by Cathy Jones 2010, updated 2017
During the 1920s, many motion picture theatres were built in Sydney’s suburbs as urban populations expanded into Sydney’s suburbs and films, especially talkies, became available. Most cinemas were located near rail or tram lines and offered relatively inexpensive entertainment, particularly in comparison compared to live theatre. By 1934, there were 115 cinemas located in the suburbs compared to 22 in the City.
In 1924, a new company Homebush Cinema Ltd was formed to ‘carry out business as theatre proprietors’ and was capitalised at £17,000. One of the company directors was John Henry Cross. Cross was a prominent local identity, who owned and developed the shopping precinct on both the north and south sides of Parramatta Road at Homebush from the early 1920s, including the land on which the cinema was built. This precinct was located from Powell Street to Underwood Road (Parramatta Road north) and Knight Street (formerly Rochester Street) to Subway Lane (Parramatta Road south). By the 1920s with increasing residential and worker populations, a shopping and commercial district at Homebush North on Parramatta Road developed. The addition of the cinema provided a social and cultural centre for the local community.
Cross wore many hats. He was also the licencee of the Horse & Jockey Hotel in 1917 and 1925 to 1939. He was elected to Homebush Council as Alderman in 1924 and served until 1934. While serving on Homebush Council, he was elected to Manly Council in January 1932 and elected Mayor in December 1932. In 1934, he resigned from Homebush Council though he continued to own most of the shopping precinct at Homebush North until his death in 1943.
The Homebush Cinema was built in 1925 by Homebush Cinema Ltd and 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.
The Homebush Cinema was opened on 2 April 1925 by Alderman Edward Austin, Mayor of Homebush Municipal Council. A number of cinemas located in the Sydney’s west merged in 1930 including the Homebush Cinema and came under the management of Western Suburbs Cinema Ltd, operated by Mr A J Bezant. Homebush Cinema Ltd was liquidated in 1931.
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 remained its title until its’ closure on 19 December 1959. The last screening saw ‘Count Your Blessings’ and ‘Here Come the Jets’. The main reason for decline in cinema attendance was the establishment of television in 1956, which meant that visual entertainment was available in homes.
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. The theatre has been used as a location for films such as ‘Wolverine’.
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, K, Cinemas of Auburn, Concord and Strathfield Municipalities, 1986.
Fox & Associates, Strathfield Heritage Study, 1986
Sands Sydney Directory for Homebush
Spearitt, P. (2000), ‘Sydney’s Century’, University of New South Wales Press
‘Company News’, Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 6 May 1924
*The cinema listing is from a copy of the Courier 1934