Thursday, February 18, 2016

Silent Movie Theater

This theater has been a fixture on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, California since 1942.

Its original owner, John Hampton opened the theatrer just 15 years after silent films became passé. He began with his personal collection of silent film favorites and then slowly increased his film library.

His theatre showed Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Rudolph Valentino and the Keystone Cops in all their glory.

John Hampton, 1942
What original theatre
looked like in 1942.
Hampton’s dedication to preserving these films meant he often placed his new finds in a tub above the theatre in chemicals. This over the years exposed him to deadly toxins. He was diagnosed with Cancer in the 1970s and died in 1990.

Tragedy struck the next owner, Laurence Austin, in the theater in January of 1997. He was shot and killed during an apparent robbery.

The police later revealed that Austin’s business partner and long time lover James Van Sickle had actually hired a hit man to kill Austin. His motive was to inherit the money. He and the gunman both received life in prison.

Laurence Austin in front of
theatre in 1996.
This theatrer closed in 1997. But then Charlie Lustman bought and re-opened the silent film house in 1999. He was inspired to do this when he saw the faded blood stains on the carpet and saw the posters Hampton had hung in the theatre--he stated he felt that Hampton’s spirit inspired him to restore the place.

The little 158-seat theatre now had fresh paint, new wooden floors, a new screen, projection booth and a neon marquee. The films shown were still accompanied by piano or organ music.

During the time Lustman owned the theatre it became apparent to him and his employees that the building was haunted.

They felt that John Hampton’s spirit haunts the lounge area of the apartment upstairs where he and his wife Dorothy lived for 45 years. 

Lustman revealed that if he strayed from the original purpose for the theatre, showing silent films, things would go wrong. When he arranged to show a 3-D film festival in 2000, he received a black eye as he tripped over a display case. Then the projector that had worked fine for a year, broke down minutes before the first 3-D film could screen.

Hamptons' ghost apparently was unhappy with his decision.

Another ghost in this theater is Laurence Austin. He has shocked more than one witness in the lobby—near where he was shot.

Lustman, and a former publicist for the theater would hear the repeated jingle of keys while alone in the building. Austin while alive had this nervous habit--he would jingle his keys.

To settle down the activity Lustman brought in a shaman, sage was burnt, and rose crystals were placed where Austin was murdered.

In 2006, Lustman sold the place to the Harkham brothers. They re-opened the theater as a rival house called the Cinefamily. They show an eclectic mix of sound and silent films.

What theatre looks like today.
This Silent Movie Theatre is located on the west side of Fairfax Avenue just north of the Farmers Market. It is rented out for special events.

Ghost teams in the area should consider renting this venue. It would be an ideal place for a conference and a ghost hunt.

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