The Austin Hall theater in Trona was open air and surrounded by the four walls of Austin Hall. There were steam lines under the benches for heat and canvas tarps stretched on cable that could be deployed give viewers some protection from the rain. When it was dark enough the evening would start with the news a cartoon and maybe a short subject before the main feature.
Before the movie a big man named Bert would would put a record on the turntable and play music over the PA system. Most of it was popular music of the time but Bert also liked to play the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto. That music has stuck in my head after all these years. It was probably Van Cliburn’s 1958 recording of the concerto. Bert ran the theater but he couldn’t be everywhere or do everything so AP&CC hired high school students to help sell and take tickets, sell popcorn and watch to see that no one snuck in. My sister Patricia worked at the theater for a while and it from her I learned that Bert’s full name was Delbert Perry Austill. He was born in 1902, he died in 1972. He is buried in the Searles Valley Cemetery.
There were movies on most Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. As widescreen movies became popular the selection of movies started getting smaller. I am sure that was a factor in deciding to build the Fox Theater across the street. There were also other events held in the theater, boxing in the ring behind the screen and I remember there being a magic show at least once.
Behind the screen there was a stage with a boxing ring. I don’t much about it but boxing matches were also held in the theater. In the back there was an area with a real roof with one or two rows of seats and a place you stand out of the rain to watch the movie if it was raining too much for the canvas roof to keep you dry. There was also a door into the pool hall. I’m not quite sure how it worked but I do remember that once the movie was half over no one worried about having a ticket anymore.
I don’t know if I would want to put up with the cold, the rain and the flying bugs today but it makes for some nice memories that not everyone can say they have.