In many ways, the Beverly Hills of the southern hemisphere has absolutely nothing in common with the sun-soaked haven of Hollywood decadence up north, but I’d argue this – it’s even tougher to make it here than it is in that notoriously tough town.
Case in point: this small takeaway shop on yet another strip of pointless shops is rarely open, a unique approach to customer service anywhere but Beverly Hills. Why? Do people not need to eat? Why can’t this place just be open on a hot afternoon when someone might want to take a drink away and refresh themselves? What was it about the concept of a cafe/takeaway that Stan, Kayem, and even the infinitely more aesthetically pleasing Dolan all failed to understand? Somewhere, some landlord is laughing as they review their fourth tenancy application in as many years.
Let’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.
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.
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.
In an incredibly novel move, the old Commonwealth Bank along King Georges Road at Beverly Hills was transformed into a Chinese restaurant by true visionaries. They noticed B-Hills’ dearth of Chinese restaurants and were brave enough to step up and take a chance on something radical. Has it paid off? Well, they’re still standing today where so many other Beverly Hills restaurants have fallen by the wayside, so I’d say that’s a big yes.
As for the Commonwealth, there first existed a dark age between the branch’s closure and the 2005 installation of a Commonwealth ATM further up the road during which ‘Which Bank?’ became more of a valid question than a slogan. The ATM has since been removed. I’d like to imagine that the proprietors of the Beverly Chinese went to this specific Commonwealth branch in order to get their loan for the restaurant. Wouldn’t that be funny? Don’t answer that.
The legendary Cane Bazaar at Beverly Hills. For years it’s seemed like the suburb was built around this behemoth – it’s a staple. But now there are rumblings, and it appears like the Bazaar is about to enter the next phase of its existence, about to take its first steps without a cane.
The recent alterations to the shopfront have exposed what appear to be two distinct structures beneath the Cane Bazaar facade (facaad?). Perhaps long before even its supermarket days, this was indeed two separate shops along King Georges Road. Reader Vivien has pointed out that this was in fact the site of Woolworths’ first self-service variety supermarket in 1955:
Look at that crowd! And you thought today’s self-service checkouts were mayhem. Later, it became a Jewel supermarket (remember those?) before the populace decided cane was in.
But back to this facade. Can I draw your attention for one moment to the boasts of lay-by and delivery services? First of all, it’s cane furniture, so it’s not exactly gonna break the bank. Second, it’s cane furniture, so it’s light as. They could have delivered their wares on bicycles. Also, I was unaware of this, but Bankcard has been discontinued since 2006. Pretty sure it outlived the Cane Bazaar, though.
Beverly Hills is renowned for its smorgasbord of international cuisine, but it already has several Japanese restaurants. Presumably, the owners of the Hiro sushi bar attempted to balance things out, thinking that King Georges Road wouldn’t miss one little tiny pizzeria. Not quite.
Inside, the pizzeria-esque decor is still in full effect, but to be fair they’ve tried to spruce things up a bit. Eatability praises the place for its cheap and fresh menu, but gives it a big thumbs down for the decor. Don’t blame Hiro, blame the pizzeria.