Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hooray for Preservation! Plus, James Cagney, Fred Astaire, and Rita Hayworth.

It is always weird writing about yourself in the third person, but here's an article I wrote recently about my involvement with Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, a non-profit theatre dedicated to preserving classic films and music, and why preservation in general is so important to me.
 Lara Scott is a mom on a mission.
When she walked into Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, CA, for the very first time, she felt like she had been transported back in time to the 1920s or 1930s. “I thought that this was what my grandparents must have meant when they talked about how going to a movie used to be a glamorous experience, and something powerful enough to distract them from the fact that they were living through the Great Depression,” she said.
Lara feels like classic films are so important, not just because they are great entertainment and have to rely on a compelling story rather than special effects to hold an audience's attention, but also because they show us who we are and where we have come from, giving us a glimpse into a world that has vanished. And they have a personal connection for her, too. She says, “Some of my earliest memories are of watching old movies with my dad; I remember being a little kid and watching James Cagney tap dance down the White House stairs in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Fred Astaire and Judy Garland singing together in Easter Parade. When I see these films now, I feel like it brings me closer to my dad, even though he lives on the other side of the country.”
The very first movie she saw at Old Town Music Hall was 1923’s The White Sister, a silent film starring Lillian Gish and Ronald Colman, accompanied live by owner and host Bill Field on the Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ. Lara was blown away, saying, “It was incredible. I had always thought silent films were boring, but watching it on the big screen with the live music and sound effects that Bill added brought the story to life in a way that had me in tears.”
Lara’s day job is co-hosting the morning show on local radio station 95.9 The Fish, and hosting the internationally syndicated World Chart Show. In 2012, she started a blog called “Old Hollywood, New Glitz”  that celebrates her love of classic film, Art Deco, and the Great American Songbook. She is also working on a forthcoming book that will spotlight Old Hollywood spots and experiences in Southern California. While looking online for places to review she stumbled across Old Town Music Hall.
“I thought that maybe they hosted a screening or two a month, but was so impressed to look at the schedule and realize that they are showing classic films every weekend on the big screen, along with hosting 2-3 concerts a month on Sunday nights. And when I realized that Bill, along with a small group of dedicated volunteers, had been doing all of this on his own for years I was even more impressed. He is a very sweet and incredibly talented man.”
After attending a few more movies, including Yankee Doodle Dandy and Bittersweet, she became concerned that not enough people knew about the theater and were coming out to support it for it to stay open. Lara offered to set up an Old Town Music Hall Twitter account, and continues to update it daily.
“There is a book I love called Vintage Los Angeles,” she said, “but there is a list at the back of the book of historic places that have been demolished. Even some of the places that the author wrote about in the book as places you could visit had closed by the time I tried to go see them in the year after the book came out. I also hear about the great work that the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles and the LA Conservancy do when it comes to saving places that are in danger of destruction, and I felt like I had to do something, too. My heart actually hurts when I hear about a historic building being torn down, because I think of the beauty and the stories that are lost, things that we will never be able to get back. Since I’m not able to do a lot of volunteering in person at this point—I’m usually either at work or with my son—I decided to take my activism online.”
While visiting Old Town Music Hall in March 2013, Bill Field introduced Lara to Oscar-winning producer and director James Moll, who has a long history with the theatre. His mom and stepdad were introduced by Field and his late business partner Bill Coffman in the 1970s, and James has been coming to see movies and concerts there ever since. When he attended a movie in December 2012, James realized that Bill needed some help, and stepped in to put together a new movie schedule and make some improvements to the historic 1921 building. When James invited Lara to join an Old Town Music Hall advisory committee that he was forming to spread the word about the theater, she eagerly accepted.
Lara is excited about the growing buzz surrounding Old Town Music Hall, and is honored to be playing a small part of its resurgence. She also says that her interest in helping to save Old Town Music Hall is with an eye on the next generation. “My son is four, and right now anything starring Thomas the Train is his favorite movie. But one day, I can’t wait to bring him to Old Town Music Hall and tell him who Rita Hayworth was, or show him what Los Angeles looked like when W.C. Fields was filming crazy car chases through the streets, and hopefully create some memories that will be special to my son when he is my age.”

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