Friday, November 13, 2009

Richmond surprise


I jaunted out to Swan Street, Richmond this afternoon, shopping for library furniture. We went to a dive of a place - but a place that held a marvellous secret. The Swan Street auctionhouse has been a furniture store since the late 50s but before that it led a glamourous life as the Burnley Theatre. Now sadly, there are few photos of this available in online collections so I'll try to give you an idea. Here's this from the National Trust (file no. B7017):

The former Burnley Theatre, designed by Bohringer, Taylor and Johnson, and opened in 1928 is architecturally and historically significant at the state level.

Architecturally the building is particularly notable as an fairly elaborate example of the Neo-Classical / Adam style applied to a cinema, and remains fairly intact despite the new use. The auditorium and lobbies are largely intact, and the walls retain their original textured buff-coloured stucco finish, and details highlighted in various complementary colours.

Historically, it is one of the few examples of a ‘picture palace’, ie. a cinema with a degree of architectural pretentiousness, to remain extant. The theatre is also significant as one of two remaining by the firm Bohringer, Taylor & Johnson and to a lesser degree for its association with Union Theatres Ltd., the forerunner of the present Greater Union Organisation.

The cinema is also notable for its association with films, by far the major form of popular entertainment in the early twentieth century, and is of note for closing soon after the introduction of TV and the Drive-In.


The place fairly took my breath away. Though in a state of disrepair it is remarkably intact, albiet absolutely stuffed to the stalls with tacky furniture. I'd love to share with you the sheer splendour of the place. I can't imagine how glamorous it must have been going out to the cinema here. I'll try and find a photo in a book (the State Library thinks it has a photo of the place but it's wrong and no one else mentions it at all).

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