OLD SCHOOL: Robert Isreal will play Barnum Hall's restored Wurlitzer organ during a pair of Buster Keaton silent films on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Santa Monica High School)
OLD SCHOOL: Robert Israel will play Barnum Hall’s restored Wurlitzer organ during a pair of Buster Keaton silent films on Saturday. (Photo courtesy Santa Monica High School)

SAMOHI — The revving of an engine, gunshots and booming explosions are all common sounds used in modern movies.

But a unique event at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall will remind viewers of a time when orchestral music filled the theater.

Samohi’s revamped Barnum Hall will show “Sherlock, Jr.” and “The Cook,” silent films starring comedic actor Buster Keaton, accompanied by a live performance from theater organist and composer Robert Israel.

“We thought it would be a really fun thing for the kids to get excited about,” Samohi band director Terry Sakow said of the event.

Hunt believes Saturday’s film screening can shed light on an old tradition that has seemingly been long forgotten in today’s society.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to present to the young kids today what it was their great-grandparents and grandparents experienced when they were young,” said Henry Hunt, board member of the Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society.

Jean Sedillos, chair of the Restore Barnum Hall committee, which raised funds to bring the historic venue back to life, also feels that the live organ playing will bring viewers back to a simpler time.

“This is how movies were before people could talk,” Sedillos said. “It’s just a fun time back into history.”

After all the renovations that Barnum Hall has been through over the years, Hunt said that it has become “a great auditorium.”

“It really is the best-kept secret that Santa Monica has,” Hunt said.

Israel will be performing on a Wurlitzer organ that replaced the hall’s original, which was fatally damaged in the Northridge earthquake of 1994. Hunt calls the new organ “a mechanical monster” and “a rebuilt classic.”

The new organ was donated by Gordon Belt and installed in the hall in 2009.

Originally named The Auditorium when it was built in 1937, Barnum Hall was renamed after the late William F. Barnum, a former Samohi principal.

The hall, Sakow said, is “a center of culture for the community,” and he feels its impact is still being felt after almost 80 years of being a part of Santa Monica.

“It’s still employing people many, many years after Roosevelt’s administration,” Sakow said. “It’s a great investment.”

The restoration of the hall took approximately 10 years and was aided by several donations from the community, a $1 million grant from the city of Santa Monica, and the passing of Proposition X, a bond measure which used state money to fund several projects in Santa Monica and surrounding cities.

The evening of silent films and live organ music will culminate with the animated short “Sense and Nonsense,” one of the few surviving silent films featuring George Herriman’s comic strip character Krazy Kat.

The April 27 event will also serve as a fundraiser for the Samohi Band program.

General admission to the film screening is $10; $5 for students and seniors. Barnum Hall is located at 600 Olympic Blvd. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit samohiband.org.



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