Category Archives: cinemas

Past/Lives Flashback #3: Midnight Star Reception Centre – Homebush, NSW

Original article: Homebush Cinema/Niterider Theatre Restaurant/Midnight Star Reception Centre/Derelict – Homebush, NSW

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It was only a matter of time before we found ourselves back in front of this beast. As we already know, the Homebush Theatre has experienced a long afterlife as an ice rink, a theatre restaurant, a reception centre and a squat before it was finally allowed to rot alongside the other corpses on Parramatta Road. For more on its years as a squatters paradise, check out this fascinating account and accompanying video.

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Shortly after I wrote my original article last year, it came to light that the Midnight Star was to be redeveloped into two towers of high-density living space in the hope of rejuvenating its necropolyptic surroundings. This plan was rightfully met with community outrage, and has since been dropped by the developers without explanation, granting the Niterider another stay of execution.

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While attempting to spruce up the area is a good idea, this was not the right way to go about it. Sure, put in your two towers full of people, but consider the lack of amenities or decent infrastructure in the area before you start getting the dollar signs in your eyes, greedy developers! You know, if the M4 was finished, you could transform the stretch of Parramatta Road between Homebush and the city, and smart developers could really clean up… Oh wait, this is Sydney we’re talking about. Carry on.

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And so the Midnight Star returns to its seemingly-eternal slumber, waiting for a new set of idealistic developers to take another crack. The Strathfield Council has welcomed attempts to get something happening here, but only if the community at large receives some benefit. Personally, I think the community would benefit from a return of the theatre restaurant format. Come on, who doesn’t like to be entertained while eating, especially by dodgy panto? Get Dirty Dick on the phone! Homebush would learn to laugh again, instead of sinking further into bleak, oppressive hopelessness. It’s not a good look.

UPDATE: Someone has awakened the beast. Come for a tour of the Homebush Theatre before it’s gone forever (or even after it’s gone, these blogs last a long time).

Past/Lives Flashback #4: Videomania – Rosebery, NSW

Original article: The Marina Picture Palace/Videomania/For Lease – Rosebery, NSW

The Marina, 1941. Image courtesy City of Botany Bay Local History Image Archive.

The Marina, 1941. Image courtesy City of Botany Bay Local History Image Archive.

Sometimes revisiting a place can reveal secrets you missed the first time. Case in point, the rotting behemoth on the side of Gardeners Road formerly known as Videomania. In its glory days this was the grand Marina picture palace, which operated until 1984 – a time when video killed the theatre star.

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I tried to get the same angle as above, I really did.

Another place for which time seems to stand still, Videomania remains relatively unchanged since last year. Sure, there are some new posters up along its face and there’s a new cupcake shop in the old bank next door, but the building itself is no different.

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We can only speculate as to how long those promo guys were waiting, longing to plaster the front of the place with their posters. I suppose the temptation became too much at some point, much to Jack Dee’s benefit.

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Even Leonardo is still there, ever vigilant. And he’d want to be, given the former theatre’s seedy surroundings…

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Out the back, I encounter some inspiring graffiti and little else. The place may still be for lease, but they certainly haven’t expended any effort making it presentable.

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I’m guessing that vacuum doesn’t work.

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Just when I was thinking to myself that there was nothing left to discover here, I found it. It’s something that was probably there last time, but I just happened to miss in the excitement of seeing a Ninja Turtle in the last place you’d expect to see one. See? The gluey remnants still attached to the side appear to vaguely form the word ‘Roxy’, another name this theatre went by at some point in its illustrious life. But that was just the primer. Have a look at this:

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Can you see it? Look really closely, and maybe try squinting. Still no good? Okay, let’s get a bit closer…

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How about now? The ‘R’ or maybe the ‘N’ should hit you first, and then from there it’s easy. Yes, amazingly, the awning’s decorative ‘MARINA’ lettering has somehow survived, allowing us an even deeper glimpse into the past than it was thought possible. Now all we need to do is arrange a screening of ‘Puddin’ Head’ inside. Maybe we should get in touch with the owners?

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We’re in the home stretch now, only three to go. Here’s a clue for the next entry: it’s another theatre.

ROCKIN’ UPDATE: The development-minded Vlattas family, owners of the Cleveland Street Theatre and the Newtown Hub, are currently renovating the Marina with the aim of turning it into a live music venue. My suggestion: keep Leonardo as your bouncer. Thanks, reader Rozie!

Rozelle Theatre/Arch Stone & Residential – Rozelle, NSW

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Whoa, deja vu! This incarnation of the Rozelle Theatre, constructed in 1927, was actually the second theatre to be built at this location. You can take one look at it and know it was a job by architect Charles Bohringer, who also brought us the Homebush Theatre. That Bohringer…it’s like he was tortured by this single vision in his head and could never quite exorcise it, no matter how many theatres he designed.

 

While we’re on the topic of torture, Zero Dark Thirty’s got nothing on Miss Louise Mack, who sadistically inflicted a series of lectures on children at the theatre during the late 1920s:

 

SMH, 26 November 1929

SMH, 26 November 1929

 

You won’t be surprised to learn that it was Hoyts who played the part of the executioner in the tragic tale of this theatre, which ceased projection in 1960 – and speaking of executions:

 

Adelaide Advertiser, 12 June 1950

Wouldn’t have wanted to be that last fellow…   Adelaide Advertiser, 12 June 1950

 

After an embarrassing stint as a function centre, the cinema today stands as an Arch Stone tile outlet topped with an apartment block. It’d be a damn spooky place to live, too…it’s said that on a dark and stormy night, you can still hear the yawns of Miss Mack’s students…

 

St. James Theatre/Beverly Hills Cinemas – Beverly Hills, NSW

IMG_9142Let’s cut to the chase: the Beverly Hills Cinemas are looking a little…porky these days. It’s hard not to notice the expanding waistline anymore, even for the sake of politeness. What I’m saying is, if the Beverly Hills Cinemas were a person, they’d need to take the Michelle Bridges challenge a few times to squeeze back into those trackpants.

But it wasn’t always this way. Back before the cinema was built, the suburb was known as Dumbleton, after a nearby farm. The opening of the Dumbleton train station in 1931 had opened up the suburb to the rest of Sydney in a way the previous public transport option – a coach service from Hurstville station – had not. Dumbleton’s first shop had only opened in 1908 (on the site of the present day Beverly Hills Hotel), so there wasn’t exactly a major reason to go there. Dumbleton residents hoped to change this in 1910, when a post office was opened within the existing store. It was like the proto-Westfield.

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This is that shop, circa 1916. Image courtesy Regina Coeli Parish, Beverly Hills.

The Second World War brought military personnel to Dumbleton, further increasing its population and forcing it to come up with more shops to keep people entertained, but it’s kinda hard to make anything entertaining when your suburb’s name is Dumbleton.

In late 1938, plans began for a picture theatre along King Georges Road with a projected completion date of 1940. I suppose the Dumbletonians were hoping to emulate the success of the Savoy theatre in nearby Hurstville, but they still had the nagging problem of that name. An American cultural influence had been building in the outskirts of Sydney with the advent of cinema, so with an impending theatre and the belief that the USA would soon be joining the war effort, a move was made in 1940 to change the suburb’s name to the much more glamourous sounding Beverly Hills – Hollywood on the East Hills line. The Californian equivalent was home to famous movie stars, and with the completion of the St. James Theatre later that year, so would Dumbleton. The strip of palm trees down the centre of King Georges Road was added to complement the Hollywood theme in a move no one in the 1940s could have predicted would become so tacky by the present day.

The St. James Theatre entertained the residents of the growing suburb (even those older residents who had loudly complained about the name change) for decades until the 1970s, when the voracious Hoyts incorporated it into its suburban chain. By 1978, it had fallen into disrepair like many of its suburban cousins that had survived the mass demolition of such cinemas during the progressive 60s, and was showing only adult films. St. James indeed. I wasn’t able to locate a picture of the St. James back in the day, so if you’re able to help, let me know.

It was that year when developer Jim Tsagias bought the St. James, with plans to transform it into a function centre. Something changed his mind (perhaps the palm trees) and he decided to restore it as a cinema. In 1982 it was reopened as the one-screen Beverly Hills Cinema, and in 1988 it was converted to a twin.

And couldn’t you tell. For years, the bigger Cinema No. 1 would play host to the big budget blockbusters, while smaller, more intimate pictures or films late in their run were relegated to the tiny Cinema No. 2, which had been shoehorned in above the first. It was an awkward setup, but one that built a reputation as the cheapest cinema in Sydney (based on ticket prices, of course), and became one of the most popular family venues in the south west, especially when coupled with the nearby Beverly Hills Pizza Hut. Movies then all-you-can-eat pizza: it doesn’t get much more 90s than that.

The cinema was looking a bit dated by the early 2000s, but not as bad as the bank next door (I believe it was a Westpac?). Sandwiched between the cinema and the Pizza Hut was one of so many suburban bank branches closed during that time, and it sat dormant for many years just like the Hut. Perhaps realising it wasn’t a good look, and that there was an opportunity to expand, the Tsagias family bought the bank in 2004 and moved in, creating a video arcade in the new space which greatly relieved pressure from the cramped waiting area. But this wasn’t enough. In 2008, a complete redevelopment saw the Beverly Hills upgraded to a six-screen cinema. The derelict Pizza Hut was cut in half to make room for more screens and a mini-power station, and the entire facade facing King Georges Road was given the facelift (in true Beverly Hills fashion) that it sports today.

Not quite the case around the back, though.

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From the alley behind the cinema, it’s easy to see the layout of the original St James and the bank next door. The structure on the extreme left is new, and sits on the Pizza Hut’s territory. The Pizza Hut recently vanished from existence, perhaps to make way for more parking for the cinema, or a new restaurant (just what BH needs). Whenever you see extensive renovations going on, it’s usually a safe bet that it’s being done to prepare the property for sale. Sure enough, the Tsagias family placed the Beverly Hills Cinema on the market late last year. It seems as if Event Cinemas has taken control, at least of the screening coordination, but it remains to be seen if the Beverly Hills will remain a cinema under a new owner.

If it doesn’t, they may have to change the suburb’s name again.

Oatley Radio Theatre/Oatley RSL Youth Club – Oatley, NSW

Oatley Radio screening The Wonders of Aladdin, 1961. Image courtesy reader Carmen and Mr W. Collins

Oatley Radio screening The Wonders of Aladdin, 1961. Image courtesy reader Carmen and Mr W. Collins

It may surprise you, especially if you’re an Oatley resident, to learn that the tiny suburb once enjoyed its own theatre! Designed by Sydney theatre architect extraordinaire Aaron Bolot in 1940, the Oatley Radio opened in 1942 to the delight of cinephiles everywhere (in Oatley).

Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the Oatley Radio played host to popular films of the day, including Easter Parade (1948) and An American in Paris (1951). In fairness, it probably played host to some unpopular ones too.

The final curtain, 1961. Image courtesy Mr. W. Collins

The final curtain, 1961. Image courtesy Mr. W. Collins

It’s unclear exactly when the Oatley Radio closed (if you know, let me know), but I’m estimating it was sometime in the 1960s, an era when suburban cinemas were discouraged in favour of the big boys in the city. It’s claimed that the Radio became part of the Mecca family of cinemas (alongside Kogarah and Hurstville), but I haven’t been able to find much on this.

Oatley Theatre foyer, 1961. Image courtesy Mr. W Collins

Oatley Theatre foyer, 1961. Image courtesy Mr. W Collins

What is clear is that at some point, the Radio was bought by the Oatley RSL and turned into their Youth Club, which is how we find it today. It’s now named the Jack Fisher Hall, after the founding president of the Youth Club.

Behind the Radio, it’s all too clear that it was once a 460-seat cinema, despite the tiny, unassuming frontage.

The Radio survives as one of six picture theatres in the Kogarah/Hurstville area still around today (along with the South Hurstville Paramount, the Carlton Odeon, Nash’s Penshurst Theatre, Beverly Hills Cinema and the Kogarah Mecca), but it’s largely avoided the sad fates of renovation or dereliction that have befallen those others. In a strange way, a suburban cinema like this one was the video shop of its day…I doubt anyone’s ever streamed The Wonders of Aladdin (1961).