The Silent Movie Theatre dedicated only to present “silent” films is also haunted by the ghosts from two former owners.
The Beginning of the Silent Movie Theatre
John Hampton and his wife Dorothy started the Silent Movie Theatre in 1942, on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, California. Fifteen years after silent films became obsolete.
The theater, built in vintage 1940s Art Deco design with 158-seats, had the purpose designed by Mr. Hamptonad, to the preservation, and continuity of screening and enjoying silent movies.
Movies with stars like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Felix The Cat, Rudolph Valentino and the Keystone Cops could be appreciated by young generations.
The legend tells that Clara Bow and Charlie Chaplin would come disguised with dark glasses and big hats, sat in the back of the theater, to watch their respective own movies.
The End of the Gold Age
John Hampton projected the films and created his own soundtracks by simultaneously playing records from his large collection of 78 records.
Mr. Hampton dedicated himself to preserve his huge library of 16mm prints,
even if that meant he often placed his new finds into a tub full of chemicals above the theater.This is where he tinted and toned the pieces himself.
But his dedication had a price…
The exposure during the years to this high-level toxins was lethal to Mr. Hampton.
He was diagnosed with cancer in the 1970s and John Hampton passed away in 1990.
The couple closed the theater while battling the disease. He sold his silent film collection to the UCLA Film and Television Archive, in 1988.
Tragedy Strikes again at the Silent Movie Theatre
In 1991 a family friend, Laurence Austin, reopened the Silent Movie Theatre, renovated the building and added live music.
Laurence Austin ran the theater with the help of his lover, for seven years and also the projectionist, James Van Sickle also the projectionist.
But on January 17, 1997, while the Silent Movie Theatre was showing the 1927 film, “Sunrise” and proceeded by two short films
there were about 60-70 people in the theater at the time.
Among them, 19-year old wearing a golf hat, Christian Rodriguez entered the theater and was greeted by Laurence Austin as all customers.
Then he waited patiently in the back for the films to begin.
As soon as the second short movie started, “School Days”, Rodriguez asked Mary Giles, at the lobby, if was possible to buy advanced tickets.
She pointed him to see Austin at the ticket booth.
Rodriguez armed with a .357 Magnum Revolver demanded money, Austin turned the money over, but Rodriguez ignored the money and shot him in the face.
He turned to Mary and shot her twice in the chest.
People in the theater fled the building thru the backdoor while the murderer turned back to Austin’s body, shooting him two more times.
Laurence Austin died from the first shot, with 74 years old. Giles survived and described the shooter to investigators.
Conspiracy at the Silent Movie Theatre
LAPD arrested Rodriguez in the next month. He told police that he was hired for $25,000.00 to kill Austin. An additional $5000.00 to kill Giles and make it look like a robbery by James Van Sickle, 34.
Van Sickle was reported to be heavily in debt, he was listed as the sole beneficiary of Austin’s estate, valued at more than $1 million
Christian Rodriguez and James Van Sickle was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Two years later Rodriguez was also convicted of the attempted murder of Mary Giles.
Silent Movie Theatre Rebirth, Thanks to a Ghost
Charlie Lustman was riding by the Silent Movie Theatre when he believed he heard the original owner, John Hampton, speaking to him.
On Halloween of 1999, he re-opened the place, new wooden floors, a new screen and projection booth and a neon marquee.
The films were still accompanied by piano or organ music. But the changes couldn’t go too far.
Lustman attested that in case he try to make things different from the original purpose of the theater the paranormal activity would increase.
He received a black eye from a display case while preparing for a 3-D movie presentation in 2000. Minutes before the presentation the projector broke before the first 3-D session started.
It was clear, for him, the ghost that haunted the Silent Movie Theatre were not happy with his decision.
In 2006, Lustman sold the theater to the Harkham brothers.
The theater was again renovated and re-opened as a rival house called the Cinefamily, with an eclectic mix of Classic Sound and Silent Movies.
The Ghost from Silent Movie Theatre
Lustman and a former publicist for the theater heard the repeated jingle of keys while alone in the building.
The jingling of keys was a nervous habit from the prior owner Laurence Austin.
By the lobby, witness testifies to be shocked near the place Laurence Austin was shot.
At the same area, a red blood stain appears and disappears where Laurence Austin’s body felt to the floor.
A crimson-red blood stain has been known to appear and disappear in the approximate spot where a former owner, Laurence Austin, was gunned down by a hired hit man.
Austin’s ghost has also been seen, after hours, lingering by employees in the lobby over the years.
The projection booth is believed also to be haunted, not sure if by a former projectionist or one of the owners.
The first owner and creator of the concept of the Silent Film Theatre, John Hampton, regularly haunts the upstairs lounge. Which used to be his and his wife, Dorothy’s, apartment for over 45 years.
The Silent Movie Theatre is located on the west side of Fairfax Avenue just north of the Farmers Market.