– by David Morgan-Brown
Like any other city, Perth needs cinemas. We have a number of Hoyts and Events cinemas at shopping malls in our suburbs, along with the Luna cinemas on the outskirts of the CBD area. But there’s a history of Perth cinemas, long-lost rooms where films came to life in lovingly crafted wonders of architecture. Our cinemas once looked more like theatres, and back when they were a new form of entertainment, their structure was taken very seriously and lavishly. Of the four main cinemas that established the film-going community in Perth, only one now still stands.
The earliest of the four cinemas was the Perth Metro Theatre, which opened as the Queen’s Hall in 1899, but only began playing films in the 1920s. Hoyts took over in 1927, changing its name to the Region Theatre and installed imported Italian chandeliers and a Wurlitzer organ.
In 1938, Hoyts gave up ownership to MGM, transformed the lavish interior design to cinema art decor, but it still remained one of Perth’s most stylish cinemas. It was closed on 13th October 1973 (its final screening was of Gone with the Wind) and was then demolished the following year, the organ relocated to Karrimup community centre.
The Ambassadors Theatre
One of Perth’s biggest and most lavish cinemas was the Ambassadors Theatre, which opened in September 1928 and was the largest cinema ever in Perth, holding 2000 attendees. It was deemed Perth’s first atmospheric cinema, given an extraordinary-looking ‘Florentine renaissance garden’ style, complete with a Bridge of Sighs replica.
Unfortunately, after Union Theatres sold it to Hoyts in the late 1930s, the cinema gradually lost all of its unfixed paraphernalia (such as the statues and doves), soon transforming the architecture into the usual cinema art-decor style. It closed in February 1972 and was demolished, giving way for the Wanamba Arcade which included the 750-seater Hoyts Cinema Two, which opened in 1973 and closed in 1980.
The Piccadilly Cinema
The Piccadilly Cinema opened in March 1938 (just a month after the Piccadilly Arcade it resides in had opened) as a 1,100-seater. Opening during this inter-war period, it was designed in the Inter-war Functionalist style, a reflection of the optimism during this Depression era.
This cinema was under various different ownerships throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, but it was successfully refurbished and restored in 1984. Malcolm Leech took over in 1990, resurrecting the cinema, and turned one of the disused stalls into a second smaller cinema room that could hold 165 attendees, then later created another 103-seater cinema behind the main screen.
The Piccadilly Cinema, the last cinema in Perth’s CBD, was finally closed down in September 2013 (only briefly reopening its doors for the 2014 Fringe Festival). It closed down with roughly $400,000 in debt, as well as asbestos-ridden ceilings that had collapsed in May and June in 2012.
New Oxford Theatre/Luna Leederville
The only cinema of these four to still be standing and operational is the New Oxford Theatre (now known as Luna Leederville, though it still graces the original name on the building). Opened in 1928, it managed to seat 1,200 cinema-goers, and was the first suburban cinema in Perth to install a sound system.
In 1979, Cyril Watson (who owned the Piccadilly in its final years) ran the cinema and reopened it as the New Oxford. Throughout the ‘80s, renovations and amendments were made, with upgrades and improvements made on the projection equipment and seating. It was renamed Luna Cinemas in 1990, with another cinema room added in 1995, along with another renovation in 1999 when it was renamed to Luna Leederville, the name it goes by to this day.