De-Luxe Theatre, Burleigh Heads

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.

De-Luxe Theatre Burleigh Heads Picture Theatre
De-Luxe Theatre in the 1950s. (Image via Cinemas and Theatres of Australia. Photo by Neil Caldwell.)

 

De-Luxe Theatre Burleigh Heads, 2014
De-Luxe Theatre Burleigh Heads, 2014

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)

De-Luxe Theatre 1960 (Image via Have You Seen The Old Gold Coast. Photo by G.A. Black. Courtesy GC Libraries)

DeLuxe Theatre 1930

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!

* Photography: Marie Christine. Special thanks for archival photos and historical information: Stephen Fleay, Have You Seen The Old Gold Coast, City Of Gold CoastCinemas and Theatres of Australia

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”.

Part 1: Rialto Theatre, West End

Part 2: The Plaza, Paddington

Part 3: Beverley Theatre, Rosalie

Part 4: Planet Cinema, Camp Hill

Part 5: Triumph Theatre, East Brisbane

Part 6: De-Luxe Theatre, Burleigh Heads

Part 7: Kings Theatre, Rose Bay

Part 8: Victory Theatre, Blackheath

the author

Marie C

Feature writer by trade, movie maniac by night, Marie-Christine grew up watching films from the projection booth at the local drive-in and now she's lucky enough to write about them.

9 comments

  1. I am sad and angry that this theatre was cut down in size at the back, the theatre gutted, and the 2 level rentals for the whole building. Montezumas is in the back of the Arcade on the ground floor. Thankfully the facade was retained.

    I spent my childhood holidays at Burleigh and my father grew up there too. He spent his youth “hanging” out at the milk bar at the front of the cinema in the 1930s on the same site where the Cold rock ice creamery shop is now. In the 1960’s the milk bar was the surfing hang out shop with the local boardriders there after their morning surf. The milk bar did a roaring trade then.

    I saw one of my first colour cartoon Disney movies here in late 1950’s – The Lady and the Tramp and 101 Dalmations. They had the canvas or hessian deck chairs which you could lounge back in. It was great to be able to go to a cinema so close but we took it for granted then. No TV in those days.

    I still walk down that Arcade and wish it had been left as it was. It could have been retained as a cinema while utilising it as a catering venue or coffee shop but the building should have been left intact inside. Imagine people being able to enjoy vintage cinema as it once was. I guess it’s all about money and changing entertainment needs.

    1. Mandy, that’s exactly the feeling I get when I walk through beautiful old buildings and definitely how I feel when I pass the De-Luxe. I don’t see why they can’t impose stronger restrictions in general, just to retain all the character of these buildings – even if this one was not viable as a cinema anymore. You’d think Queensland would have learned – if anything, I think we may be getting worse, especially in Brisbane! I am so glad I found the De-Luxe because it is the only Hidden Cinema I have found on the Gold Coast yet. Bring back the milk bars too I say!

  2. Hi, I really enjoyed this article. I’m assuming the building where 20th Century Antiques at Coolangatta is now located, was once a theatre too? Cheers, Scott.

    1. Good eye Scott! That Coolangatta antiques building was definitely something… not actually a cinema, but a popular dance hall in the 30s and 40s called “Jazzland” 🙂

  3. My Dad owned the ‘Fisho’ fish shop opposite the Goldie. We lived in a number of the flats above the Old Cinema. For awhile My bedroom was on the 3rd floor overlooking the surf.
    Mavis (daisy ) Chain lived next door. And the Paris family lived there as well. Mr Paris worked for the council and I went to BHSS with Jenny. They were wonderful times. I was very Lucky though I didn’t realise how lucky.

    1. Wow Bud, that must have been amazing! Do you mean you lived there after the cinema closed or while it was open? I always wondered about those windows and those rooms… I know exactly what you mean about knowing you were lucky, but just not how lucky. I feel that way all the time 🙂

  4. My parents lived in Palm Beach in the 30s and used to go there all the time, they then moved to Burleigh Heads and dad built a house by himself at the very top of Reserve street looking down on the river and i was born there in 1955, the house is still there. i remember the old theater well from the 70s and then it was gutted and the first Montezumas restaurant franchise chain started from that building, i still think Burleigh Heads is the pick of the whole Gold Coast and always stop there when i am passing through, my parents used to tell lots of stories about that theater when i was growing up.

    1. Wow, I didn’t know Montezumas started at Burleigh, it’s still up the back of the Arcade, right? A house at the top of Reserve St sounds amazing! The De-Luxe would have been a great local 🙂

  5. Check out the location of the Savoy in in Nerang st Southport…It was pulled down on the 60′ s….but i have been down stairs of the current shops when i was a kid in the early 70’s that led to a maze of rooms that were connected to the Savoy. Maybe they are still there?

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