From the mid-1920s to late 1950s, Strathfield was well serviced by local cinemas operating in Homebush, Enfield and Burwood. However, none were built in the Strathfield as Strathfield Council prohibited ‘amusements’ such as theatres being built within the Municipality. After changes to the Local Government Act in 1919, which gave powers to Council’s planning and zoning powers, Strathfield Council seized the opportunity to declare the Municipality, with specific exceptions, a residential district.
The Homebush Theatre, located on Parramatta Road, was part of Homebush Council. Homebush Theatre became part of Strathfield Council, after the amalgamation of Homebush Council into Strathfield Council in 1947. Strathfield Council’s ‘Residential Proclamation’ was in force from 1920 to 1969.
This planning decision slightly pre-empted the emergence of suburban movie theatres in Sydney’s suburbs. Cinemas rapidly grew in the 1920’s and declined in the 1950’s. From the 1950’s, there was a worldwide decline in cinema attendance, blamed on the emergence of competing entertainments, notably television. Despite attempts to lure customers back to the cinema with ridiculous stunts and costly failures such as 3-D films, the market declined resulting in the closure of most suburban cinemas from the late 1950s. Few cinemas survive, as most were demolished or converted into shopping centres or apartments.
Like today, local suburban cinemas were dominated by overseas films, particularly American films. The Story of the Kelly Gang, made in Australia in 1906, is believed to be the first feature-length film in the world and from 1907-1929 over 150 feature films were produced in Australia. However, the early successes of the Australian film industry were crushed by the late 1920s with the emergence of American sound movies, the onset of the Great Depression and increasing dominance of American and British distribution.
Until the 1970s, when the Australian film industry began to revive, particularly with support from the Whitlam Government [1972-75], most films made by Australians were newsreels or documentaries such as Cinesound or Fox Movietone News. Cinesound featured the voice of Charles Lawrence, a radio broadcaster on 2GB and local resident of Strathfield [Margaret Street].
During the 1950’s, a number of British and American film companies made films in Australia like Ealing Studio’s The Overlanders starring Chips Raffety, On the Beach with Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire and The Sundowners with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, directed by Fred Zinnemann.
The few surviving local newspapers covering Strathfield, demonstrates that local cinemas played an important role in the social life of the local community. A 1934 Western Suburbs Courier, which includes sponsored pages from A J Bezant’s Western Suburbs Cinemas [a cinema chain], features articles with gossip about Hollywood stars in a manner not dissimilar to the celebrity industry of today, which increasingly dominates the media.
The Courier newspaper announced ‘Here’s the latest portrait of screen star Clark Gable, who appears at Burwood, Homebush, Enfield, Strathfield and Concord during next week’. Clark must have been busy appearing at all cinemas at the same time! Another article provides instructions on how to make Claudette Colbert’s wedding dress from ‘It Happened One Night’.
The Enfield Cinema was first opened in 1927. By 1932, Western Suburbs Cinemas Ltd gained control. In 1938, the cinema was substantially redesigned and the façade and interior rebuilt in Art Deco style under guidance of architect G N Kentworthy [who also designed Cremorne Orpheum]. Added to the alterations was the installation of a Christie organ, which was fitted with glass ornamentation and concealed lighting. The cinema was renamed the Savoy and reopened by the Mayor of Enfield in July 1938. Western Suburbs Cinemas Ltd came under control of Hoyts in 1944. By the late 1950’s, with declining audiences the theatre had restricted screenings. The last movie shown at the Savoy was ‘Some Like It Hot’ in 1960. Since 1960, the cinema has been used as a carpet and furniture warehouse.
The Enfield Savoy is still standing and is located in Burwood Municipality, though it does not appear to be heritage listed by the Council.
The Strathfield Melba, was formerly located at Mosely Street Strathfield, north of Strathfield Railway Station. The Melba was opened in 1913 by the Mayor of Burwood, Ald. William Archer. It was originally owned by Charles Noller. By 1921, the property transferred to a John Marquett, who commenced redesigning the theatre.
The ‘New Melba’ was opened in 1921, complete with a dress circle. One of the special features of the theatre was an open air reserve for smokers who ‘may thus light up and watch the pictures at the same time’. By late 1926, the Melba was managed by Burwood Cinema Ltd and the Directors decided to again rebuild the theatre. The ‘new’ Cinema was opened in late 1927 by Eva Novak [who appeared in ‘For the term of his Natural Life’] and the Mayor of Strathfield, Alderman George Davey. The property was transferred to Western Suburbs Cinema Ltd in 1930, which was taken over by Hoyts in 1944. Consistent with the development history of the cinema, Hoyts embarked on another remodelling exercise.
Theatre attendances markedly declined in the 1950’s and the Melba’s last program screened on 19 November 1966. The property was sold and demolished for a large block of units. Film footage of the theatre’s demolition is held at the National Screen and Sound Archive.
The Homebush Cinema was designed by architect Charles Bohringer. Bohringer designed a number of important cinemas including the Capitol Theatres at Tamworth, Armidale and Wagga Wagga. He also designed the Old State Theatre, 150-162 Flinders St, Melbourne. Bohringer was later a resident of Strathfield, living in Llandilo Avenue.
The Homebush Cinema was opened on 2 April 1925 by Alderman Edward Austin, Mayor of Homebush Municipal Council. The Cinema was owned by Homebush Cinema Ltd. By 1930, this cinema came under the management of Western Suburbs Cinema Ltd, operated by Mr A J Bezant. Interestingly, some of the original shareholders were the architect Bohringer and Toohey’s Ltd [the brewers, both James and John Toohey, founders of Toohey’s were residents of Strathfield ]. Ironically, Strathfield Municipality prohibited the building of amusements such as theatres in 1920 and did not have a cinema in the Municipality until the amalgamation of Homebush Council with Strathfield Council in 1947.
In 1937, the Homebush Theatre was equipped with Western Electric Mirrophone Sound. It reopened with the new sound equipment on 11 Sept 1937 with ‘Camille’ starring Greta Garbo. In 1939, the theatre closed for extensive renovations under architect L J Buckland. This included new plasterwork for auditorium windows, vestibule and dress circle foyer. Painting was supervised by Arnold Zimmerman who did similar work on numerous theatres. Quite a number of seats were sacrificed in this remodelling with the introduction of larger chairs, seating 1645 people. The theatre reopened as the ‘Vogue’ on 19 August 1939. In March 1944 Hoyts Theatres acquired the Western Suburbs Cinemas Ltd and the theatre became known as the ‘Hoyts Vogue’ which stayed until its’ closure on 19 December 1959. The last screening saw ‘Count Your Blessings’ and ‘Here Come the Jets’.
The theatre was converted into the Homebush Ice Rink and this operated until 1971. For a time during the 1960’s, the dress circle foyer was used as the ‘Cavern Sound Lounge’. The rink eventually closed in 1980. In 1986 it was extensively converted into the Niterider Theatre Restaurant and was later known as the Midnight Star Reception centre. It has been closed since 1996 as a reception centre.
Though most of the interiors have been removed, the façade is reasonably in-tact as is the 1925 original fanlight which is located over the main entrance doors. The former cinema is heritage listed on Strathfield Council’s Local Environment Plan.
This building has been known by the following names in it’s history: Homebush Theatre, Homebush Vogue, Hoyts Vogue, Homebush Ice Rink, Strathfield Ice Rink, Niterider Theatre Restaurant and Midnight Star.
Cork, Kevin ‘The History of the Cinemas of Auburn, Concord and Strathfield Municipalities’, 1986.
Cork, Kevin ‘The History of the Cinemas of Burwood Municipalities’, 1986.
Thorne, R, Tod, L & Cork, K, Cultural Heritage of Movie Theatres in NSW 1896-1996, Department of Architecture, University of Sydney, 1997
Sharp, B ‘A pictorial history of Sydney’s suburban cinemas’, Vol.1, 1983.
© Cathy Jones 2005. This article is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced without permission of the author.