Looking Back - 1939 to 2011 - the Autobiography of Robert V. J. Padula, OAM

SPECIAL CHAPTER - Melbourne Picture Theatres - History - 1906 to 1970

1941 - Bikes and Cars
1943 - Hiking - Hills and Coasts
1944 - Growing up in the War Years - Part 1
1944 - Growing up in the War Years - Part 2
1944 - Growing up in the War Years - Part 3
1945 - Auburn schooldays - Part One
1945 - Auburn Schooldays - Part Two
1945 - Auburn Schooldays - Part Three
1945 - Upwey and the Puffing Billy
1945 - Gramaphones and Record Players
1946 - Flinders St Station
1946 - Astronomy
1946 - Beach and Swimming Adventures
1946 - Going to the Pictures
1947 - Adventures at the Altona Bungalow
1947 -The Listener-In Magazine
1947 - Balwyn WIldlife Sanctuary
1948 - Fishermen's Bend Aerodrome
1948 - Radio Australia QSL cards
1948 - Excursions
1949 - Australian Rules Football
1949 - Radio Monitoring at Auburn
1950 -Trains and Ships
1950 - Radios for Communications
1950 - Radio Listening Clubs in Australia
1950 - World Radio TV Handbook
1950 - Shortwave Radio Propagation Research
1950 - Medium Wave Radio Propagation Research
1950 - Radio and Hobbies Magazines
1950 - Discovering shortwave radio at Auburn
1951 - Photography
1951 - Competitions on local radio stations
1952 - Camp Buxton - YMCA Shoreham
1952 Tennis and Ten Pin Bowling
1953 - Stamp Collectiong
1953 Camberwell High School
1954 - Royal Visit to Melbourne
1954 - Shortwave Radio reception at Auburn
1956 - Melbourne's Olympic Games
1956 - Trainee Telecommunications' Technician
1957 - Trainee Technician - field work
1957 - National Service Registration
1958 - Laverton Air Show
1958 - MOOMBA Parade
1958 - Trainee Technician - field work
1959 - The move to Mont Albert
1960 - Working at Deepdene Telephone Exchange
1963 - Trade Unions, Staff Associations, Industrial Relations
1964 - Senior Technician work in the Melbourne CBD
1964 - Project support for Radio Australia
1964 - Project support for Radio Australia
1964 - Amateur Radio
1964 - Media Writing
1964 -Travels
1964 - Engineering Support for International Broadcasters
1965 - Professional Employment with PMG/Telstra
1967 - Professional Qualifications - Institution of Engineers Australia
1967 - Australian Radio DX Club Photo Gallery (to 1979)
1972 - Wireless Institute of Australia
1972 - Natural disasters in Melbourne
1980 - Australian Radio DX Club Gallery (to 1995)
1981 - Award of the Medal of the Order of Australia
1995 - Padula Books
SPECIAL CHAPTER - Oldtime Australian Radio Drama from the 1930s
SPECIAL CHAPTER - Radio Monitoring Clubs in Australia - 1920 to 1949
SPECIAL CHAPTER - Melbourne Picture Theatres - History - 1906 to 1970

1948 - Regent projection room

1930 - State theatre interior

1928 - State theatre construction

1930 - de Luxe (later the Esquire)

1930s - Capitol interior


Melbourne was once known as the "City of Theatres"!
Picture theatres started to appear as far back as 1901, and proliferated in the folliowing decades.
In the 1950s, there were many theatres in central Melbourne. These were the Regent, Capitol, Plaza, Esquire, Athenaeum, Lyceum, St James, Metro Collins St, State, Majestic, Grosvenor, Australia, Odeon (Liberty), Kings and the Savoy.
I went to all of them!
Many of these theatres had beautiful Wurlitzer organs, to entertain the patrons before the shows, and during intermission.
Most of these would close down by the earfly 1960s due to falling patronage caused by the impact of television. A few still survive to the present, used for speciality screenings. Others have concerts.

Odeon, Bourke St
This long narrow theatre, just 17 seats across, opened as the Melba Theatre on  June 8, 1911. The interior was remodeled in a simple Art Deco style in 1939, and renamed the Liberty Theatre. It was operated by the Greater Union Theatres chain.

It was destroyed by a fire in October 1950 and a new theatre built within the shell, reopening as the Odeon Theatre in November 1951. The theatre closed in February 1978.

St James, Bourke St
Built in 1860, became the Palace, then the Apollo, then the St James, then the Metro (until 1970). After several ownership changes, it was developed in 2007 using the original name of the Palace. It was equipped to show films produced in Sensurround in 1974, and I saw, and felt (!) two of these films - Earthquake (1974), and the Battle of Midway (1976). No further Sensurround films were made after 1978.

The effects were amazing, with patrons feeling, as well as hearing and seeing the action! The whole theatre shook and vibrated. Special "horns" and low frequency speakers were installed under the seats. Earthquake rumblings, aircraft bombing raids, and explosions were hugely realistic. 

Lyceum, Bourke St.
Origins unknown, became the Paris, then disappeared when Tivoli Court was built in the 1970s.

Esquire, Bourke St
Built in 1908, originally known as St George's Hall, then Hoyts de Luxe, renamed Esquire in 1946, then vanished inside the Target shopping complex in 1976. In 1958, it installed the new Todd-AO 70 mm projection equipment, showing "Around the World in 80 Days", which I saw in that year.

Kings, Russell St
In the 1960s, became the Barclay, then absorbed into a new commrcial development. This was the first theatre in Melbourne Central to jnstall the new VistaVision projection equipment, screening "White Christmas" which I saw..

Regent/Plaze, Collins St
Regent was almost completely destroyed in the fire of 1945, but was rebuilt and reopened in 1947. It was closed in 1970 and later redeveloped for musical shows and concerts, in 1996, until the present. It was the biggest cinemna of the time in Australia.

The Plaza was underneath the Regent, originally a ballroom, then a cinema, closed by 1970. There was an excellent chocolate shop next door to the Plaza which I liked to visit!

This theatre was the only one in Melbourne which could show the triple-strip Cinerama films, from 1958 until 1970. It is now a function room for patrons attending the upstairs Regent.

State, Flinders St
Built in 1929, seating a massive 3371 patrons. The interior was magnificent, with chandeliers columns, and pillars, and the ceiling was black, with myriads of twinkling lights and moving clouds, representing the stars at night. Had a Wurlitzer organ. Was divided into two theatres in 1963, and the larger one was known as the Forum.

The King and I - world premiere at Victory Theatre, St KIlda, June 28, 1956. I attended this screening with two traineee technician mates! This was glitter, colored lights, bands, and many guests arriving in tuxedos and evening dress! The producers, Rogers and Hamerstein were in the audience and after every song, the entire theatre rose as one and applauded.

We were only 16 years old, and dresased in our PMG royal blue blazers.

The film ran for over three hours. When it was released for general public viewing, two songs were deleted, to bring back the duration to something  a little more convenient!

I bought vinyl records of most of the big musical films which were released in the 1950s and 1960s and these are safely stored.

Nowadays, there are thousands of movie titles available on DVDs, many being originally released in the 1930s. There are innumerable Web Sites with reviews and DVD pricing!

When we had the bungalow at Altona, west of Melbourne, between 1947 and 1959, we went to the Strand Theatre in Pier St on several occasions. This was built in 1926, burned down in  1954 and was demolished in 1963 for a shopping complex. It was somewhat primitive, being a large shed, but was equipped for widescreen and multiple speaker sound. It was also used as a meeting hall for community and civic functions.


These began to appear in the mid-1950s. The first one in Melbourne commenced in 1954 at Burwood, not far from Mont Albert - by 1970 there were 20 operating in Melbourne and many others in country areas.


TV affected patronage of the drive-ins and by 1980 most had been closed down or converted for other activities, such as rollerblading or open-air markets..A few still operate today, and they were often known as "places of sin", where watching the film was secondary to the amorous activities which took place in the cars! I only ever went a Drivein once, and I can't recall which one it was!


These were scattered around central Melbourne, and the first appeared in 1932. Most were below street level - some were adfjacwebnt, or integrated with the large theatres.


Century (Swanston St)

Built 1940, which became the Swanston, then the Capitol 2, until closure in 1970.


The Albany (Collins St)
Opwned 1936, later became a  sex theatre "The Pussycat", closed 1989


Star (cnr Elizabeth St and Flinders Lane)
Opened 1951, became the Crazyhorse Sex Theatre until now!,


Times (Collins St, basement of the former Odeon theatre)
Opened 1932, closed 1978

Savoy (Russell St)
Opened 1939, converted to a Continental sourced films, (ie:  sex!) in 1950, closed 1963.


These establishments screened continuous newsreels from Movietone, Pathe and Cinesound, wirth cartoons. There were no internissions and it was possible to sit there all day!


I went to all of those theatres. 



When we moved from Auburn to Mont Albert in 1959, TV had become the primary entertainment medium for most of us. I didn't go again to the theatres in Camberwell after that, as there were two local theatres in Box Hill, our adjacent suburb, where I saw a few films until they closed down in 1961.


These theatres were:


The Rialto, Whitehorse Rd
Built in 1883 as the "Recreation Hall", then became the Rialto in 1929, and closed in 1961. The building is still there and It became a shopping arcade. 


The Regent, Whitehorse Rd
Not far from the Rialto. Opened in 1920 as the Lyric, then became the "New" Theatre, then renamed the Regent in 1937. It closed down in 1960, and was demolished for a five story office block/shops. The last film I saw there was "South Pacific in early 1959. 



I saw films at several theatres away from Melbourne in the years 1976 until 2004.


These were:


1976 The Sunshine Boys, January (Radio City Music Hall, New York!)

1977 Starwars (Launceston, Tasmania)
1997 Titanic (watched in Thai Airways Jumbo Jet, en route between Melbourne and Bangkok!)
2002 The Space Station - iMax (Vancouver, Canada)
2004 Lord of the Rings - Return of the King  (Wanaka, New Zealand, in the Paradiso Theatre)

The Radio City Music Hall experience was certainly very interesting! As well as the film "The Sumshine Boys", we were entertained by a brilliant stage performance by the Rockettes dancing girls. 

There was once an open-air theatre in the main camping area at Tidal River, Wilson's Promontory National Park, 150 km SE of Melbourne. I recall seeing a show there on a camping trip in the summer of 1951/1952!


1945 - Regent fire aftermath

1945 - Regent fire aftermath

1929 - Regent construction

1929 - Regent opening night poster

1902 - Recreation Hall, Box Hill, later became the Rialto

1996 - Regent/Plaze reopening night

1929 - Regent and Plaza, as originally built

Nothing lasts forever, and I grew up in an era dominated by the cinema. Between 1946 and 2005 I guess I had watched thousands of movies in theatres, and eaten thousands of Jaffas!


There is now  a massive resurgence of  interest in the cinema worldwide - here in Melbourne, most large shopping complexes have multi-screen cinemas operating all day, and every day!


My nearest theatre complex is at the Forest Hills shopping centre, about 10 mins drive from here. There are currterly 17 films available, at six screens, throughout the day and evening!. For a 3D fillm, admission for me is $14  which includes the glasses, which can be kept for a further attendance, avoiding the $1 hiring charge!


Every conceivable taste is catered for, and the latest 3D and iMax  presentations are extraordinaryl


Therfe are a few other theatres around Melbourne whicb are not part of shopping complexes, with even a 3D drive-in and theatres showing films originating in other countries..


There has been a massive decline in the DVD rental market from physical stores, and there has been a big impact by such on-line rental companies as QuickFlix and BigPond offering DVDs through the postal system for as low as $1 per title, with return postage prepaid, and no maximum hire time!


Woolworths recently tried DVD hire from kiosks, but this has not been successful due to rip-off pricing, cost penalties for late returns, and rentals only for one night!


4G technology, and the impending National Broadband Network, is opening up exciting new opportunities for delivering movies and other content via the Internet direct to suitably equipped TV sets


Despite all this, people of all ages, genders, and sizes are flocking to the theatres in their multitudes.


People are liking the "new cinema revolution".


I have kept written records of every movie I had seen in theatres from 1945 to the present.


1930s - Melbourne (later the Liberty, then Odeon)

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