First off, let’s get the past out of the way. Or one of them, anyway.
Believe it or not, people used to visit the western Sydney suburb of Fairfield by choice, mainly because there were things to do there. In 1908, Fairfield consisted of a train station, a sawmill and, of course, a pub – the Railway Hotel.
As has happened so often throughout Australian history, those milkshakes brought all the boys to the yard…but those in charge knew that if there wasn’t any entertainment for them when they got there, Fairfield would fall prey to anarchy, social upheaval, communism and all those other agents of chaos that happen when we’re not given the option to spend money.
The Carter family of Smithfield identified that risk, and in 1910 did the community a solid: they built a timber and corrugated iron hall.
Do you know how much fun a timber and corrugated iron hall can provide?
…it was a different time. Moving on…
After the hall caught fire (see? fun!) it was rebuilt as the Fairfield Picture Palace in 1914, wherein each Saturday up to 2000 punters could pay their bits and turn their brains off for an hour or so.
Not to be outdone, local transport and carrying baron John James Woods decided he could screen dodgy 16fps slapstick comedies for drunks better than the FPP, and in 1916, on Fairfield’s own Crescent, the imaginatively named Crescent Cinema was born. Or built. Or…you know what I’m talking about.
But Woods’ heart just wasn’t in it, and it changed hands a bunch of times before it was condemned as unsafe. Usually that’s where I’d come in, but this occurred in 1928. Maybe Fairfield just wasn’t meant to have fun?
The Crescent (the cinema, not the crescent) was rebuilt, renamed (as the Plaza), and opened to huge success. The new owners, a flamboyant (is there any other kind in olde-time theatre ownership?) couple called the Christensens, used some unorthodox promotional techniques to advertise their theatre. Beside the usual train station and back of the bus adverts, Eric and Cecilia Christensen would dress up as movie characters and swan about Fairfield handing out flyers. C’mon Event Cinemas, bring that back! I want to see Captain America and the Ghostbusters staggering around Cabramatta trying to convince people they’re not insane and that they should spend time in a dark room with them. In this social media age, it feels like a lost opportunity.
By 1934, the Depression had taken its toll on the Christensens, so in came visionary A. J. Beszant. Just look at that article. Fairfield was crying out for a modern theatre, one that wasn’t promoted by dodgy Laurel and Hardy impersonators, and Beszant replied “I’ll give them one”. “Criptic” indeed.
Beszant’s mad plan for world domination seemed to involve building a theatre in each of Sydney’s western suburbs, a plan that almost worked. It was just a bit beyond Beszant’s scope, and by 1944 he’d merged his company with our old friend Hoyts. With that in mind, you can guess what happened next.
Today, the Crescent (the crescent, not the cinema) isn’t a very pleasant place to be. Fairfield’s population has boomed since Hoyts, the KAOS to Beszant’s CONTROL, closed the cinema in 1967, and the focus of the suburb is no longer the train station. The theatre itself now sits in that lonely part of town, decaying and defiled.
I wonder if any amount of cosplay could get people to come by here these days.
Why do I get the feeling this is probably the part least used as a toilet?
Regents Park, Bankstown…Shanghai?
Although it existed as a split amusement parlour/roller rink in the 1970s, the Crescent Cinema has gone the route of all buildings this size – discount furniture warehouse. The glory days are long behind it, and it’s only a matter of time before the developers show up with a bulldozer. In this case, however, nature might beat them to it.
Perversely, the underground billiards club was named Savoy, a name traditionally associated with cinema and entertainment. Do you really think any entertainment went on here?
Especially when the door leads to nowhere?
Inside, it’s a far cry from the 2000 seat era. Dare to compare?
Remember, you’re looking at the exact same space.
Around the back, the stormfront of progress encroaches upon a wasteland. Marvel’s comic book characters are on-hand as ever to witness the death of cinema.
Beszant died in 1950 (and buried in the Northern Suburbs cemetery, of all places!), the Christensens and Woods long before that, and with them died the dream of entertaining the west. All we seem to want to do these days is house people, but there’s no thought about what they’ll want to do once they’re settled. With pubs closing earlier than ever and options like this no longer viable, perhaps now is the time to start thinking of alternatives? Not everyone’s a gambling fan, Mike.
The Cinema Treasures website is wonderful. I’ve spent many hours there. Thank you John Gleeson for all your research work on old Sydney picture theatres.
It’s sad that no wealthy investor would possibly consider restoring this old building back into a cinema – it looks too far gone. In fact, from that horrible development poster on the metal gate, it looks like they’re going to build a modern apartment block just as Michael said – but adding the mismatched façade of the old Crescent theatre.
Surely Fairfield is a good location for a modern 4-6-screen cinema complex, as there are none in the vicinity. The nearest place to go to the movies would be Event Cinemas at Liverpool or Wetherill Park. In fact, there’s a blank circle bordered by these and Event Parramatta, Reading Auburn and Hoyts Bankstown. No cinemas in this circle at all, since Merrylands was bulldozed a few years ago.
Great page!! Can you post GPS map locations to places. Would love to visit.
Now there’s an idea…
the CINEMA may be getting a new life the Facade remains but there are diggers moving dirt at its rear.
As a kid aged 8 through 10 I lived in the new Housing Commission area at Canley Vale. On most Saturday arvo’s I’d catch the train to Fairfield and go to the flic’s. The train from Liverpool would be full of kids and when it arrived at Fairfield there’d be a rush to the end of the platform by those who hadn’t bought train tickets. We’d run down the concrete ramp and across open ground to the theatre and have saved money to buy some lollies at interval. Interval was also a time to go down to the front row of the stalls where comic swapping would occur. Lots of fun, lots of noise, cries of ‘seen it’ if they dared showing an old cartoon and I can swear I never saw, or heard of, anyone rolling Jaffas down the aisle – they were too expensive to waste! Thanks for the blog, I really enjoy reading it.
Dear Micheal Wayne
My name is Amie Millward and I am the Great Grand Daughter of the late AJ Beszant . I am proud of what my Great Grandfather was able to accomplished as he wanted to give the people entertainment to enjoy so they could step away from the lives they knew and escape to a place of fantasy , it did not matter what economic situation ,colour or religion ,all were welcome to experience the cinema , that was what his desire was . Even though He was seen as a serious man who never smiled ,he gave everyone else a reason to smile.
Thankyou Michael Wayne for writing this Article .