Goldfinger said, “Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.'”
– Ian Fleming, Goldfinger (1959)
Sydney is a multicultural city. From Bondi in the east to Blacktown in the west, from Narrabeen in the north to Cronulla in the south (well, maybe not Cronulla), it’s not hard to argue that the city has come a long, colourful way since the White Australia of the 1950s.
But long before even that decade, influences of another culture were finding their way into what was a very British way of life at the time, influences that have come to be embraced as the preferred way over time.
Prior to 1788, the British used its North American colonies as a penal dumping ground, auctioning off convicts to plantation owners and other slavery enthusiasts. But when the American Revolution brought that to a halt, the former colony quickly established its own identity as the Empire scrambled to find another outlet for their unwanted lawbreakers.
By the early 20th Century, the American style as we know it today was pretty firmly established, particularly through the film industry blossoming in Hollywood. The extent of the influence of American films around the world is so massive as to be unknowable, but we’re certainly going to know a little part of it today.
Smack-bang in the middle of the Grand Parade that marches through Ramsgate and Brighton-Le-Sands along the shores of Botany Bay is the broad cleft that is President Avenue.
Along the aptly named President Avenue, everything is presidential. From this palatial block of units reminiscent of Goldfinger‘s Miami…
…to this capital lodge…
…everything on the avenue fits the bill.
It’s the suburban equivalent of the kind of aged, staid, rich white guy we generally associate with the US presidency, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it borders today’s subject: Monterey, a young, small suburb that’s essentially comprised of four major streets.
Monterey’s insecure, slightly murky, and largely unofficial history finds its origins in 1877, when it was a piece of Scarborough Park. Jacob Marks, a prominent Jewish property developer, bought a parcel of land in the area, which was beginning to boom thanks to the popularity of the nearby Lady Robinsons Beach and Sandringham Baths. Marks had 13 kids (!), one of whom lived (and died) in California, so when it came time to name the streets in his property, things got red, white and blue pretty quickly.
Here’s where things get a bit cloudy – the street names were carved into stone by 1903, but it’s unclear who named them, and then it wasn’t until the early 1920s when the subdivision went up for sale.
The sale was orchestrated by a WWI veteran/motor racing enthusiast/socialite named Lance Giddings, who injected a healthy dose of American panache into the sale. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite take off.
“The enthusiastic advertising copy and promotion produced considerable sales over the next six years but these sales did not result in building. While Council records list and identify considerable lot ownership after 1921, the Sands Directory of 1924 could only find a single Monterey resident, Mr Hugh Macan in Pasadena Street, for its listing.” – Fibro Moderne: Mid-20th Century Fibro Housing in Monterey NSW (Bogle, Pickett 2013)
Even by 1930, the suburb only had five residents. Imagine the parties! Fat bass gramophones uninhibitedly pumping out block-rocking beats of Whispering Jack Smith with the nearest neighbour at least 15 minutes walk away!
Inevitably, the post-WWII housing boom took hold in Monterey, and by the 1950s it was a bustling suburb; although not so bustling that it wasn’t partially gazetted in 1951 for a potential Southern Freeway extension from Waterfall to St Peters. Interestingly, it remains gazetted so today, so if you’re a resident, don’t get too comfortable.
Now, let’s take a look at those street names. When you’re heading south from President Avenue, the first one you come to is Banks Street.
And that’s American! Because banks are…American and…uh, evil, and…how does the rest of that go? Big banks? Big oil…
No, the real Monterey gets started further down, with Monterey Street.
The name Monterey has its origins in Monterrei, Spain. So revered was Gaspar de Zuniga Acevedo y Fonseca, 5th Count of Monterrey (as Monterrei had become known by the 1590s), that Monterrey, Mexico was named in his honour by the conquistadors. Subsequently, in 1602, when it came time to name a newly discovered bay in what is now California, the Spaniards went with Bahia de Monterrey, which eventually evolved into Monterey Bay, which itself lends its name to the nearby city of Monterey, which then became the capital of Alta California. When the United States won the Mexican-American War of 1846-47, California was annexed by the USA right there in Monterey. The city went on to be the site of the first theatre in California (a state now synonymous with show business), and is famous for its cheese. Whew!
Now look at Monterey Street, Monterey, with all the trappings of Australian suburbia. Does it bear the weight of all that history? Hell no.
Next up is Pasadena Street, and you’d better believe it’s full of little old ladies. Pasadena gets its name from the city in Los Angeles County, a city that dates back to 1886 and is named for a Chippewa Native American term meaning ‘of the valley’. I’m starting to feel that not a lot of thought went into these street names…
In fact, the most interesting thing I can say about Pasadena Street is that it comes out directly across from Botany Bay. Look at that picture above. That gap in the land is the mouth that flows out to the Tasman Sea, from whence the Endeavour, for better or worse, arrived in 1770.
Again, too much history comes down, crushing the street’s thin veneer of banality, exposing nothing beneath.
Inevitably, there’s Hollywood Street. At the time of its christening, 1903, Hollywood, California had only just been incorporated as a municipality. It wouldn’t get its first movie studio until 1912, so whomever named was showing some astonishing foresight.
Also astonishing is this house on the corner of O’Connell and Hollywood. Just look at it.
Look at it!
Finally, we have Culver Street. Culver City, back in Cali, is another one that didn’t really come to prominence until the years after this street was named. In Culver City’s case, it wasn’t incorporated until late 1917. Weirder still is that Harry H. Culver, after whom Culver City is named, didn’t even arrive in California until 1910! Who named this street?!
Sadly, the psychic who gave Culver Street its name didn’t foresee just how pedestrian it would become in later years.
Mystery still surrounds the naming of these streets. There’s no definitive record of anyone in particular having bestowed the names, and sources have varied throughout histories both official and unofficial over the decades. Even Rockdale Council has no idea, and it’s, like, their ‘hood. What gives?
In 1941, an attempt was made by council to name the suburb ‘Werribah’ for postal reasons. Rolls right off the tongue, don’t it? It didn’t take, and ‘Monterey Park’ was also rejected before settling on plain old Monterey. I mentioned postal reasons…that appears to be its own story, and we’ll come back to that another day. It’ll be worth the wait, I swear!
All the bickering over the name meant that the suburb’s designation Monterey remained unofficial until 1972, when the Geographic Names Board stepped in and shit got real. A local poll of residents of the four American-flavoured streets showed that Monterey was the preferred name for the area, and so it’s remained ever since. Now that was all quite interesting, wasn’t it?
Again, for better or worse, this isn’t the only instance of major American influence in the early days of Sydney. The origins of Monterey are an inauspicious start, but nevertheless interesting given how the whole Brighton area embraced the very Goldfingerian image of the USA from the 1960s onwards.
Shifting tastes, a tipping of the global power balance, and a propensity to bend over for Uncle Sam meant that quite a few changes – from the minor to the irreparable – were on their way.
For more reading on Monterey and the fibro houses within, check out Fibro Moderne. Early to Mid-20th century vernacular housing in Monterey NSW, without which I could not have completed this article. So blame them.
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.