These hidden cinemas of Brisbane are iconic pieces of architecture and living reminders of weekend trips to the “pictures”.
They are the buildings you walk past every day. Maybe you see them on your daily commute, pick up takeaway from the place next door. You’re aware of them but you’ve never given them much notice.
Then, one day you notice an unusual detail. A peep hole window. A particular floor pattern. An ornate ceiling.
It dawns on you: this used to be a cinema!
What started as one simple discovery for me, here at the old Rialto Theatre, led to an epic treasure hunt around Brisbane, tracking down clues to find any old suburban theatres still standing.
Of course, this might not sound exactly groundbreaking to some of you… many people still have fond memories of visiting places such as the Rialto, which closed almost 20 years ago. But there is an entirely new generation of cinema-goers whose sole movie-watching experience has been at the multiplex, not the local picture theatre. Others still might only have known their local theatre, not the ones from the other side of town.
Our imaginations went running wild: could other old buildings be brought back to life? The only problem is, Brisbane doesn’t have many old cinemas standing around anymore, operational or otherwise. Losing the Regent on the Queen St Mall was a major blow to our cultural heritage. Ditto the Dawn Theatre at Chermside… the list goes on and on.
While very few do still exist in their original form and still show movies – the Hawthorne, the Regal Twin, the El Dorado, soon the Village Twin – luckily, a few others have managed to survive, whose facades still remain even if their cinematic purpose does not.
Here is the first in our series: the Rialto Theatre, West End.
This is a building I had not only driven past many times, I had eaten at many times (the Vietnamese dude is a particular favourite of my friends on the southside). Also I had sat down at practically all of its neighbouring restaurants over the years.
And yet… I had never bothered looking up. Had never noticed the word “Rialto” emblazoned in neon lights on the bright blue facade. Or if I had, I stupidly didn’t think anything of it.
Image via Lost Brisbane
Not having grown up in the area, I’m ashamed to admit I had no idea until recently this had been both a cinema and live theatre venue since the 1920s. (I’ve since learned the Rialto Theatre was built in 1924, by the owner of South Brisbane’s original Lyric Theatre if I’m not mistaken.)
In the pictures above and below you can see the original peep hole circle windows still remain on the front facade and down the sides, while add-ons over the years have kept true to style.
Later the Rialto also served as a venue for recording major radio programs. It was only in 1995 that these theatrical pursuits stopped, once the theatre lost its roof in a violent summer storm. Today it is a popular suburban landmark for locals, currently being used as a restaurant and office complex.
Rialto Theatre 1969 (Image: Steve Malone)
UP NEXT: Paddington Antique Centre
I’d love to know any of your other favourite old cinemas in Brisbane! Leave us a note below if there’s one you want us to find out about 🙂
* Photography: Kristina Childs for Cinemazzi.com
THE HIDDEN CINEMAS PROJECT
Once used as cinemas, these iconic pieces of architecture are living reminders of weekend trips to the “pictures”.