National Trust seeks rebirth of two Sydney cinema treasures

Columns

The National Trust is campaigning to reopen two of Sydney's most architecturally spectacular cinemas, the Roxy in Parramatta and the Hub in Newtown. The trust's advocacy manager, Graham Quint, said the rebirth of these two cinemas would provide an excellent arena for smaller Australian and independent films and it would bring new life to two of Sydney's unique buildings.

''These cinemas were built during the Great Depression, when people were looking for an escape,'' he commented. ''They're exquisite examples of a style of building that just isn't done anymore.''

The 1,923-seat Roxy Theatre (one of many cinemas named after the Roxy in New York), located in the outer Sydney suburb of Parramatta, opened on Feb. 6, 1930, with the Maurice Chevalier film Innocents in Paris.

The theatre's main entrance is an open courtyard surmounted by an impressive arch and an ornate quasi-Spanish Mission tower. Originally, the cinema featured what was said to be the largest organ in an Australian theatre. In 1958, this organ was dismantled and sold.

Hoyts purchased the cinema in 1946, and in 1975 turned it into a triple. The balcony became one cinema and the stalls the other two. The wonderful foyer, façade and courtyard were kept intact.

In 2002, after a short time in the hands of Village Roadshow, the cinema closed. The building is currently used as a nightclub, but the upstairs cinema is said to be still reasonably intact.

The Hub is a more surprising choice, as it does not survive in any form close to its original. Its selection is more due to an inner-city location in a strong arts hub.

The Hub opened in 1908, the first major theatre built outside the city, and closed in 1990. It is currently sitting idle, although several plans for redevelopment of the site have been submitted to the local council and rejected. Also known as Edward J. Hippodrome, Clay's Bridge Theatre and Newtown Art Theatre, it has a capacity of 1,106 seats.

This historic building was remodeled in 1939 to give it an Art Deco look and turn it into a cinema. When it closed in late 1990, it was showing adult movies. Plans keep being made to reopen it as a cinema again, but nothing has happened in 14 years.

The National Trust is helping develop a proposal to reopen the Newtown Hub to fill the gap left by the closures of venues such as Glebe’s Valhalla cinema, which has been converted for offices and cafés. Janet Clayton, from the Newtown business precinct, was keen to see the venue back as part of Newtown’s entertainment scene. “We have all regretted that The Hub has lain fallow for so long, given its important position in the heart of Newtown,” she said.

***
James Cameron’s Avatar has passed A$100 million at the local box office. At the normal comparison rate of the Australian box office being one-tenth that of North America, that would translate into a $1 billion hit in U.S. box-office terms.

E-mail your Australia/New Zealand news items to David Pearce at insidemovies@hotmail.com.