It was during a holiday weekend away at the Gold Coast that I came across the old Deluxe Theatre at Burleigh Heads.
We were on our way to check out a new seafood restaurant called The Fish House (side note: same owner as the brilliant Greek restaurant Hellenika at Nobby’s Beach) when I astutely spotted a stately-looking brick building a few doors down. Maybe I was starting to get the hang of this whole cinema architecture thing after all?
That, and the fact there was a big old sign saying “DeLuxe” at the top of the building helped. For once I had actually been observant enough to see it.
I was intrigued. If I was correct, it was the first Hidden Cinema I had encountered on the Gold Coast (I KNEW there would have to be at least one hiding down there!) and as soon as I got home I started researching as much as I could.
I found a copy of the Burleigh Heads Heritage & Character Study online and it was a great starting point. I learned the DeLuxe Theatre on Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads, was opened on October 17 1930 by William Fradgley.
A Western Electric sound plant was installed in 1931 to play motion pictures. The theatre changed ownership in 1947 and again in 1969, with substantial alterations undertaken in 1980 that saw the removal of the interior and conversion of the theatre to retail space.
Today the Deluxe Theatre is known as the Old Burleigh Theatre Arcade, a landmark feature of Burleigh Heads. Only the facade and the rear of the building remain from the original structure which has essentially been gutted.
I needed to know more. Then, as though someone was reading my mind, I saw a post pop up in my Facebook feed one day from a group I follow called Cinemas and Theatres of Australia. (If only I had known this site existed before I started my wild goose chase with barely a scrap of info to go on… although just quietly, I have loved the adventure. Does that sound as lame as I think it does?)
There, I heard from a man called Stephen Fleay who actually has his own interesting backstory to tell – he is the son of famous Australian wildlife conservationist David Fleay.
Stephen grew up on the Coast and, as I learned when I contacted him, in addition to his own memories of working there as a school kid during the Christmas holidays, he knew quite a lot about the history of the building as well.
De-Luxe Theatre 1960 (Image via Have You Seen The Old Gold Coast. Photo by G.A. Black. Courtesy GC Libraries)
DeLuxe Theatre, 1930 (Image via: Have You Seen The Old Gold Coast)
Stephen said that after the theatre had a sound system installed to start screening “talkies”, the Thams Brothers (owners of Southport’s Pier and Regent theatres, and the Grand at Labrador) eventually took over in the late 1940s. A Cyclone in 1953 took off part of the De-Luxe roof and for a while there were movies “under the stars”. I’ll let him tell the rest:
“In 1955, the De-Luxe had a major makeover with a brick front and rear built (note: you can see this in the pictures above, with the differing facades). Now there was a sizeable Cinemascope Screen and the projectors were further modified for 4 track magnetic and a perspecta decoder was installed. Blackboard Jungle was the movie for the opening of the “new” De-Luxe. Only once did I see a movie with 4 track and that was Oklahoma.
“I worked there at age 16 for around 7 weeks, as a school kid in the Christmas holidays of 58/59, every night and the Saturday matinees. Apart from occasional dances at the Burleigh Glideway Hall, The DeLuxe was the only place to go Saturday nights, except for the Burleigh Hotel and Gold Coast Hotel. As there were seats for up to 1000 people, most “went to the pictures”.
“I would ride my bike 2kms from home at West Burleigh. The job there was to sweep out the projection room (first of all), oil up the two 35 mm film projectors, load and thread the films, help the projectionist Mr Dowd in changeovers and the heaviest work was to carry those heavy film cans up and down two flights of stairs to and from the projection box. I liked the job, but the projectionist Mr Dowd had a short fuse. I guess I was a difficult kid at the time!”
So there you have it. Such a lovely building for Burleigh, just imagine if it was to open again!
Got a story or photo to share about the old Burleigh Heads picture theatre, the De-Luxe? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you!
THE HIDDEN CINEMAS PROJECT
Once used as cinemas, these iconic pieces of architecture are living reminders of weekend trips to the “pictures”.