Before the digital age and the internet, the cinema was a major part of Australia’s social life. On Saturday nights in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, everyone went — or tried to go — to “the pictures”.
For the children of that era, the weekly matinee at the local cinema was the highlight of the week. Two movies, a cartoon, a serial (which brought them back each week) and a newsreel – all for the glorious price of 6 pence (5 cents).
The cinema was a community place, one where you took family or met up with friends, and romances grew in the back rows.
It was how many Australians had their first glimpse of the world beyond their homeland.
The hard times of the Great Depression, when few families had spare pennies, actually increased the appeal and the audience for cinema.
It seemed the worse life became, the more people craved the escape that movies offered.
Then came World War II, when the appetite for news (with moving pictures) grew. A new form of cinema — for newsreels — flourished for a time.
Times changed, and when television arrived in 1956, the clock was ticking for the cinemas. Closures became the norm in the 1960s and 70s, and beyond the advent of VHS in the early 1980s, few survived beyond the memories of many.
The Concord Theatres
Theatre flourished in Concord where, over the years, there were three cinemas.
The first was AL FRESCO PICTURES, which opened in 1912 at 8 Parramatta Road, Concord. By 1917 it had become CONCORD PICTURES. Around the 1920 it was rebuilt as a single storey brick building, running away from Parramatta Road, rather than parallel to it as the old Al Fresco had been. A plain unceiled and unadorned building, it had a raked floor and a stage with dressing room below.
With the opening of nearby Strathfield Melba in 1920 and Homebush Cinemas in 1925 the days of Concord Pictures was numbered. In 1928 it was listed as THAIS PICTURES. However, in 1929 the building was leased and became Burwood Bedding.
In 1940 the Department of Main Roads acquired a section of the property and, when Parramatta Road was eventually widened, the front of the building (including the former entry and the projection box) was removed. Yet, today, much of the building remains unchanged, right down to the raked auditorium floor. It is one of Sydney’s few remaining silent picture theatre buildings.
The next theatre to be built in Concord was THE CENTRAL PICTURE PALACE at the corner of Majors Bay Road and Jellico Street. It was a one-level theatre and a solid looking building with walls of brick and a roof of galvanised iron, seating 1100. It opened in May 1921. Screenings were on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Later the theatre was rebuilt as an 1150-seat, two-level building, and renamed the RITZ. However, after a period of falling patronage in the late 1950s a restricted screening policy was introduced and remained until January 1960 when it finally closed. Since that time it has been used for various purposes but is now a coffee shop.
The third theatre to open, in December 1928, was the CONCORD WEST THEATRE at 307 Concord Road (corner of Nirranda Street).
By the end of the 1930s it had been renamed the ARCDADIA. Then, in 1938, under a new owner, it was renamed the ROYAL. In 1954 it again underwent a change, becoming the ODEON. It continued operating until late 1959 when it was converted into a furniture store but, in late 1969 it was demolished to make way for a fast food outlet.
To hear more about the affect of Television on suburban theatres join us on Saturday, 1st September at 2:00 pm to hear Ian Hanson expand on this subject.
(Ref: History of the cinemas of Auburn, Concord & Strathfield municipalitie, Kevin J. Cork)