They stood on the sidewalk outside the theater in the rain, an incongruous group waiting to be admitted in groups of twos and threes. Some were theater owners with strictly proprietary interests. Some were wholesalers of used equipment peering anxiously into the darkened theater at other purchasers, who dickered earnestly for chicken fryers and twin soft-serve ice cream machines, specualting about what would be left for them to buy.
The rest were nostalgia buffs, hard-core romantics who collect films and movie paraphernalia and whose idea of a great time is wandering around an old dark movie theater snapping up "EXIT" and "Ladies" room signs, coveting an already-purchased ticket booth and art decolight fixtures and talking passionately about movies. A few of the wealthier discussed private film collections and home movie threaters.
The occasion that brought these diverse buyers together was the two-day sale last week of what remained of the contents of the K-B Baronet Theater located at 7414 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda. The sale was sponsored by Metro, which is razing all the stores on the block expect the post office to make way for a subway station and hopes to amke $7,500 from the Baronet sale.
Up for grabs were 61 items, including film projectors and splicers which were sold just after the doors opened to the Roth Chin, large glass-covered poster display cases once used to feature coming attractions, red leatherette theater seats, 261 feet of wool carpet in a leaf design common to many older candy vending machines, which are generally held in low esteem by movie fans favor old-fashioned popcorn machines and candy counters. All the vending machines were locked, the keys to them lost. Each item was individually priced based on an appraisal by Adam Wechsler.
"Most people strip a place before they leave," said Goerge Biro, the Metro supervisor in charge of this and four similar sales at business ranging from a Dy-Dee Diaper Service on Minnesota Avenue NE to a J.C. Penney store on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington.
"At these sales people buy all sorts of things," he said, nothing that most were commercial buyers who wanted to pick up used equipment at bargain prices.
One of the most enthusiastic and nostalgic buyers was Alvin L. Aubinoe Jr., who has spent $10,000 to build and equip a private theater - complete with popcorn machine - in what was once the rec room of his Bethesda home.
"Every Saturday I went to the movies right here," recalled Aubinoe, a film collector who holds weekly private screenings for 30 friends. "I'm a builder and I like progress but I hate to see things like this torn down."
Aubinoe, who bought an old flourescent "EXIT" sign and the "Men's" and "Ladies" room signs, said, "They're just something I had to have." He continued, "I buy 10 films a year to the tune of $3,000 to $5,000. I just bought 'Duel in the Sun' (a 1946 film starring George Peck and Jennifer Jones) and my favorite film I just bought last week, 'You Can't Take It With You,' a Frank Capra film with Jimmy Stewart. We'll have a musical one week, a mystery the next. If I left it up to my friends to choose we'd have 30 different choices."
Robert Oberlander, 32, and his 13-year-old son Jim arrived at 6:30 a.m., three hours before the doors opened, and sat on lawn chairs outside the theater, where the doormat bearing the theater's name had lain for 17 years. The black vinyl mat was stolen the night before the sale, Biro said.
Oberlander, whose early arrival netted him the two much-admired three foot high silver art deco lights and ticket-taker stand, talked about his early association with the theater which, from 1928-1960, was owned by Bethesda businessman John Henry Hiser and bore his name. According to a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Historical Society, Hiser, in 1929, istalled the first sound system in a movie theater in the Washington area. During the 30s the First Baptist and Lutheran congregations of Bethesda held services there before their churches were built and a bowling alley operated under the theater. In 1960 Hiser sold the theater to the K-B chain when it was re-christened the Baronet.
"I found an old hand-crank projector and some films in the attic when I was in the third grade and having trouble with math. I was just taken with it," Oberlander recalled. "My father said, "if you learn your multiplication tables I'll take you to a real professional screening room."
"I took him up on it and learned them in six weeks and he brought me here and introduced me to the projectionist and then he took me to all sorts of (movies palaces) all over town. I became adsolutely fascinated with film," said Oberlander, a WTOP cameraman.
"When I was in the ninth grade Mr. Hilzer asked me to come and play the old theater pipe organ here. He used to let me come in and see the movies free in exchange for my playing," he said. Oberlander gives pipe organ concerts and bought his first movie pipe organ for $450 when he was 19 and on a vacation in Maine. He also owns the Baronet's pipe organ which he'll move to another theater or put in storage within a few weeks, before the demolition crews arrive.
Joe Bernheimer and Don Derrickson, who own a chain of 11 theaters in and around Rehoboth and Bethany Beach, Del., and Chincoteague, paid $2,490 for the 489 theater seats priced at $5 each. "These are a real bargain," said Derrickson as Bernheimer methodically flipped several rows of seats to cheak their condition and sturdiness.
"How are we going to get them out? We're not sure." Derrickson conceded as he tried to dismantle one. "I'm sure the reason we got the seats is because nobody wanted to move them."