Monday, December 29, 2014

Shhh . . No Reason To Be Silent About The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum!

This is the third in a three part series on the historical district of Niles in Fremont, California.

Saturday nights are a great time to visit Niles Boulevard. Why? Because of the silent films they show each Saturday at 7:30 PM in the Essanay Silent Film Museum. The movies are shown in the original nickelodeon theater that was built in 1913. Each film is accompanied by a pianist and the whole show lasts for two hours. They also have some 4 PM Sunday matinees, like an upcoming Laurel and Hardy program on January 11, 2015. Here is the schedule for January 2015.

A back room showcasing some film posters and hand cranked cameras of the early 1900s
I had the pleasure of visiting the film museum a couple of weeks ago when I spent the day on Niles Boulevard. I had no idea that Niles had such a fascinating cinematic history. Over 350 silent films were made here, including Snakeville comedy shorts and Bronco Billy westerns. 

A Bronco Billy Western scene filmed along Niles Canyon Road
But the films that really made Essanay Studios and the town of Niles famous, were the five movies made by Charlie Chaplin, including The Champion and The Tramp.

Famous last scene of The Tramp, filmed in the hills above Niles along Alameda Creek


Charlie Chaplin and his leading lady Edna Purviance may or may not have slept here during their time in Niles.

You may wonder how I got so interested in silent films and their place in Niles history - it was because of their little gem of a museum where I got to view hand cranked cameras, the original projection studio and theater, and speak with the knowledgeable people who work both in the museum store and behind the scenes.

Original theater seats (but not the original props)

You had to have a good arm to keep cranking the film throughout its duration!

To protect the theater, the projection booth was lined with tin. Nitrate film was highly flammable!
Writing on the wall - early projectionists were warned to spit their tobacco juice into the box and not on the floor.

Film history buffs and students can take advantage of the many books that are available to the public within the museum. The books must be viewed on-site and it is best to call ahead to make arrangements. 510-494-1411

The museum store also sells many wonderful books, DVDs, T-shirts, posters and other paraphernalia that would be hard to find anywhere else. I bought my son an Edgar Allan Poe poster that appealed to his dark sense of humor, and bought myself A T-shirt showing the famous shot of Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock.

Hitchcock fans will be pleased with the items available at the museum store.
The Essanay Studio, founded by Gilbert Anderson ("Bronco Billy") and George Spoor has an extensive and fascinating history. You can learn about some of it in the museum store, on their website, and in this well researched book by film historian David Kiehn called, Bronco Billy And The Essanay Film Company. 

This Fire station was built on the original site of the Essanay film studio in Niles, CA


The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is located at 37417 Niles Boulevard in Fremont, CA and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 12 to 4pm. Entrance is free but donations are welcome. Saturday night movies cost $5.00 for museum members and $7.00 for the general public. Sounds like a great family night or date night to me!

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