Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cinema Exhibitor Laurence Austin Murdered at Silent Movie Theatre 1997

Silent Movie Theatre (formerly The Movie Theatre and Old Time Movie Theatre) is a theatre located at 611 North Fairfax Ave Los Angeles, CA. It has shown silent movies since its opening in 1942. The theatre is currently owned by Cinefamily who airs silent movies once a week.


The Silent Movie Theatre started out as The Movie Theatre in 1942. Founded by Dorothy and John Hammond the theatre had a limited budget. John already owned a large silent film collection; and not rigging the theatre with sound further helped defer costs. At the time silents were seen as 'useless' and could be bought next to nothing (if not free) from distributors.

The Theatre opened with Dorothy on the concession stand and John doing the rest of the duties; including providing accompaniment using record players. Tickets were discounted and the first audiences mainly were older and came for nostalgia. By the 1960s many younger attendees came to see movies by Charlie Chaplin (whose shorts were always run by Hammond as he felt that was who the audience would like to see), Mary Pickford, and Buster Keaton.

In 1980 John Hammond became to ill to run the theatre and closed it down hoping it was for a short period of time. In 1988 a film buff recruited volunteers to restore the now dilapidated theatre. However it would not reopen until 1992 when it was purchased by Laurence Austin (below).


On January 17, 1997 during a showing of Sunrise (a tale of two humans) a gunman broke into the lobby demanding money from Austin and a 19 year old employee. They cooperated but were shot anyways. Austin died at the scene; while the employee escaped with her condition as 'fair.' The gunman then ran through the theatre of about 60 people shooting in the air. No one else was injured.

Later the gunman and the projectionist were both arrested. The projectionist had hired the gunman to shoot Austin. Both are currently serving life sentences.


In 1999 the Cinefamily purchased the theatre and spent $1 million renovating it. The theatre tends to show a majority of indie and cult films while limiting silents to once a week minimum. Each day of the week holds a theme for the month (ex: Friday Musicals) with silents being shown on Wednesdays (ex: Pickford shows one month). In addition to these screenings there are once a week special screenings held of rare or special films; sometimes silent. On Mondays the theatre tends to rent out for private events such as weddings and rock shows.

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