Over the years, the New Kings Theatre at Mosman went by a variety of names – the Kings, the Classic – until it was finally caught in the current of progress in 1976. The Village cinema chain took over the art deco theatre that year, and it ran in friendly competition with its nearby contemporary, the Cremorne Orpheum.
But in a story that’s all too familiar in the world of old theatres, suits suddenly appeared on the scene and started making decisions on behalf of business. Greater Union demolished the New Classic Kings Village in 1986, a move which shocked the community. The twin cinema that replaced it opened in 1988 to much fanfare; so cheesy and contrived was the whole venture that even the cinema’s phone number was 9969 1988. Sheesh.
On paper, you’d think replacing an old 30s single screen picture theatre with a modern twin would be like printing money, but 23 years after its grand opening, the Greater Union Mosman was printing termination notices for its staff.
The GU’s profits didn’t come anywhere close to those at the still-vintage Cremorne Orpheum, and in 2011 the twin closed its doors for the final time. It’s currently waiting, like much of Mosman’s shopping district, to be demolished and redeveloped into residential/commercial towers, but until that happens it stands as a testament to the Orpheum’s appeal and triumph over progress.
Opening in 1923 and closing in November 1958, the Paragon No. 1 Theatre had a longer life than its twin.
Starting life as a picture theatre serving the undemanding entertainment needs of Belmore, the Paragon replaced a shed that stood on the Bridge Road site previously. Was the shed the suburb’s previous entertainment hub? Who knows. The Paragon No. 2 opened further up the road in 1928, and throughout the 30s and 40s, business was good.
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs rugby league team had been formed in 1935, and as early as 1939 the club was holding its annual meetings at the Paragon Theatre. The Paragon staff must have slighted the club somehow, because what goes around comes around. In 1957, the Canterbury-Bankstown League Club was formed to support the football club, and took up residency in a reconditioned naval hut built by club volunteers in nearby Collins Street.
By 1958, the Paragon was floundering, struggling against the introduction of TV and a decline in suburban cinemas. Meanwhile, the Canterbury-Bankstown Leagues Club was growing rapidly, and had already outgrown the naval hut. The club bought out the Paragon, and by 1960 had converted it into the spiffy new club premises seen above.
UPDATE: Courtesy of reader Tony, we’ve now got a look at the brochure handed out at the grand opening of the rejigged Leagues Club in 1960. Big thanks, Tony!
Incidentally, Mr. Frank Stewart, M. H. R., was a World War II veteran and ex-first grade Bulldog who went on to become the Minister for Tourism and Recreation in the Whitlam Government. It was Stewart who leaked info to the Federal Opposition regarding the Loans Affair, which ‘kicked off’ (heh) the chain of events that eventually brought down the Whitlam Government, but he also played a crucial part in the establishment of the Australian Institute of Sport. Oh, and he also presided over the opening of the Canterbury Leagues Club, but you knew that already.
It’s easy to imagine that the further growth of the club over the next 50 years into the behemoth it is today is indicative of the growing enthusiasm in the suburbs for RSL and Leagues clubs, which provided myriad entertainment options the Paragon could only have dreamed of. Realistically, the growth is probably also indicative of pokie profits.
The idea of a suburban cinema now seems quaint in comparison. In honour of its fallen homie, today’s Canterbury League Club features a ballroom named the Paragon Room, and there’s a Paragon Lane that runs beside the Club. No tributes to that naval hut, though.
A HUGE thanks to Lea Thomas at the Canterbury League Club for her generosity and assistance!
These days, this building on the corner of Mountain Street and Broadway, Ultimo, houses a convenience store, apartments, and our old friend Breadtop, but the inconspicuous facade hides a colourful and tempestuous history.
Built in 1911, the building started life as the Broadway Theatre, a cinema. With the advent of TV, this was one of many suburban cinemas that had fallen by the wayside by 1960, when it closed. In 1968, it was acquired by nightclub owner John Spooner and converted into Jonathan’s Disco, where it became well known as one of Sydney’s prime live music venues. Sherbet and Fraternity both got their big break at Jonathan’s, playing residencies involving six hour days for months on end. Imagine the poor disco staff having to listen to six hours of Sherbet a day for months. Perks of the job…
In May 1972, Jonathan’s Disco was gutted by fire. I can’t help but think it was one of those beleaguered staff members. “HowZAT?” they’d’ve quipped as they flicked their cigarette into the freshly-poured puddle of gasoline. The damage was extensive, and required a complete internal refit before it was opened again in 1976 as a ballroom dancing studio.
The Sydney City Council granted the Maltese community use of the premises as a licensed venue in 1980, when it became the Phoenician Club. Once more, the site became one of Sydney’s most popular live music venues with local bands such as Powderfinger and Ratcat playing gigs there throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Nirvana played their first Sydney show there in 1992 – a far cry from Sherbet. Around this time, the rave scene exploded in Sydney; a development that would lead to the end of the Phoenician Club.
Anna Wood, a 15yo schoolgirl from Belrose, attended an ‘Apache’ dance party at the Phoenician in October 1995, where she took ecstasy. Her resulting death shocked Sydney and enraged then-NSW Premier Bob Carr, who declared war on the Club. A series of fines and restrictions imposed on live venues in the wake of Wood’s death led to the closure of the Club in 1998 and the decline of Sydney’s live music scene which continues today. Good thing Wood wasn’t killed by a pokie machine.
From 1998 the site sat derelict, just in time for the Olympics. Nothing international visitors like seeing more than abandoned, graffiti-tagged buildings. In 2001 it was completely redeveloped internally, and today satisfies Carr’s idea of a venue put to good use.
Since 1928, the Paragon No. 2 has loomed over the intersection of Burwood Road and Knox Street, providing a monolithic eye-catcher for passers-by. It has remained remarkably well-preserved from its days as a cinema.
For thirty years, the Paragon No. 2 picture theatre provided Belmore locals with a venue for concerts, plays, movies and state government debates. Close to the train line, for years it was speculated that a train station would open up near the theatre, but the plan never went ahead. Knox Street was eventually cut off from Burwood Road, becoming a cul-de-sac and torpedoing easy access to the theatre by road. By June 1958, the time of its closure, the Paragon No. 2 had been operating on a restricted screening policy, further limiting its viability as a cinema.
Following its closure, the theatre was acquired by Jeldi Manufacturing, a Sydney-based textile company, who proceeded to use the building as storage for curtains and carpet.
In 1982, the site was discovered by Andre and Edwige Rizzo, a French couple who had migrated from France in 1970. Andre had represented France in gymnastics at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, and was seeking to start a gymnastics academy. The Paragon No. 2 provided the perfect facility, enabling the gym to become the first club in NSW to provide both men’s and women’s training apparatus, and to function exclusively as a venue for artistic gymnastics.
Aside from minor practical refurbishments, the lobby is in remarkable condition. At the centre of this staircase is the former box office, now a display case for the academy’s numerous achievements.
The theatre’s 1144 seats may be gone, but again, the interior isn’t unrecognisable as a cinema, and gives a good idea of what it would have looked like.
The Academy is currently run by Antoine and Shannon Rizzo, who are proud to have coached young gymnasts here for the last 30 years. At this stage, it’s been a gymnasium just about as long as it was a cinema. Given the success rate of the Academy (Antoine’s brother Philippe Rizzo is Australia’s most successful male gymnast), Paragon has proved a fitting name. I’m sure Jeldi had no complaints about the quality of storage, either.
Of course, the name of the theatre begs the obvious question ‘what about Paragon No. 1 ?’. I asked Antoine Rizzo if he knew. He did:
A HUGE thanks to Antoine and Shannon Rizzo at the Australian Academy of Gymnastics for their generosity and assistance!
These days, we know it as Civic Video (or just Civic, if you go by the shopfront sign. I bet they’re dying to be able to remove the word ‘video’ from the rest of their signs, despite how cost ineffective that would be), but prior to 1984 this was the Padstow Star Cinema:
Built in 1952 as the sister cinema to the not-too-distant Panania Star, the Padstow Star was one of many suburban cinemas of old. It’s a concept you can barely imagine now, unless you live in Beverly Hills. In 1985 the cinema closed, with Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure being its last screening. See, Ewoks do ruin everything.
Ever since, it’s been a house of movies in a very different way:
The interior has been refurbished, but it’s still quite easy to see what it originally was. The screen is a dead giveaway:
The projection booth remains as well, and is now the manager’s office judging by the angry, managerial eyes staring out at me when I tried to take a picture of it. Given the impending death of video shops, it’ll be interesting to see if this building gets yet another lease on life in Civic’s wake, or whether the residents of Padstow will have to start drinking for entertainment on a Friday night, like the rest of us.