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 Jim 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.
There exists in the collective unconscious a perception that in the 1950s and 60s, all men were DIY-handymen, and that Saturdays were a time to ‘do a bit of work around the house’. The proliferation of small town, independent hardware shops from that era seem to support this. Of course, this was long before the mega-chains rose to power, bought them all out, assimilated them into the brands and then closed them for not being as profitable as the superstores.
But because the Bunnings of the world are ruled by suits and not overalls, a sloppier job was done eradicating that old independent spirit. Ancient advertisements and signage, once lovingly applied by hand (on a Saturday) were left in place, seen by marketing gurus as a kind of ‘free advertising’. But they weren’t, man. They were a reminder.
Now we live in an age where the mega-chains that are buying out these strip shops aren’t even from the same industry. Since we can’t go five seconds without Gloria-Jonesing for an Oreo Bash Mocha Chiller, ‘little’ cafes like this one have supplanted more practical outlets in small shopping centres. What’s so little about Gloria Jean’s? And how is it that the Commonwealth Bank can’t support locations in Panania, Revesby and Padstow, yet Gloria Jean’s can pull it off without breaking a sweat?
But Gloria Jean’s, like so many mega-chains before them, didn’t do a good enough job in rebranding, and its Panania outlet retains its sun-kissed ‘Bell’s Hardware’ tattoo. We can be thankful that the next generation won’t have to endure a Gloria Jean’s one.
Or maybe it’s ‘Bill’s Hardware’. I can’t really tell. Bill Bell, if you’re reading this, get in touch. You know my name, look up the number.
It was a year ago today that I started Past/Lives, and I’d like to thank all of you who’ve contributed to or supported this venture in any way. I’ve learned so much writing this blog, and most of that knowledge has come from you. Please, keep the comments, suggestions and corrections coming!
When I started I had no idea there would be anyone as interested in old corner shops as I was, but nearly 50,000 views have since proven me very wrong. After over 200 posts, I hope that’s all I’ve been wrong about.
There’s plenty of good stuff on the way, too; over the next few weeks I’ll be going back and revisiting the ten most popular posts of the last year. You’ll get to see how they looked then, and how much things have changed. My money’s on ‘not much’.
In addition there are hundreds more sites around Sydney (and beyond) that are waiting for their moment in the sun, and they can rest assured that it’s coming.
Again, to everyone who has followed this blog, and shares whatever crazy syndrome we must all have to be fascinated by any skerrick of a former fast food outlet, I say thank you!
It’s my sincere hope that you – whether you stumbled upon this blog while searching for that Joyce Mayne ad where she’s in the bath, or you’re an enthusiast looking up the history of their building only to discover it was a Pizza Hut – have gotten as much out of this blog from reading it as I have from writing it.
If you have (and even if you haven’t), join me for another year in the past.
In the second such instance, Civic Video has taken up residence in a former cinema. This time, the Paramount Theatre of South Hurstville continues to provide movies to the public through the video chain. Let’s take a closer look.
The Paramount was built in 1934, joining a sister cinema at Mortdale (since demolished) and only four other picture theatres in the Kogarah/Hurstville region: the Odeon at Carlton, the Oatley Radio, the Hurstville Savoy and the Kogarah Victory being the others. It’s a pretty damn big building, with a seating capacity of 1,100 when it was built. In 1950, that old vaudeville villain Hoyts (boo, hiss) bought the theatre and renamed it the Hoyts. Sounds much better too, doesn’t it? Hoyts closed the theatre in 1959 (I’m growing more and more convinced there was some kind of Hoyts conspiracy to buy up the suburban cinemas in order to get people to head into the city). Hoyts made sure that a covenant in the sales contract ensured the building could never again be used as a cinema.
Since 1959 it’s been used as a recreation centre, a supermarket and a giant Civic. In the last ten years as video shops have declined, Civic has cut down on its floorspace, sharing with a Subway, a newsagent, a Curves gym and some kind of computer shop out the back. Cramming more into less space isn’t just a residential thing anymore.
CRUSTY UPDATE: Here’s a look at the Paramount in its heyday courtesy of reader Carmen. Thanks!
Sometimes it can be fun to take a look at the evolution of a shop over time. It reveals a lot about the changing face of the suburb, shoppers’ tastes and the sensibilities of the time, among many other things. In this case, we’re looking at 274 Forest Road, Hurstville. In 1951, it was Food Fair, an extremely 50s looking fruit and vegetable shop. Now, take a good look at this picture. You’d never get away with parking a car on Forest Road like that these days, and you certainly wouldn’t ever see your bike again if you just left it unattended and unchained like that. Before the advent of the Westfield, or the Super Centre above the Hurstville train station, these shops were the lifeblood of the suburb that coursed through the vein that is Forest Road.
This one’s a stretch, but use your enthusiasm to zero in on the barely visible ANZ logo next to the Lowes, which is still there 30 years later. It makes sense that by the 80s, the banks had staked out territory amongst the little shops along the street. Food Fair would have had nowhere else to go but bust even if it had survived the 1978 opening of Westfield (which I’m guessing it didn’t).
Here we are again, in the new millennium. Now the shop is home to The Base Store, a $2 shop/party goods outlet. How shops like these were able to flourish in the 90s/00s is beyond me, but think back – they were everywhere. It all started with the novelty of the Reject Shop, and then things got out of hand. We only have ourselves to blame. By this point the bank is long gone, a victim of the online revolution and branch closures. Firing workers is the best way to save money, you know.
Which brings us to today. Oh, how things have changed (except Lowes, which appears to be the foundation Hurstville was built around). The former Knapps Butchery has become a Chemist Warehouse, and the party’s over for the Base Store. It’s now Butchery No. 1, or No1 Butchery as Google likes to call it, and fittingly too – it’s anonymous as hell. There’s the Rav 4 parked in the same place as the car in 1951, and they both have the spare tyre on the back. The custom facade of the Food Fair has long since been covered up by the dirty venetian look of ANZ, which itself has left an ugly stain (what a visual metaphor). The ubiquitous-yet-defunct Anata Awning has ensured that Food Fair’s legacy is lost to the world, but I can’t help but think if you tore that facade down, the Food Fair shopfront would be waiting patiently behind it for one more day in the sun. It sounds fair to me.
UPDATE: One year later, No. 1 Butchery is #10 in the Past/Lives Flashback series. Check it out.