Lyric a sacred place

GREG LYNCH is a cinema historian and author, whose involvement in the industry goes back to 1954 when he repaired film for 20th Century Fox in Perth and soon became assistant projectionist at the Regent Theatre in Guildford. 

In 2020 Bayswater council considered heritage listing the Lyric Theatre Maylands. 

Expert written testimony was submitted, debated, and finally a ruling that the theatre be entered onto the council’s heritage list with a ‘category 2’ ranking, stating that its history was important to the locality, with a high degree of authenticity and ‘any alterations or extensions should reinforce the significance of the place’. 

There was an immediate outburst of gratitude from the community and appreciation for Cr Elli Petersen-Pik who had long championed the proposal. 

In making its decision the council had considered the social significance of the building as an historic meeting place; after all, the Lyric at the height of cinema’s ‘golden era’ was the heart of the community. 

During its time as an operating cinema, more people would pass through the Lyric doors than any other public building in Maylands.

Maylands architecture The Lyric Theatre, Maylands is an early and intact example of an important cinema building, constructed during a decade of unprecedented growth in the Motion Picture industry. 

The facade of the building is two storied, with stucco ornamentation in the Classical style. The upper storey’s five windows are round headed, with modest archivolts suspended by slender columns. The balcony balustrading and stairway is still intact. 

The fibrous plaster panelled ceilings, and the ornate columned square proscenium, provide a unique architectural picture frame, with traces of staggered Roman / Greek decorative influence. The theatre seated 1000 people.

Great Depression

The council was reminded of the Lyric’s struggle to stay open during the Great Depression, when in desperation management introduced roller skating, dancing and cabaret to supplement the movies.

Of even greater significance was the involvement of The Lyric during World War II, when it was the centre of many loan rally functions. 

War Loan

These were held by the Maylands War Loan Committee which encouraged Australians to invest in war bonds and collected substantial funds during these occasions.

During the war years and after the Maylands Sub Branch of the Returned Soldiers held numerous functions at the Lyric, while the theatre was often used as a fitting termination to the solemnities of Anzac Day. 

There is no doubt for returned soldiers that the Lyric Theatre was a sacred place. 

Finally, one has to consider the theatre’s association with Herb Robinson, a high achiever who together with his sister operated the Lyric and The Roxy Gardens, Maylands through the majority of both theatres’ existence.

Robinson was elected to the Perth Road Board in 1951, and from 1959 to 1961 served as its chairman. 

He also served as the much-respected president of the Motion Picture Exhibitors’ Association of WA, from 1951 to 1956.

When the Perth Road Board became the Shire of Perth in 1961 Robinson was elected to shire president, serving in that position until he left the council in 1963.

Heritage worth

Move forward two years and we find ourselves with a new council and a new outcome which completely ignores the findings, research and heritage listing placed on it by the previous council. 

The owner has submitted a development application to the City of Bayswater for a $30 million, seven storey building with 52 apartments, commercial spaces, a green pocket park and a piazza. 

As a token gesture to the building’s heritage, the facade of the original theatre will be be stuck on the front of it.

Already in the original application more than half of the theatre’s heritage walls were proposed to be demolished, then before the ink was dry there was another application. 

The revised application proposes demolishing another heritage side wall, which would mean that both side walls, plus some part of the façade, the roof and the interior will all be removed.

I would ask how can this be sympathetic to the building’s heritage worth when it only gives a token nod to preserving a small part of the exterior, but then, (in this writer’s opinion) goes forward and completely destroys, beyond reclamation, it’s heritage value.

\Has anybody really looked at what this proposed development can do to a single-level shopping centre – 52 apartments with 52 parking spaces in a two car society?

A seven-storey building casting a giant shadow and sucking any parking potential from the surrounding streets. 

I live on an estate where domestic residences are being replaced with units; sadly the streets are becoming impassable.

The Lyric Theatre, Maylands can never be replaced, and it is important that every member of the Maylands community rally to protect the cultural memory of this 99 -year-old heritage structure, or at least demand from the council (should this development go ahead) that the facade and walls of the building be preserved. 

Potentially the Lyric Theatre is still intact and could be fully restored to its original glory. The size and location of the building would make an excellent Community Arts Centre.

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