The movies are back, baby! Popcorn! Dazzling images on a huge silver screen!
(We come to this place for magic… Somehow, heartbreak feels good in a place like this!)
Whether you’re a long-time cinephile or you’ve gone full Barbenheimer, we’re celebrating all things cinema with a look back at Perth’s long-lost movie theatres, from ’80s technicolour gloriousness all the way back to the rise of the talkies, via the very excellent State Library of Western Australia Facebook page.
While we only have Palace Raine Square as the last remaining city cinema, the CBD’s arcades have long been home to a bustling selection of theatres – just check out this 1983 photo of Hoyts City Arcade, with Return of the Jedi on the marquee.
A few years earlier in 1979 you could see now cult classic Phantom of the Paradise, or ice-skating romantic drama Ice Castles. (Peep the entrance’s iridescent tiles and psychedelic carpet – this is one of our favourite images we’ve ever shared here.)
And why not follow up your cinematic experience with a Bonza Pie?
Taken the year prior in 1978 is this fantastically Christmas-y view of a tree-lined Hay Street, with Hoyts Wanamba Arcade (later St Martin’s Arcade) advertising a brand new film called Star Wars – before they even added the subtitle “Episode IV“. Across the road, you can see the Plaza Arcade’s Hoyts Paris, previously known as the Hoyts Plaza (where Plaza Arcade is currently located).
Prior to the construction of Wanamba Arcade, the same Hay Street site was home to the grand Ambassadors Theatre – originally opened in 1928, it was demolished in 1972 to make way for the arcade.
We are truly obsessed with Wanamba’s marquee – pictured here in 1979 with some absolutely stellar typefaces at work, alongside some impressive striped carpet. Inside the cinema itself are leather-clad chairs with timber arms – classy!
Of course, Cinema City was a behemoth remembered fondly by many. Opening at the tail end of 1980, the first movie on the marquee was now-classic The Blues Brothers (“We’re on a mission from God!”).
Speaking of classics – how about these photos of the glitz and glamour of the 1972 Perth premiere of The Godfather at Piccadilly Theatre, the CBD’s longest-surviving Art Deco cinema until its closure in 2013. Around the corner, the film is advertised on billboards above the Horseshoe Bridge.
While you can still see the Piccadilly Arcade’s distinctive Art Deco façade text today, Murray Street in 1958, pre-pedestrian mall is practically unrecognisable:
Amongst all the Barbie hype, film marketing may seem extra these days – but we have to give credit to the classics for some epic street installations. How many billboards have you seen lately that even remotely compare to this 1934 King Kong signage on Murray Street’s Grand Theatre? (This building would later become another long-lost Perth treasure, Pizza Showtime!)
In fact, the ’30s went hard on the “more is more” approach – from this float advertising the upcoming “Mammoth Movie Month of May!” in 1932, to this billboard-covered tram in 1933 (“Oh Baby!”), the advertising-covered foyer of the Grand Theatre or the elaborate window displays across town for the latest releases.
Imagine coming across a window advertising an upcoming film (in this case, 1935’s The Pursuit of Happiness) to see a pair of live models – or, as in this photo taken in 1950 at MGM’s Metro Theatre, a lion cub at the box office!
When you look at these crowds though, it seems like the advertising worked a treat:
With grand marquees and elegant façades, many of these theatres – long-gone themselves – capture a long-lost moment in time, and are hardly recognisable as Perth.
Just check out this 1929 image of Hoyts Regent Theatre advertising the arrival of the talkies. Located at 99 William Street, Perth, it would later become the Metro Theatre before being demolished in 1974.
Similarly, we had to do a double take at this 1936 streetscape featuring the Majestic Picture Theatre, which would later be demolished to make way for the first Art Deco cinema in Perth, the Plaza Theatre. Just a few doors down, Betts & Betts’ first Hay Street store is located on the ground floor of the former Savoy Hotel.
The hotel’s basement became host to the Savoy Theatrette in 1955, which would become known for its risqué programming from the ’60s onwards, before exclusively screening R-rated movies from 1975 and later becoming an adult cinema before closing in 1991. You can still see the Savoy’s ornate balconies overlooking Hay Street today!
Prior to the Savoy Theatrette’s opening, its sister cinema Liberty Theatre was created to be Perth’s premier destination for European cinema. Opening in 1954, its focus on European cinema would dwindle but it would remain open until 1997 – before reviving in 2022 as a pop up bar and then in 2023, a pop up cult cinema as part of Strange Festival.
Although we’ve focused on the CBD and its countless cinemas, the ‘burbs still had their fair share – like Vic Park’s Broadway Theatre, or Como’s Cygnet Theatre – which was still operating until 2022. (Not to mention the vast network of drive-in theatres which spanned the state.)