PERTH’S CBD hasn’t had a cinema since the old Piccadilly closed in 2013, but at the height of movie madness it boasted 15 screens.
Heritage Perth’s Richard Offen will relive some of those glory days while hosting free walk-and-talks visiting the sites of Perth’s lost cinema history.
It starts where His Majesty’s Theatre now stands: “That was a piece of open ground used for all sorts of open air entertainment, old fairs and things, but it’s also the place where Perth first saw the moving picture back in the 1890s,” Mr Offen said.
Perth’s early entertainment was often confined to private homes, but as the population grew public venues became economically viable and cinema hit the right nerve.
“I as a kid used to go pretty much every Saturday,” says Mr Offen.
The Esplanade Gardens at the foot of William Street alternated between films and boxing exhibitions, while Melrose Gardens, Shaftesbury Gardens and Olympia Theatre put on films with live vaudeville entertainment.
The grandest of all was the now-demolished Ambassador’s Theatre on Hay Street. “That was what’s known as an ‘atmospheric cinema’,” says Mr Offen.
“It opened in 1929 and the idea was you went into it and it was just full of carvings, statues, sculptures… it tried to give the impression of going into a Mediterranean courtyard. It took you away from yourself and out of the humdrum of everyday life to where you’d be entertained.”
But tellies spelled the end of cinema’s golden age, hastened by high overheads in the city and a populace that was fleeing to live in suburbia.
Mr Offen is thrilled the Piccadilly might be bought back to life. “The art deco cinema was beautifully ornamented,” he says, “you get a taste of the past with the Piccadilly.”
His Going to the Movies tours run February 22 and March 8 (two per day) and they’re free but book through heritageperth.com.au/news-events/walk-talk-2017/ because they always get booked out.
by DAVID BELL