It may surprise you, especially if you’re an Oatley resident, to learn that the tiny suburb once enjoyed its own theatre! Designed by Sydney theatre architect extraordinaire Aaron Bolot in 1940, the Oatley Radio opened in 1942 to the delight of cinephiles everywhere (in Oatley).
Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the Oatley Radio played host to popular films of the day, including Easter Parade (1948) and An American in Paris (1951). In fairness, it probably played host to some unpopular ones too.
It’s unclear exactly when the Oatley Radio closed (if you know, let me know), but I’m estimating it was sometime in the 1960s, an era when suburban cinemas were discouraged in favour of the big boys in the city. It’s claimed that the Radio became part of the Mecca family of cinemas (alongside Kogarah and Hurstville), but I haven’t been able to find much on this.
What is clear is that at some point, the Radio was bought by the Oatley RSL and turned into their Youth Club, which is how we find it today. It’s now named the Jack Fisher Hall, after the founding president of the Youth Club.
Behind the Radio, it’s all too clear that it was once a 460-seat cinema, despite the tiny, unassuming frontage.
The Radio survives as one of six picture theatres in the Kogarah/Hurstville area still around today (along with the South Hurstville Paramount, the Carlton Odeon, Nash’s Penshurst Theatre, Beverly Hills Cinema and the Kogarah Mecca), but it’s largely avoided the sad fates of renovation or dereliction that have befallen those others. In a strange way, a suburban cinema like this one was the video shop of its day…I doubt anyone’s ever streamed The Wonders of Aladdin (1961).
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!
Here’s another victim of the video shop exodus. This one didn’t even have a franchise attached while it was alive, making it even harder for it to stay afloat once the VHS ocean started to get rough. I bought an ex-rental copy of Surf Ninjas on VHS from here years ago, so I know I did my part. I can sleep at night. Can you?
It’s since been turned into a car park of all things. You couldn’t even use the building for anything else? The cafe next door is that popular that it needs the three or four extra car spaces afforded it by this tiny space? Oatley is full of wide, long, empty streets to park in, especially since Coles won’t be setting up there. Oh, wait.
Inside it looks like a supervillain meeting room, where the Oatley Star Chamber plots world domination…or at least the downfall of Coles, their mortal enemy. It’s so barebones that you can see the rollerdoor that would have been used for new shipments of pure VHS goodness back in that time.
Here’s the after hours return chute the tardy denizens of Oatley would have used to return videos after the shop had closed for the day. Or, in some cases, never used at all:
That was three years ago. If you do that for long enough, of course you’re going to go out of business. This must have occurred to the kindly owner at some point, because a year before closing down he changed his tactics:
Take note, Darrell Lea.