BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — It’s hard to visit downtown Bakersfield without having the Historic Bakersfield Fox Theater jump out at you. It’s been an iconic landmark on H Street for over 90 years. The theater first opened its doors on H Street in 1930,
Last year, the nonprofit foundation that now operates the theater began a campaign to document the theater’s long history. A history that includes one youngster who is now all grown up.
Debbie Grogan has some history of her own at the theater. When she recently toured the building with her husband Mark, she couldn’t help but go back to her days here as a little girl.
“I remember the projection room because my dad also was a projectionist whenever they needed him to do that,” said Grogan. “I remember being up there for sure.”
In the 1960’s, the theater was sort of like Grogan’s sandbox. Her father, Edward W. Winslow was theater manager, and she had the run of the place as a child.
“I’d probably been like five or six. I just came here with my dad when my mom had errands to run, and he brought me with him and gave me free roam,” said Grogan. “He’d say, ‘Go play. Don’t touch anything, just go play.’”
This summer, Grogan heard about the theater’s Memories on H Project. The project is a campaign to catalog community pictures and memories of the theater for a future book.
The Grogans handed over a lot of Debbie’s memories in the form of hundreds of pictures and other theater memorabilia which Debbie’s late father had collected during his 9 years as theater manager from 1957 to 1968.
Mark came across the trove of memorabilia while cleaning out the home of Debbie’s mother Joan following her passing in 2014.
“It was just tucked back in a corner of the garage and it was in a filing cabinet,” said Mark Grogan. “There was a bunch of house records and it was kinda stuffed in between that.”
Debbie continues the story.
“He comes home with this box and he’s like, ‘Look what I found in the garage! It’s a bunch of your dad’s old photos of the Fox.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, cool!’” said Debbie. “He started going through and I am going, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t even know he had that!’ I had never seen any of it, so it was a shock to me.”
It was a shock to Debbie, but to Matthew Spindler, the executive director of the theater, it was a gold mine.
“I mean, this was exactly what we’re hoping to have come our way when we started Memories on H,” Spindler said. “They had so much information and photos that we’d never seen, and started helping us go down further rabbit holes do dig up more of our history. It couldn’t be more perfect.”
Of all the memorabilia the Grogans donated to the Fox Theater, everyone agrees the one piece that stands out from all the rest is a photo of a little Debbie Winslow, now Debbie Grogan, taken by her proud father.
“Well, it’s funny to say, but he had a picture of me when I was little and I was sitting in the office in his chair, and it was still there,” Debbie said. “I didn’t even know that was there, and I was probably, like, three.”
Spindler saw the resemblance in the photo right away, and marveled at how while things change, they just as often stay the same.
“As soon as I saw, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s her in my office!’” said Spindler. “This place has had a lot of families, people working to keep it going, and I have photos of my kids here, so that was a fun one.”
As for herself, Debbie can only speculate what her father would think of her recreating that photo all these years later, not to mention what he would think about turning over his treasure trove of Fox Theater memorabilia so that generations to come could enjoy it.
“I think he would be happy that we found that,” said Grogan. “I think it would be something he’d want me to do.”
The Bakersfield Museum has digitized all the photos and memorabilia the theater has collected from the Grogans and others up to this point. The photos are available for viewing at the Fox Theater’s Memories on H website.
Additionally, anyone who has any historical photos or other memorabilia connected to the Fox Theater in Bakersfield, Memories on H wants to hear from you. You can contact the theater using the email address on the Memories on H information webpage.