The Silent Movie Theatre in 2010. It had been operated by Cinefamily since 2007. Thanks to Don Solosan of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation for his photo.
The news: The building is under renovation by Dan and Sammy Harkam and when reopened in fall 2019 will be called the Fairfax Cinema. The Harkams own the theatre and had been involved in both the founding of Cinefamily, as well as active in the organization's operations. Cinefamily closed the theatre in 2017 the wake of a sexual abuse scandal.
See "Exclusive: Peek Inside Silent Movie Theater Renovations," a July 22, 2018 post on the Cinefamily Accountability blog for a discussion of the remodel and many photos. A bar, restaurant, and garden space behind the theatre will be part of the new operation. "Fairfax Theater Floorplans," a July 29 post showed the layout for the new operation. Thanks to Jonathan Raines for spotting the articles.
Phone: 323-655-2510 Website: none at present
Opened: February 1942 by John Hampton and his wife Dorothy as a venue for silent films. Hampton had been collecting silents since he was a boy in Oklahoma. In 1940 he and his wife moved to L.A. and bought the lot on which to build their theatre.
Dorothy sold the tickets and the candy bars, John ran the booth. They lived in an apartment above the theatre. With gradually dwindling audiences over the years, they closed the theatre in 1980. John Hampton died in 1990.
A pre-opening view. The photo appears on the Water and Power Associates Museum page Early L.A. City Views (1925+) page 3. It's also on their Early L.A. Buildings (1925+) page 4. It's from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives.
Film buff (and friend of the Hamptons) Laurence Austin reopened the venue in 1991. Among his improvements was bringing in a live organist for the films. Austin was shot and killed at the theatre in 1997. The crime involved Mr. Austin's partner (and projectionist) James Van Sickle and several accomplices.
The theatre was put on the market in 1998 and purchased by film enthusiast Charlie Lustman, who reopened it in 1999 with Chaplin's "Modern Times." His improvements included a new marquee, new screen and a cafe as well as a general redecorating. The film end of the business was break-even at best and Lustman supplemented by building a clientele for private parties and other events. In 2006 he sold the business due to declining health.
In 2006 the theatre was purchased by Dan and Sammy Harkham. The Harkams, along with Hadrian Belove of the organization Cinefamily, reopened the venue in 2007 as a home for revivals and independent films. The theatre closed in August 2017 in the wake of allegations of harassment and mistreatment of staff.
LAist had an August 22 story by Julia Wick about the problems and about Hadrian Belove leaving the organization that he had founded in 2007. Board member Shadie Elnashai also resigned. "Cinefamily suspends all activities..." was the August 27 story from Variety's Seth Kelley. There were also followup stories in the L.A. Times by Sonaiya Kelley and in the Hollywood Reporter by Arlene Washington. Jennifer Swann had a September 18, 2017 story for L.A. weekly: "A Sexual Harassment Scandal Imploded Cinefamily: Can it be Saved?"
In the November 14, 2017 L.A. Times article "Following scandal and investigation, Cinefamily to shut down permanently," Mark Olson discussed the conclusion of the sexual abuse saga. The Harkams said at the time they would renovate the space and keep it an exhibition venue.
Cinefamily, although not operating a venue, still exists as an organization and is involved in litigation. It's unknown how it will all unwind. It has not been determined how the assets of Cinefamily will be distributed. One report notes that Dan and Sammy Harkham, the owners of the building, may assume the debts, which may be less than the value of the assets.
Seating: 224 originally. As the Fairfax Cinema the capacity will be about 150.
Status: The theatre is under renovation by Dan and Sammy Harkham. It'll be called the Fairfax Cinema when it reopens.
The Silent Movie Theatre in the Movies:
Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney walk by the theatre in Carl Reiner's "The Comic" (Columbia, 1969). They're old silent film performers and the theatre is running some of their films.
Rooney inquiring at the boxoffice about start times. Not until next week, he's told. A Chaplin festival has been held over. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Carthay Circle and Montalban Theatre from the film.
Lobby renovation views:
Looking in from the street as renovations begin. It's a photo from "Exclusive: Peek Inside Silent Movie Theater Renovations," a July 2018 post on the Cinefamily Accountability blog.
The house right end of the lobby. Photo: Cinefamily Accountability blog - July 2018
A view toward house left. Photo: Cinefamily Accountability blog - July 2018
All cleaned up and ready for a new snack bar. We're looking in from the front door. The auditorium is off to the left. Photo: Bill Counter - July 2019
A 2017 look back at the rear of the house on the Time Out page about the Silent Movie Theatre. It's a Jakob Layman photo.
The screen end of the Silent Movie Theatre's auditorium. It's a 2017 Jakob Layman photo on the site Time Out.
The auditorium during renovations. New seats have been installed. Photo: Bill Counter - July 2019
More exterior views:
Looking south on Fairfax from Melrose before the theatre's 1942 opening. The photo appears on the Water and Power Associates Museum page Early L.A. City Views (1925+) page 3. It's also on their Early L.A. Buildings (1925+) page 4. The photo is from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives.
The theatre in 1942. The photo was once a post on Vintage Los Angeles by Philip Mershon but it has now vanished from that Facebook page.
A 1980 look at the Silent Movie Theatre. It's a Herald Examiner photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
Thanks to American Classic Images for this September 1984 view.
A 1997 photo from the page about the Silent Movie Theatre on the website Seeing Stars.
The theatre's reopening in 1999 with "Modern Times." It's a photo that appeared on the now dead website Dead History project.
The theatre in 2000. It's a photo from the site Seeing Stars. See their Silent Movie Theatre page for some history of the venue.
A 2010 marquee detail by Don Solosan from the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. Thanks, Don! The LAHTF is actively involved in the study and preservation of the vintage theatres in the L.A. area. The group frequently supports events and offers tours of the buildings. www.lahtf.org | group Facebook page | official FB page
The Silent Movie Theatre is one of a number of revival venues discussed in Mark Olsen's 2017 L.A. Times article "A film festival every night: The new ecology of the old-movie scene in L.A." It's a photo by Lawrence K. Ho for the Times.
Construction fence up for the renovations. It's a photo from "Exclusive: Peek Inside Silent Movie Theater Renovations," a July 2018 post on the Cinefamily Accountability blog.
A peek in the front doors. Photo: Cinefamily Accountability blog - July 2018
Looking south along the entrance area. Photo: Cinefamily Accountability blog - July 2018
The north end of the entrance. Photo: Cinefamily Accountability blog - July 2018
More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Silent Movie Theatre. Living in Cinema had a 2007 story about the theatre's Cinefamily reopening. Cinema Tour has a page with a 2002 night view.
LAist has many stories about Cinefamily to browse. The L.A. Times had a story about the 2007 takeover of the theatre by Cinefamily. Seeing Stars has a page about the theatre's history.
Nearby is the Fairfax Theatre, a deco house at Fairfax and Beverly that opened in 1930 and has been sitting vacant waiting to be condo-ized since 2010.
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