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Since my last post, Perth’s CBD has become ‘cinema-less’. The Piccadilly Theatre closed its doors late in 2013, and was briefly used as a live performance venue for the hugely successful FRINGE WORLD Festival early in 2014. It has been ‘dark’ since. Ironically, the only ‘cinema’ now operating in the city is the pop-up Rooftop Movies on the top floor of a City of Perth carpark. It’s operated by Artrage, the parent body of FRINGE WORLD, and screens classic and recent releases from November through to March.
It’s heartening that the PLAZA/PARIS still exists, modified and mothballed but not destroyed. Is there someone out there who could bring this fine art deco environment back to life? If you look at the images posted by damient86, you’ll see the fine deco ceiling and streamlined wall motifs. This remains a mini-treasure awaiting re-discovery.
It’s hard to believe it’s now over 40 years since Perth’s mighty AMBASSADORS was demolished. Had it been preserved, it could well have become Perth’s long-awaited lyric theatre, hosting the big touring musicals. Instead, these go to a barn at the Crown Casino. But we chose to destroy it. As a society we had myopia – and, regrettably, greed for the fast buck. Not much has changed.
The demise of Perth’s Ambassadors was regrettably a ‘landmark’ moment in the ‘progressive’ destruction of Perth’s architectural heritage that commenced in the late 1960s and continued well into the 1980s.
Very few of Perth’s citizens are aware today of the lost vibrancy of the central block of Hay Street due to the loss of its cinemas. This was before before it became a pedestrian mall, and this compact 180-metre stretch was, in the late 1960s/early 1970s, home to six cinemas – three on the north side (Piccadilly, Plaza, Savoy) and three on the south (Capri, Royal, Ambassadors). At around 10.30pm each evening, thousands of cinema goers would exit these cinemas, crowd the pavements and create a real sense that this was the true hub of entertainment in Western Australia’s capital.
In addition, nearby on William, Barrack and Murray Streets, cinema goers were exiting the Metro, Liberty and Grand theatres respectively. These nine cinemas collectively defined Perth after dark. Today, just one of these cinemas survives as an operating concern – The Piccadilly on Hay Street.
The loss of our Central Business District cinemas has robbed Perth of much of its vibrancy. And today, all of the CBD multi-screen complexes established from the mid-70s have also gone. It’s a sad reflection of today’s era where suburban multiplexes dominate, robbing the central city of what was once a vital component of its economic and social fabric.
In 1950, Perth’s Metro Theatre screened MGM’s THE REFORMER AND THE REDHEAD, starring June Allyson and a lion cub named Herman. At the time, two lion cubs had just been born at the Perth Zoo. Marketing opportunity! The zoo named the female cub ‘June’ and the male ‘Herman’. In the image that is linked below, we see one of the Metro’s box office girls (‘June’) posing with ‘Herman’, one of the two cubs. It’s a fun pic!
‘JUNE’ AND LION CUB ‘HERMAN’ POSE AT THE METRO BOX OFFICE, PERTH
Links to photographs of Perth’s magnificient Capitol Theatre, sadly demolished:
CAPITOL THEATRE, WILLIAM STREET, PERTH
CAPITOL THEATRE, PERTH – AERIAL VIEW (THE THEATRE IS NEAR THE BOTTOM RIGHT OF THE IMAGE)
One of the many beautiful features of Perth’s Capitol Theatre was the magnificient art nouveau stencil work in the lounge foyer and the upper crush area, argually the finest such decoration in Australia at the time. Also notable in the lounge foyer was a bust of Rudolph Valentino, placed on an elegant plinth. Reputedly, Valentino’s lips were constantly red with the adoring but heartbroken kisses of his Perth fans. The bust is today part of the WA Performing Arts Museum collection at His Majesty’s Theatre.
The demolition of The Capitol rates as one of the major (of many) heritage crimes committed in Perth during the 1960s and 70s. Its principal designer, George Temple Poole, was WA’s greatest architect – and Western Australia’s premier architecture award is named in his honour. Ross Thorne in PICTURE PALACE ARCHITURE IN AUSTRALIA (Sun Books, 1976) states that Poole & Mouritzen “achieved a most remarkable design that should never been allowed to disappear … [its] decoration contained the essence of real art. The auditorium was a noble space, and the foyers and lounge lobbies were ingenious in decoration. Instead of moulded plaster, the architects decided to use paint. The flat wall, square column faces and ceiling panels were vividly decorated in patterns, panels and leafy murals” (p. 23).
As a live theatre, its stage was graced by some of the 20th century’s legendary performers, including Noel Coward, Vivien Leigh and Sir Lawrence Olivier.
Barry in Perth
Perth’s Ambassadors was one of three Eberson-inspired atmospheric picture palaces built by Australia’s Union Theatres Ltd in the late 1920s, the other two being Sydney’s Capitol (opened 7 April 1928) and Melbourne’s State (opened 23 February 1929). The architectural theme of The Ambassadors was that of a ‘Florentine renaissance garden’, complete with stuffed pigeons and peacocks imported from Durban in South Africa. A faithful replica of the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ was one of many artistic flourishes that made The Ambassadors a flamboyant experience for patrons.
I didn’t experience The Ambassadors until the late 1960s, by which time it had been long-stripped of most of its lavish decoration and statuary (by the Hoyts theatre chain which took it over c.1938). However, it was still a wonderfully atmospheric environment. One of the most poignant photographs depicting the demise of a picture palace was taken in 1972 during the early stages of The Ambassadors' demolition. Taken from the rear of the dress circle, a dramatic shaft of sunlight dissects the auditorium. This and other photographs of The Ambassadors can be found at: