Sydney, this one’s for you! Here is the first New South Wales reveal in our Hidden Cinemas series: Kings Theatre, Rose Bay.
After the first six-part series got such a great reaction last year, I am really excited to show you the next round of Hidden Cinemas I have been working on. I love uncovering these hidden gems. I just wish these posts were a bit quicker to put together for you, because sometimes it takes me months to finally hit ‘publish’. If I’m not cursing Google Maps for refusing to have up-to-the-minute street views in some areas (I mean hello, how hard is it to regularly scan every single street in existence?) then I’m trying to actually get there in person to check out each venue. Which isn’t always possible when it’s the complete opposite end of town or interstate.
Luckily I have spotters to help me out in those situations (thanks PW!) which is how I arrived at today’s hidden cinema in Rose Bay: the former Kings Theatre. It’s our first Sydney reveal.
I am born and bred in Brisbane but I spent a huge chunk of my childhood holidays in Sydney. In all that time never once did I realise this building I frequently passed had been a former cinema.
Perhaps it is because the suburb of Rose Bay is still mourning the loss of its beloved Wintergarden picture palace, which was demolished in 1987. Even more recent is the loss of The Vogue – a 1930s cinema in the neighbouring suburb of Double Bay which later grew to become the Village Twin and finally closed its doors as the Greater Union Double Bay in 2004 (after which it tragically sat empty for over a decade until its recent demolition).
Even though Kings hasn’t been operational as a cinema since 1958 – which is probably why it’s not at the forefront of local memories as much as other ones – this charming building has managed to outlive them all.
What I love most about researching these cinemas is all the different sources or networks that have assisted me with each entry. Today’s assistance comes via the explosion of Greek-Australian knowledge that exists online at Kythera-Family.net, a website and forum dedicated to recording not only individual family histories, but the cafe, cinema and shops history of immigrants from the southern Greek island of Kythera. Coming from a Greek background, and a very strong connection with the island of Kythera, I was more than familiar with this site and all its amazing resources. (We. Are. Everywhere.)
So why the Kytherian interest in this particular theatre? Even though Kings was opened as part of the popular Kings Theatres chain in the 1930s, in July 1947 it was taken over by Peter Kosmas Sourry and his brother-in law (and “front-of-house” showman) Alexander Andrew Coroneo, the co-directors of Dover Theatres Pty. Ltd., who were the proprietor and exhibitor of the Kings Theatre, Rose Bay North until its closure in November 1958. Here they are pictured outside the theatre in the mid-1950s below:
The first thing that strikes you about this site is the lovely curved, sculptural facade that still exists today. To learn more about the architectural details of the theatre, which accommodated seating for up to 660 in 1937, I turned to the true authorities on the subject, Ross Thorne and Kevin Cook, and their book For All The King’s Men*. Here are some extracts:
The Kings, at the corner of Old South Head and Dudley Roads, was officially opened on Saturday, 22 June 1935. Opening attractions included Lives of a Bengal Lancer, starring Gary Cooper.
Described at the time as an excellent example of designing in three dimensions the exterior was unique for its lack of applied decoration and ornament. The main front, as it turned into Dudley Road, was designed in a post-Expressionist, post-International Style idiom, using two part cylinders of unequal radius and narrow horizontal and vertical windows in an asymmetrical composition of forms. The rectangular auditorium rose above this highly curvaceous facade, but was set back so, at night, with only the facade lit, the sculptural quality would be dominant.
While the exterior was quite avant garde for Australia at the time, the interior was still decorated, but only partly, in motifs that are recognisably Art Deco (such as the ticket box grille).
As Thorne and Cork note, Kings was one of Sydney’s early picture theatre closures after the introduction of television, ceasing theatre operations on Friday, 17 October 1958. The building was sold later that year to T I Mills and E A Mills, and the theatre was remodelled to accommodate its new occupants Boyce Bros (a ladies’ clothing manufacturer).
All theatre equipment was disposed of and the auditorium was reconstructed to form a raw goods store and finished article packing space. It was officially gazetted as no longer a place of public entertainment on 5 February 1960. In more recent years, the former stalls area has been used for a greengrocery. Fortunately, the exterior remains virtually unaltered.
Now, nearly sixty years after its construction, its external appearance still sets it apart from its surroundings.
Today it still continues to operate as a greengrocery of sorts – a Coles supermarket.
* Images: P.W.
Got a story or photo to share about the old Rose Bay cinemas? Let us know in the comments below, I 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”.
*Images: Photographs have been accredited and linked back to for individual images. Current photographs shot inside the Coles were taken with the permission at the time. Should copyright holders wish to have their photograph removed please contact Marie on email@example.com. Thank you!
**For All The Kings Men. The Kings Theatres of Sydney, NSW. Ross Thorne & Kevin Cork. Australian Theatre Historical Society Inc Publication. 1994.