on August 31.
“God bless them, they did a great job,” Phil Burum, assistant city manager of Fontana, told me about Stargazer. “It’s been 14 years. The council wants to go in a different direction from downtown.
Ah, the proverbial “different direction”. Which one is?
“We’re going to make it the first concert hall in the region,” Burum said.
Burum added: “It will be the Troubadour without the smell. It’s going to be the coolest place outside of the Sunset Strip.
Give that to Fontana, he’s aiming high.
Not everyone accepts change. Launch Stargazer Owners Todd and Jennifer Vigiletti a Change.org petition to try to persuade the city authorities to let the couple stay over the holidays. The petition, which calls Center Stage “the last remaining classic dinner theater in Southern California,” has received 1,800 signatures.
Some have contacted city council members directly. “I get personal attacks,” Mayor Acquanetta Warren told me Wednesday in an interview at City Hall. She added of Phillip Cothran, the youngest board member: “He really gets it.”
Hell ain’t got no fury like a “Hello, Dolly!” despised fan.
An old man who phoned Warren hinted that Fontana might bring “that kind” of music. He refused to explain and Warren, who is black, suggested that he google it.
Most insults, Warren said, come from out of town and are easily ignored. She focuses on the needs of Fontana, where the average age is 33. “25 to 55 year olds are hungry for something to do,” Warren said. “We need to reflect the diversity of the community.
The 4th of July concert in downtown’s Miller Park Amphitheater drew 8,000 people. Dinner theater no longer cuts it, Warren said, especially with the city’s hopes of creating a nightlife district in the sleepy downtown. The city was paying Stargazer about $250,000 a year under the lease, with Stargazer retaining all profits from the shows.
But Warren, who has attended many Center Stage shows (and just turned 66), thanked the Vigiletti for all they did. In 2008, people had a snobby attitude about going to Fontana. “People thought we were crazy,” she said.
Todd Vigiletti was accommodating during our telephone interview on Thursday. He said the petition “kind of fell on deaf ears” and he accepts the result, although he prefers to stay.
“We definitely had a great race,” Vigiletti said. “All good things come to an end. This is true in business and in life. There is no ill will or bad feelings. It was an honor to be part of such a great municipality. To in many ways, Fontana sets the tone for the county.
The final show is August 14’s “New York City Rhythm in the Key of B,” a tribute to named B artists Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Bobby Darin and Barbra Streisand. The show was announced on Wednesday and tickets were already going fast.
A second performance is possible, or, Vigiletti mused, they could just stick with this one, because “it might be nice to walk away with a full house.”
Center Stage has drawn a lot of retirees, of course, but also families, especially for musicals like “Shrek,” Vigiletti said. The theater was closed due to the pandemic until July 2021, and the schedule has been lighter than usual since.
“With the Candlelight Pavilion closed for now, we’ve had a whole new influx of people looking for a new dinner-show opportunity,” Vigiletti said. Without Center Stage, he said, the Inland Empire will have no coffeehouse.
He hopes to find a venue to hold the Stargazer Christmas Madness show and advises fans to check his website or Facebook page for updates.
Originally a movie theater, the Fontana opened in 1937 with a still largely intact Art Deco exterior that was believed to be based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Midway Gardens in Chicago.
Fontana’s first film was “Easy Living” starring Jean Arthur and Edward Arnold. (This happens to be among my favorites.) From the Cinema Treasures websitethe 750-seat Fontana stopped showing movies in the 1950s.
Among the disparate uses since then have been an Elks Lodge, retail stores, an ice rink and a live theatre.
City Hall bought the dilapidated building in 2004 for $600,000, then invested $6.5 million in a renovation, which included a lighting and sound system, high definition video projection and a full kitchen.
But much of this technical equipment is now obsolete. And the carpet is worn.
“This place needs to be cleared out,” Warren said.
Starting in October, the parking lot will be demolished for a 300-space parking structure. Next, the theater will get an upgrade with $300,000 from San Bernardino County and $1.5 million in American Rescue Act money from Fontana City Hall.
Then, the idea is to schedule a range of entertainment in the 350-seat hall: rock, jazz, soul, country and live comedy.
Warren throws out another idea.
“Imagine,” said the mayor, “a gospel brunch on a Sunday in Fontana.”
The theater is scheduled to reopen Memorial Day weekend in 2023. Save a cold Coke Zero for me.
“Contradictions – Bringing the Past Forward” by Barbara Gothard, the subject of one of my columns in February, has ended its run at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, but is now installed at the Victor Valley Museum in Apple Valley until August 10. The exhibit combines art and research in exploring the black pioneers who settled the eastern Mojave Desert in the early 20th century. Joined by archaeologist David Nichols, who will detail the objects unearthed at the site, Gothard will give a lecture at the museum at 1 p.m. on Saturday July 30.
David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, if you can dig it. Email [email protected], call 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.