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MUSEUM RE-OPENING ON SCHEDULE

 

We are pleased to announce that the Douglas Fairbanks Museum will re-open to the public in May of 2011 as scheduled.

Our doors will open Monday, May 23rd, on what would have been Mr. Fairbanks’ 128th birthday.

The museum’s hours of operation are from 2-6 p.m, Monday through Friday. All tours are by appointment only.

Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children, students with ID, and seniors.

Just a short drive from Austin, we are conveniently close to many Central Texas tourist attractions and are always happy to help you plan a special and event-filled vacation while you’re in the area.

We invite you to visit, learn more about Douglas Fairbanks and the silent film era, and take a tour of our beautiful new gallery space. We’re very proud indeed and eager to have you as our guest!

As the museum is located inside a historic private residence, advance registration and a prior confirmed appointment is required for all visitors.

If you would like to tour the museum, you may schedule an appointment via email or by phone at (830) 444-0523.

Also, please take the time to review our “VISIT” page to familiarize yourself with the museum’s policies and guest etiquette before you arrive.

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who assisted with our relocation and volunteered their time/effort/sweat to help rebuild the gallery, library, and exhibit spaces. We simply could not have done it all without you!

 

 

 

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Planned museum faces new problems

 

The Gonzales Inquirer

February 16, 2010

For Keri Leigh and Greg Jackson, moving to Gonzales seemed to be the answer to their life-long dream of permanently locating a very unique museum.

The two indeed moved to Gonzales just a few short weeks ago to open the Douglas Fairbanks Museum, a place dedicated to the memory of the silent film star.

Plans were in place to open the museum in early March, just in time for Texas Independence Day.

But that has all changed, and they could possibly even be forced to move out of the city.

“We were so incredibly excited to be here. We just couldn’t wait to contribute to the Gonzales community and economy. We don’t know what we are going to do,” said Leigh.

The one thing they do know is the museum is not going to open as planned. In fact, they aren’t sure when it might open because they say they have encountered a problem with mold in the house on St. George Street in Gonzales.

“It’s our worst nightmare. Mold is not only extremely harmful to the structural integrity of the house itself, but also to the health of the home’s residents and museum visitors. We are already feeling the negative health effects ourselves, and the last thing we want is other people getting sick when they come to visit the museum. All of our artifacts and collections are now in imminent danger, as well as our personal property, and that’s a risk we simply can’t afford to take,” said Leigh.

“We had an allocated budget of $5,000 to re-locate the museum to Gonzales, and exhausted that just getting here,” said Leigh. “We didn’t worry since we planned to have our doors open by March 1st and would start bringing revenue in right away. Now, because of mold being discovered inside the home, we haven’t been able to un-crate a single artifact or hang any of our rare posters on the walls. Everything is on hold until this mold problem can be resolved. We can’t even open our doors to the public or begin to generate any revenue, which the museum desperately needs.”

The couple said they would consider another location in Gonzales because they like the city and want to have the museum located here.

“We have met some great people,” said Leigh. “We’d like to help this town thrive because everybody benefits. We want to help bolster the local economy with more historic tourism. Most of our visitors come from outside the state of Texas and all over the world. These are serious film fans and history buffs. They would love Gonzales and all it has to offer. We came here to open a wonderful museum for the people of Gonzales, and that is exactly what we are determined to do. One way or another. There just has to be a solution.”

One of the challenges they are facing is that wherever the museum is located, it also has to accommodate their living quarters.

The house they are now in is just under 1,500 square feet, which she said is the “minimum” needed to house the museum.

Time, too, is another factor. They are hoping to find some resolution to this problem in the next few weeks because they really want to get the museum up and running, a big reason being to generate much-needed income.

“We need something resolved in the next couple of weeks,” said Jackson. “The museum is losing money in admission fees, donations, and gift shop sales every day it remains closed.”

“We’re not in a financial position to delay the museum’s opening, or even to turn right around and move again,” Leigh stressed. “We are actually now over-budget. We didn’t see it coming, but the situation is what it is, and we somehow have to deal with it.”

“We’re not independently wealthy people who have a private museum as our personal little lark,” Leigh said. “This certainly isn’t the Guggenheim Museum, or the Smithsonian. It’s a very small, humble museum run out of our own home. We both work for a living to make ends meet, just like everybody else. The museum has always been something we do as a hobby part-time, a passion of ours that we love to share with others. We do it for educational and cultural enrichment, not financial. This is our service to the community. It’s how we give something back.”

The two moved here Jan. 1 from Austin, where the museum had been located inside their private residence for several years before finally moving to a larger space.

After a flood came through in 2007, wiping out the entire downstairs of the structure where the museum was located, the search began for a new place.

At that time, they began looking for another location but found the cost in Austin too much for their small budget. They even looked in California and Denver, Colo., the hometown of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

But in the end, they decided to come to the Gonzales because someone they knew suggested it could be a good location with reasonable rent and a nice, historic atmosphere.

After paying a visit, they decided to take the leap and secured the house in Gonzales. They packed a moving truck and headed to Gonzales with high hopes of having a new place to live and re-opening their museum which had not had a permanent home for close to four years.

Everything seemed to be on track, said Leigh, and then they discovered a problem with the house, leading to their current situation.

But both stressed they’d like to remain in Gonzales if at all possible. Leigh and Jackson said though their museum is about the film industry, it’s also about history and they think that could be a good fit with Gonzales.

“It brings a bit of Tinseltown glamour to the city. It boosts the local arts and culture scene, something that I feel will be a hit both with locals and tourists. There are so many talented people here, and a surprisingly vibrant artists community for such a small town. I could easily envision Gonzales eventually becoming another Fredericksburg, or Luckenbach, or Santa Fe (New Mexico), famous not just for its history, but for its music, theatre, art and cultural attractions. Which in turn generates a great deal of prestige and revenue for the city,” said Leigh.

Leigh also points out that Gonzales is one of a handful of towns which has two theatres, something which excites them because showing silent films has become very popular across America.

“We would love to do regular screenings of silent films, as well as help sponsor childrens theatre workshops for kids who are interested in acting and the arts at both the Lynn and Crystal Theatres.” She explains. “Our goal is to partner with the local arts groups; to give presentations at the local schools, working with them to schedule field trips and group tours to the museum. Douglas Fairbanks’ biggest fans during his lifetime were children — he was every little boy’s hero, and we know the kids will love his movies. His appeal is timeless, even if his films are more than 80 years old. A love of the arts starts at an early age, and if you learn an appreciation for classic films as a youngster, you’ll love them all your life.”

In fact, it was silent films which Leigh watched as a child which led to the decision to start the Douglas Fairbanks Museum. In her research, Leigh said she discovered almost all of the great stars of the silent film era had museums, with the glaring exception of Fairbanks. He was a pioneer in the movie industry and literally helped shape that industry in the multi-billion dollar mammoth is has become today.

“Besides writing, producing, and starring in more than 35 now-classic films, Fairbanks also founded the nation’s first film school at the University of Southern California, helped to build Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served as its first president, hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929, among so many other accomplishments. His vast contributions to the film industry are too important to be forgotten,” Leigh stresses.

That, said Leigh, was a driving force in founding the museum. That all happened in 1998 in Austin when a group of “like-minded” people pooled their resources and started the museum.

They have collected many artifacts from the Fairbanks movie era and that’s what they display at their museum. They have roughly 1,200 artifacts which are displayed, including movie posters, photographs, programs, props and other memorabilia.

“All I know is that we have to do something soon,” Jackson adds. “Time is of the essence in the battle against mold. Given all these factors and variables, our smartest option may be to move to another building. How we’re going to do that, or where we’re going to go, I have no idea. I just hope the community of Gonzales will come to our aid and lend a helping hand.”

But for now, what will happen next remains a mystery. They are hoping there may be a house or downtown property for rent which they could utilize as a home and place for the museum.

“Perhaps there is a property owner out there reading this who would be willing to donate use of their property as a substantial tax write-off and that there are some incentives available to them from the city, county or state for doing so,” says Leigh. “Hopefully, someone would be at least willing to negotiate a rental at a substantial discount that we can afford. There are always options when people come together with a common goal and work toward a solution. I’ve seen it happen before and it’s amazing what people can do when they put their hearts and minds into something.

“We made a conscious decision to relocate the museum to Gonzales because we love the amazing history of this town and we see the potential of what it can become in the future,” she says. “We’re willing to work very hard to help make that happen. We’ve invested in Gonzales — now we’re hoping Gonzales will invest in us.”

Anyone who might have a solution or who would simply like to talk to Jackson and Leigh about the situation can contact them at 830-444-0523.

Copyright © 2010 The Gonzales Inquirer. All rights reserved.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
  
FEB. 15, 2010
  
  
CONTACT:
  
THE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS MUSEUM
 

KERI LEIGH, CURATOR

PHONE: 830-444-0523
 
 
 
DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS MUSEUM RE-OPENING POSTPONED
 
 
 
The Douglas Fairbanks Museum’s re-opening, originally scheduled for Monday, March 1, 2010 is being postponed due to the discovery of toxic mold in the walls of its’ new building.
 
The historic 1890s home on Saint George Street was recently renovated and restored prior to the museum’s planned re-opening. Then mold was discovered in the main entrance hall area and inside the curator’s private office.
 
Inside they had already dedicated more than 800 square feet to gallery and exhibit spaces designed to showcase the history of American cinema and honor the memory of a pioneering silent film star.
Plans were in place to open the museum in early March, just in time for Gonzales’ Texas Independence Day celebrations. But that has all suddenly and unexpectedly changed.
 
“We were so incredibly excited to be here. We just couldn’t wait to contribute to the Gonzales community and economy.” said Leigh. “Now, we don’t know what we are going to do.”
 
The one thing they do know is the museum’s March 1st opening has been postponed. In fact, they aren’t sure when it might re-open. Depending on how long the mold remediation process takes, and how rapidly the Saint George Street flood control project can be completed, they may also consider having to relocate within Gonzales or move the museum to another city.
 
“It’s our worst nightmare. Mold is not only extremely harmful to the structural integrity of the house itself, but also to the health of the home’s residents and museum visitors. We are already feeling the negative health effects ourselves, and the last thing we want is other people getting sick when they come to visit the museum. All of our artifacts and collections are now in imminent danger, as well as our personal property, and that’s a risk we simply can’t afford to take.” said Leigh.
 
“We had an allocated budget of $5,000 to re-locate the museum to Gonzales, and exhausted that just getting here.” said museum curator Keri Leigh. “We didn’t worry since we planned to have our doors open by March 1st and would start bringing revenue in right away. Now, because of mold being discovered inside the home, we haven’t been able to uncrate a single artifact or hang any of our rare posters on the walls. Everything is on hold until this mold problem can be resolved. We can’t even open our doors to the public or begin to generate any revenue, which the museum desperately needs.”
“Since we are renting the home, getting the mold repaired is the owner’s responsibility.” Leigh explains. “Mold remediation can be a costly and time-consuming process, and even if the owner takes care of it quickly, there is a strong possibility that the mold could return in a few weeks or a few months. Until the source of moisture that causes mold to grow is completely eliminated, mold will always come back. That’s the unfortunate nature of the beast.”
 
“Being from out of town, we were unfamiliar with the flooding history of St. George Street when we moved here.” Leigh explains. “No one told us. It wasn’t until after we arrived that we learned of the St. George Street Drainage Project and the flood control measures the city is taking. We’re so happy that the city of Gonzales is making strides towards bringing commerce back to this street and has great plans for it in the future. We’d like to be a part of that growth, but how long the repair process will take could decide the fate of our museum. With mold growing in the house at an alarming rate, we can’t wait several more months for work on the street project to be completed. There’s just no way.”
 
“Of course we totally understand that these delays are beyond the city’s control.” She says. “I share their frustration. This has been one of the rainiest seasons on record, and work on the street drainage project has had to be extended due to soil instability on St. George Street. All the recent rains have only made the situation worse for everybody: the city work crews, the business owners, and the residents here. Just recently we had nine straight days of rain, and I saw for myself just how serious the flooding problem is. We had rainwater ponding all around our property, and the street itself looked like a small lake. My greatest concern is that water may be collecting under the house’s foundation, and that’s the most likely source of this mold growth inside the structure.”
 
“So now we are faced with two choices: either repair the mold in the home and wait for the city to complete the St. George Street Drainage Project, or move to another location immediately, either in Gonzales or Austin or elsewhere.”
 
Leigh said the museum board would consider another location in Gonzales because they like the city and want to have the museum located here.
 
“We have met some great people,” said Leigh. “We’d like to help this town thrive because everybody benefits. We want to help bolster the local economy with more historic tourism. Most of our visitors come from outside the state of Texas and all over the world. These are serious film fans and history buffs. They would love Gonzales and all it has to offer. We came here to open a wonderful museum for the people of Gonzales, and that is exactly what we are determined to do. One way or another. There just has to be a solution.”
 

Entrance hall where the mold was found

One of the challenges they are facing is that wherever the museum is located, it also needs to accommodate living quarters since there are two live-in caretakers of the residence and collections. The historic home they are now in is just under 1,500 square feet, which she said is the minimum needed to house the museum and private living spaces.
 
Time, too, is another factor. They are hoping to find some resolution to this problem in the next few weeks because the museum’s priceless artifacts, as well as their own personal property is at risk.
 
Both Leigh and the home’s caretaker Greg Jackson have been suffering mold-related health problems over the past few humid and rain-soaked weeks, and they know they can’t stay in a home riddled with toxic mold. They want to get the museum up and running as soon as possible, a big reason being to generate much-needed income.
 
“We need something resolved in the next couple of weeks,” said Jackson.  “The museum is losing money in admission fees, donations, and gift shop sales every day it remains closed.”
 
“We’re not in a financial position to delay the museum’s opening, or even to turn right around and move again,” Leigh stressed. “We are actually now over-budget with all the unexpected flood control project delays and now this toxic mold crisis. We didn’t see it coming, but the situation is what it is, and we somehow have to deal with it.”
 
” Things were finally looking up again,” said Jackson. “We’d found what seemed like the perfect new location to invest in, and now this. It’s a disaster.”
 
“We’re not independently wealthy people who have a private museum as our personal little lark,” Leigh laughed. “This certainly isn’t the Guggenheim Museum, or the Smithsonian.  It’s a very small, humble museum run out of our own home. We both work for a living to make ends meet, just like everybody else. The museum has always been something we do as a hobby part-time, a passion of ours that we love to share with others. We do it for educational and cultural enrichment, not financial. This is our service to the community. It’s how we give something back.”
The two moved here January 1st from Austin, where the museum had been located inside their private residence for several years before finally moving into a larger building. After a flood wiped out the entire downstairs of the structure where the museum was located, the search began for a new place in 2007. The nationwide search took more than 2.5 years.
 
The very high property values in Austin proved too much for their small budget. They even looked in California and Denver, Colo., the birthplace of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (Jackson is also a Denver native) but found the property costs even higher there than in Texas. In the end, they decided to come to the Gonzales are because a longtime friend of the museum suggested it could be a good location with reasonable rent and a nice, historic atmosphere.
 
After paying a visit in December, they decided to take the leap and secured the house in Gonzales. They packed a moving truck and headed to Gonzales with high hopes of having a new place to live and re-opening their museum which had not had a permanent home for close to three years.
 
Everything seemed to be on track, said Leigh, and then they discovered the mold problem inside the house, leading to their current situation. “The home was completely renovated before we moved in, and for the first week or so all we could smell was fresh paint. It wasn’t until the rains came in mid-January that we began to notice that unmistakeable, dreaded smell of mold. We experienced it after the flood and know mold when we smell it. We just looked at each other and smacked our foreheads saying, `oh no, not again! Is this a bad dream?'”

Leigh (L) and Jackson (R) give a tour at the museum's former Austin location

But both stressed they’d like to remain in Gonzales if at all possible. Leigh and Jackson said though their private museum is about the film industry, it’s also about vital American history and they think that could be a good fit with Gonzales.
 
“It brings a bit of Tinseltown glamour to the city. It boosts the local arts and culture scene, something that I feel will be a hit both with locals and tourists. There are so many talented people here, and a surprisingly vibrant artists community for such a small town. I could easily envision Gonzales eventually becoming another Fredericksburg, or Luckenbach, or Gruene, small towns famous not just for their history, but for music, theatre, art and cultural attractions. Which in turn generates a great deal of prestiege and revenue for the city.”
 
Leigh also points out that Gonzales is one of a handful of small cities which has two theatres, something which excites her because showing silent films has become very popular across America.
 
“We would love to do regular screenings of silent films, as well as help sponsor children’ theatre workshops for kids who are interested in acting and the arts at both the Lynn and Crystal Theatres.” She explains. “Our goal is to partner with the local arts groups; to give presentations at the local schools, working with them to schedule field trips and group tours to the museum. Douglas Fairbanks’ biggest fans during his lifetime were children – he was every little boy’s hero, and we know the kids will love his movies. His appeal is timeless, even if his films are more than 80 years old. A love of the arts starts at an early age, and if you learn an appreciation for classic films as a youngster, you’ll love them all your life.”
 
In fact, it was the silent films Leigh watched as a child which led to her own appreciation of the art form and her eventual decision to start the Douglas Fairbanks Museum. In her research, Leigh said she discovered almost all of the great stars of the silent film era had museums, with the glaring exception of Fairbanks. He was a pioneer in the movie industry and literally helped shape that industry in the multi-billion dollar mammoth is has become today.
 
“Besides writing, producing, and starring in more than 35 now-classic films, Fairbanks also founded the nation’s first film school at the University of Southern California, helped to build Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and served as it’s first president, hosted the first Academy Awards in 1929, among so many other accomplishments. His vast contributions to the film industry are too important to be forgotten,” Leigh stresses.
 
That, said Leigh, was a driving force in founding the museum. They have since collected many artifacts from the silent movie era documenting Fairbanks’ remarkable life and career, all exhibited at the museum. They have roughly 1,200 artifacts which are displayed, including rare movie posters, original still photographs, programs, props and other memorabilia.

Fairbanks Museum Curator Keri Leigh

 
Leigh, who is classically trained as a musician, journalist and historian, also worked at Austin’s O. Henry House Museum for six years. It was there she honed her knowledge of the preservation and display of rare artifacts, interpretation and narrative of history, as well as caring for and preserving historic structures, a skill that certainly comes in handy as she is forced to evaluate the effects of mold on a century-old home.
 
“It’s such a great old house,” she muses, looking wistfully around the mold-damaged home on St. George Street. “These old Victorians were built to last by craftsmen who not only made them functional, but works of art. I love this place and would like to see it saved. Of course there is still be hope for the home if repairs are made quickly and the street drainage project completed, but we may not be able to stay in the home long enough to see that come to pass. Unfortunately, our first concern has to be the museum’s collections, our health, and the health of the visitors. So if we have to move out, it will be terribly sad, but that’s what we may have to do.”
 
“All I know is that we have to do something soon,” Jackson adds urgently. “Time is of the essence in the battle against mold. Given all these factors and variables, our fastest option may be to move to another building. How we’re going to do that, or where we’re going to go, I have no idea. I just hope the community of Gonzales will come to our aid and lend a helping hand.”
 
For now, what will happen next remains a mystery. They are hoping there may be an affordable, mold-free historic house or downtown commercial property available which they could utilize as a home and place for the museum, and that some kind of emergency relocation grant or funding may be available to offset the costs.
 
“Perhaps there is a property owner out there reading this who would be willing to donate use of their property as a substantial tax write-off and that there are some incentives available to them from the city, county, or state for doing so” says Leigh. “Hopefully, someone would be at least willing to negotiate a rental at a substantial discount that we can afford. There are always options when people come together with a common goal and work towards a solution. I’ve seen it happen before and it’s amazing what people can do when they put their hearts and minds into something.
 
“We made a concious decision to relocate the museum to Gonzales because we love the amazing history of this town and we see the potential of what it can become in the future,” she says. “We’re willing to work very hard to help make that happen. We’ve invested in Gonzales – now we’re hoping Gonzales will invest in us.”
 
Anyone who might have a solution or who would like to volunteer with the effort can call the Douglas Fairbanks Museum at 830-444-0523 or visit them online at DouglasFairbanks.org.
 

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Fairbanks in the 1919 comedy "When the Clouds Roll By"

 

Silence is golden: New museum pays tribute to silent film star Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

 
 
The Gonzales Inquirer 
  
January 21, 2010
 

If you have never heard of the famed silent movie star Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., before, chances are you will be hearing about him more and more if you live in Gonzales County.

“We were looking everywhere,” said Keri Leigh, curator of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.

What she was looking for was a place to relocate the museum honoring the life and times of actor and movie pioneer Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

In 1998, the museum was founded in Austin. But a flood and other circumstances has meant it didn’t have a permanent home for nearly the last three years.

That has all changed now.

The museum has found a home in Gonzales. It’s located on St. George Street, near the downtown clinic.

And Leigh couldn’t be happier.

“We needed a home and community,” said Leigh.

In the beginning

For Leigh, she never dreamed of being a museum curator. Her life as a journalist, musician, author and radio host seemed quite fulfilling and, well, rather hectic. She was on the road almost all of the time.

But in the back of her mind, there was something there.

“I have been a silent movie buff since I was a kid,” said Leigh.

She remembers a PBS series called, “Silence, Please” which aired every Saturday night. She was hooked at a young age.

In fact, one of her favorites was “Robin Hood,” which starred Fairbanks. She keenly recalls being age seven, armed with a sword, and recreating the scenes in her backyard.

Yet for Leigh, silent movies were more of a hobby, a passion.

Then came the 1990s when silent films suddenly made a comeback. They were becoming all of the rage.

“They were being rediscovered,” said Leigh. “The movies are amazing. To see the production quality.”

Because silent films have no sound, Leigh said the actors and filmmakers really had to paint a picture of what was happening on the screen. It made them really concentrate.

Fortunately, since it was a new phenomenon, Leigh said the references for the filmmakers and actors was art. They were used to seeing artwork and fine detail.

“Film was new,” said Leigh. “There were no rules and no boundaries.”

But this budding new industry was not accepted for quite some time. At that time, Hollywood was nothing more than a small farming community. When the industry began, Leigh said the locals weren’t pleased.

Some signs read, “No dogs or actors allowed.”

“They were not accepted back then,” said Leigh.

A passing fad?

In fact, many critics of the day said movies would be nothing more than a passing fad; that live theatre would remain king.

When the Nickelodeon theatres became popular in America, it appeared the critics may be wrong. People could watch a short film in just minutes for five cents. They’d watch on their lunch hours or just about any time.

“The profit margin was phenomenal,” said Leigh.

Because of that, early filmmakers were able to lure away some of the top Broadway talent with good salaries.

“They took giant steps to legitimize the industry,” said Leigh.

One of those steps involved signing a contract with Fairbanks, a star of the stage.

In 1915, Fairbanks signed a contract worth $100,000, a huge salary at that time.

Though he was skeptical of this new medium, Leigh said Fairbanks “took the deal.”

One of his first roles, ironically, was in a film called, “Martyrs of the Alamo.”

Not surprisingly, Gonzales is featured prominently in the film.

For Fairbanks, he was little more than a bit player in the movie, though he did play five different roles. One was even in black face, where he played the slave of Col. Travis.

Sadly at that time, African-Americans were not allowed to appear in films.

A new approach

Another huge advantage for filmmakers at that time was how quickly and cheaply a production could be completed.

Leigh said for about $2,000 they could make a movie and it would be finished in a week.

But that didn’t mean there was anything cheap about this new craft.

“They had a creative and original approach,” said Leigh. “They were experimenting with the equipment.”

Another big advantage, said Leigh, was the “title cards” which were used. Those are the frames with text in the movies. Leigh calls it the first “closed captioning” in the world.

Because that was the only text, she said those title cards could be made into any language, meaning the films were meaningful around the world.

What it did was lead to a huge industry, and Fairbanks was in on the leading edge. Leigh said he was a Hollywood leader in making sure the film industry was successful and lucrative.

He helped found many of the hotels and other staples of Hollywood which still exist today. He was a pioneer.

Fairbanks helped start the very first film school at the University of Southern California.

“He saw a need for this,” said Leigh.

He had helped found the Motion Picture Academy, with the hopes of having the school as part of that organization. But that turned into a group which basically handed out industry awards, and Fairbanks was not satisfied.

One day while on the golf course, Fairbanks had a discussion with the dean of USC, who he said “loved the idea” of a film school. That school is still going strong today, producing some of the top filmmakers in Hollywood.

Yet much of the past may have been forgotten had it not been for the resurgence of silent films. Ironically, it was new technology which led to silent films in the first place and the resurgence had a lot to do with today’s new technology.

With the internet and so many other mediums, Leigh said fans around the world can communicate and enjoy silent films.

“Studios began pulling them out of the vault,” said Leigh.

Today, screenings of silent films play to sell-out crowds around the world.

A change of direction

For Leigh, she thought her life would revolve around her chosen career of journalism.

“I thought I would be a journalist my entire career,” said Leigh.

But that turned into a musical career, which meant traveling all over the country and sleeping in hotel room after hotel room. Her band, Keri Leigh and the Blue Devils, found great success.

But that success can also lead to burnout.

“I was ready to sleep in my own bed, ready to settle down,” said Leigh.

And then came the silent film revolution.

In doing research, Leigh said she found that many of the silent film stars had museums dedicated to their lives.

“They all seemed to have them,” said Leigh.

But, she said, to “my amazement,” there wasn’t any such museum for Fairbanks.

As she began studying Fairbanks more and more, she learned just how crucial he was in getting the new industry off the ground and turning it into what many of us know as Hollywood today.

She said in his writings, Fairbanks predicted cable television and video on demand. He also envisioned a ratings system for movies.

All of that came to pass.

Yet there still was nothing permanent to honor one of the true pioneers of Hollywood.

Leigh said she and Jackson, along with “other like-minded folks,” decided they should come up with a plan.

They pooled their resources, built some exhibit space and launched the museum effort.

“It was a community effort,” said Leigh.

In 1998, the museum found a permanent home in Austin.

But in 2007, massive rains struck the Austin area. Though they didn’t really understand exactly what was about to happen, Leigh said they did know enough to move all of the exhibits to the second floor of the building which housed the museum.

The flood came and wiped out the entire downstairs.

They were renting the building and the owner decided he wanted to go in a different direction.

“We began looking elsewhere,” said Leigh.

That search started in Austin but she said it was “cost prohibitive.”

They even looked in Denver, the hometown of Fairbanks, as well as Los Angeles.

She said real estate prices were “astronomical.”

Leigh said they weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen next. It seemed like the museum might not find a home.

Then a local resident contacted Leigh and told her she should seriously consider moving her museum to Gonzales.

Leigh, a Texas history buff (you’ll have to ask her the reason for that little fact), decided she would come and take a look. What could it hurt?

“I love old, historic Texas small towns,” said Leigh.

It didn’t take much time in Gonzales for Leigh to make the decision and take the plunge. The museum would be located in Gonzales.

A new beginning

Because of limited space in the house on St. George Street, Leigh estimates they will be able to handle about 10 visitors at a time.

But there’s plenty of space on the big porch and in the yard, so larger groups should not be a problem.

The museum will be open from 2-6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors must call in advance to arrange tours. To do so, you can call the museum at 830-444-0523. The web site is www.DouglasFairbanks.org.

They will officially be open Monday, March 1, just in time to celebrate Texas Independence. A major grand opening is set for Sunday, May 23, which is the birthday of Fairbanks, who was born in Colorado in 1883.

Leigh said they have about 1,200 artifacts which will be displayed. Those include movie posters, stills, autographs, programs and film props.

In fact, the “crown jewel” of the museum is a 1924 urn which was featured in the film “Thief of Baghdad,” a movie many say was the best work of Fairbanks.

In those days, sets were built with “real materials,” said Leigh. You can tell by the urn, which has intricate details and is extremely heavy.

Leigh said there is another place named after Fairbanks now, and that is at the Academy in Hollywood. She said Fairbanks’ wife had kept a lot of items in storage, some of it very delicate film, and when it was rediscovered, the Academy took it in and now has it on display. She works with that group, as well, to keep the Fairbanks name alive and well.

Leigh also said they have talked to members of the Fairbanks family. In fact, they were able to let his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., know about their plans for a museum. However, he was in his 90s and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. But Leigh said he did understand what they were doing and was happy his father was being honored.

As for Leigh, she’s happy to have a new home for her beloved museum and hopes the people of Gonzales will stop in and see what they have to offer.

She said their visitors come from all around the world and she estimated they were getting 300 to 400 per year when the museum was open in Austin. Hopefully, she said, that number will increase in the new Gonzales location.

That location is something which thrills Leigh, as she feels like she has found a home in Gonzales.

“I really do,” she concluded.

 
Copyright © 2010 The Gonzales Inquirer. All rights reserved.

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GOOD NEWS!

More than two years after the flood that totaled our old building, The Douglas Fairbanks Museum will re-open in 2010!

Our long search for a suitable site to house and display our collections led us to look at relocating outside our original home of Austin, Texas, where we have been for more than a decade. We considered sites as far away as Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Boston before discovering the perfect spot just a few miles south of Austin.

A friend of the museum recently suggested that we explore an available property in the historic town of Gonzales, Texas — once we visited there and had a look around, we absolutely fell in love with the place and the people. The museum board, staff, and supporters all agreed that this is the ideal location for our new home.

Not only will this allow us to remain in the Central Texas area, the museum will now be centrally located between two major cities, drawing visitors from both Austin and San Antonio. Just 50 miles from San Antone and 60 miles from Austin, Gonzales is a hot tourist destination spot along the Texas Independence Trail.

Antique wagons in front of the Gonzales Courthouse

Historic Gonzales County Courthouse & Town Square

Gonzales holds a very special place in the hearts of Texans and in the annals of the Lone Star State’s history. Known as “The Birthplace of Texas Freedom,” Gonzales was the first Anglo-American settlement west of the Colorado River, established by a land grant in 1825 when Texas was still a part of Mexico.

The first shot of the Texas Revolution was fired in Gonzales on October 2, 1835, when residents of the town refused to return a cannon originally given to them by Mexico for self-defense. General Santa Anna sent Mexican troops into Gonzales demanding the cannon be returned. But the Mexicans soon found themselves confronted by a band of determined Gonzaleans who told them if they wanted the cannon back, they could “Come And Take It.”

The ensuing battle of Gonzales was the first of many legendary battles in the struggle for Texas Independence.

In late February 1836, 32 men from Gonzales answered the urgent call for help defending the besieged Alamo and went to their deaths as true Texas heroes.  Among them were Almaron Dickenson, whose wife Susanna and their infant child were the only Anglo survivors of the bloody Alamo battle.

Appropriately enough, this story is told in the very first film Douglas Fairbanks ever appeared in, 1915’s “Martyrs of the Alamo” (aka “The Birth of Texas“) directed by D.W. Griffith.

We could not find any spot in Texas more appropriate for the museum’s new home than Gonzales. The town’s amazing history is an ideal match for Douglas Fairbanks, a man whose films always echoed the same ideals Gonzaleans fought and died for: freedom, justice and liberty!

The museum will be moving to our new building  in Gonzales on January 4, 2010. Located in a historic 1890s home just a block off the picturesque town square (on the National Register of Historic Places) and within walking distance of all other local museums and cultural attractions, we plan to make a sizeable contribution to the quality of life and tourism in Gonzales over the years ahead.

It will take some time to complete the move and set up exhibits and office space within the building, so the museum will not be open to the public until March 1st, 2010 — just in time to take part in the Annual Texas Independence Day celebrations.

We are already planning for an official Grand Opening party around May 23rd, Douglas Fairbanks’ birthday.

Keep an eye on our news blog for updates on our progress as the museum’s new home is being prepared. We’ll have lots of photos to share depicting the home restoration and building of exhibit spaces, as well as announcements of future programs, exhibits and special events coming up in 2010. It’s going to be a great year, and we hope you will join us!

Donations are especially important to help us with the costs of relocating to a new town and restoring this historic home. So if you haven’t already, please visit our “DONATE” page and make a financial contribution in any amount you can afford. Every little bit helps right now! Thank you for your continuing support.

The Douglas Fairbanks Museum: “Come And See It” in Gonzales next year!

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