As promised, here’s the first in a series of articles taking a look back at the top ten most popular Past/Lives posts of the last year. If I was smart, I would have picked the ten least popular posts so as to boost their views, but there’s a good reason the Belfield denture clinic never found its audience.
With that in mind, it’s to my complete amazement that I present the tenth most popular entry, Hurstville’s No. 1 Butchery.
Original article: Food Fair/ANZ Bank/The Base Store/No1 Butchery – Hurstville, NSW
First things first: there are no obvious changes. Given the building’s colourful history, it’s almost a surprise there’s been no activity over the last 12 months, but there you have it…NO changes whatsoever (perhaps with the exception of the chemist next door having become “Australia’s cheapest chemist”. Yeah, right). It’s as ugly a shopfront as ever, and that demonic pig in the logo is just as disturbing. I’d be willing to bet those people walking past are the same as last year, too.
What’s really interesting to me about this place is that just over the last few weeks, it’s exploded in terms of page views. Why? The whole point of this series was to show you how things have changed over a year, and to find something new to add, so this is a great start. What’s so special about this place? Then again, that’s probably what you were saying when I published the original article a year ago. Wait! Do you feel that? It’s moments like these that bring us closer, dear reader.
Don’t worry, they won’t all be like this.
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 1991, the Commonwealth Bank had a brainwave: “Everyone hates big business, so let’s sound less like one.” And so ended over 30 years of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, which gave way to the kinder, warmer Commonwealth Bank we know today.
The reality is that in 1959, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia split into two entities; one good (Reserve Bank of Australia), and one pure evil (the Commonwealth Banking Corporation). And no, changing your name back hasn’t fooled anyone, CBA.
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.