Fox Archives: The Fox Commissary (Café de Paris), a restaurant that served as a movie set and hosted a Soviet Union premier

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The Fox Commissary is one of most historically significant and interesting buildings on the Fox lot. It opened in 1929 as the “Café de Paris” inspired by eateries found around the Bois de Boulogne, the grand Parisian park. The Café de Paris differed from most movie studio eating establishments (which tended to be pedestrian cafeterias) in that it was an elegant sit-down restaurant.

Above is a photo of the exterior circa 1930. The bas-relief of the French rooster (still on the facade) found above the sign was designed by renowned American sculptor Mahonri Young, who also carved the profiles of the great composers on the Hall of Music. The Sound Engineering Building on the left was torn down to make way for the Fox Plaza parking structure in the 1980s.

This interior view, taken in 1936, shows the café after it was almost doubled in size with the two-story addition on the south end of the building. The outstanding feature of the room is the stunning Art Deco mural created by Haldane Douglas depicting the major film distribution capitals of the world. It was installed in late 1932. It has been added to, repainted, expanded and reconfigured many times over the years to accommodate the changes in the building and world events (for example, “Palestine” was changed to “Israel”). During the 1930s, portraits of famous Fox actors were added to the mural once a star had appeared in 10 box office hits – look for Shirley Temple, Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers, among others. The biggest portrait, of course, was that of studio head Darryl Zanuck. Note the open archways at the north end: these opened into a small foyer that looked like a Gothic chapel and served as an additional entrance to the café.

This view, also from 1936, is taken from the Silver Room (now the Studio Store). The room was originally a sun porch (note the tile floor) for those who wanted to dine outdoors (the windows had removable panes). The landscape murals above the doorways were painted by various art directors at Fox representing, like the large mural, international locales. The smaller paintings were of beautiful women from around the world.

The Gold Room (now the casual dining area) was reserved for directors and producers and other top executives. According to some former contract players, this made the south end of the room a more desirable place to be seated because it meant you would be seen by a director or producer who would hopefully keep you in mind for his next production.

A view of the entrance foyer created in 1936 (now part of the casual dining area). Check out the vast array of cigars for sale! Note the placard on the chair in the center of the room: this photo is actually a set still of the café dressed for a scene at a movie studio café for the film “Star Dust” (1940). Unfortunately, the scene was cut from the final film.

On Sept. 19, 1959, the Café de Paris became internationally famous when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev came to Fox for a visit. He watched the filming of a scene for “Can-Can” (which he decried as debauched) on Stage 8 and then attended a luncheon which was held in his honor. In this photo, Spyros Skouras (with glasses) is introducing Khrushchev to the Hollywood community.

This is what the Café de Paris looked like from the mid-1940s through the mid-1970s (this photo is from circa 1962). Note the enclosed doorways to the Silver Room (now the Studio Store) and the absence of the glass chandeliers, which had been replaced circa 1946 with modern fluorescent lights.

In 1976, the café got its first real makeover with new track lighting, wall-to-wall carpeting and potted-palm banquettes. The Gothic foyer, still extant in this photo, was the first location of the Studio Store.

1984 brought another makeover to the Café de Paris. Cane and bent-metal chairs replaced the venerable wood chairs from the 1920s (to date, there have only been four sets of chairs to grace the dining room) and the Gothic foyer was torn down (to make way for the Fox Plaza parking structure). Another redecoration occurred in 1986 in which the vintage chandeliers were installed. Though not original, they certainly complement the Art Deco interior. The last renovations took place in 2013 (conservation work on the mural) and in 2014 (new carpet, tables and chairs).

The “Diana the Huntress” statue was originally part of the Fox Property Department’s large collection of statuary available for set decoration. This lovely piece was saved and a duplicate made so that they could be twins in the Gothic arches. Note that neither still has her bow. A movie star herself, the statue has had an impressive film career appearing in “The Gang’s All Here,” “Stormy Weather,” “Quiet Please, Murder,” and “Everything Happens at Night,” among others. Here she appears in the art gallery scene from 1947’s “The Dark Corner.”

The Fox Archives is mandated to collect, catalog, preserve and make accessible the following assets of the 20th Century Fox studios: props, set decoration, photographs, art department and publicity materials from our film and television productions, and from the 20th Century Fox studio itself. We work primarily with internal Fox groups but also from time to time with outside organizations such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.