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PICCADILLY None Perth 

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700-704 Hay St, Perth (Hay St Mall) IN open

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PICCADILLY
700-704 Hay St, Perth (Hay St Mall)

Photograph of cinema

On 10 March 1938 the first theatre especially built for the Grand Theatre Co opened in Perth - the Piccadilly. It was situated above the Hay St end of the Piccadilly Arcade, which was a shopping arcade through to Murray St. It was designed in Art Deco style by William Leighton of Baxter-Cox and Leighton, and originally seated over one thousand, but repeated renovations over the years reduced that capacity to just over nine hundred.

The building is fully described by Ross Thorne (Cinemas of Australia via USA, pp.265-267). The rather severe exterior looked more like a fifties suburban cinema than one opening in the thirties, and survived into the eighties still appearing comparatively modern.

A policy of first-run releases, and a stress on the modernity of the building and its fixtures were the key images presented by the cinema. Carrier air conditioning cost £6,500 and provided automatic thermostatically-controlled temperature within the building, regardless of the temperature outside, or the number of patrons in the auditorium. A twenty-five passenger lift transported patrons to the foyer and was advertised as the only such lift in operation in any cinema in Australia:

'The furniture, in addition to being locally-made, has been specially designed here to suit the theatre and fit in with its colour schemes. From the 24 ducoed flower pots to the low divans in the foyers everything is original.
'The panel treatment of the walls, too, fits in with the general plan of the modern architecture of the theatre. A pastel green shade has been used in keeping with the coolness of the theatre.
'The lighting is on an elaborate scale and the drapings and carpets were imported for the theatre.
'The stage curtains have come from New York and there are many beautiful mirrors.' (Film World, 11 March 1938)

The Piccadilly could charge higher admission than the Grand: it was airconditioned from the start, and screened first run product in longer seasons than the weekly-release Grand. However, despite its superior position in the Grand Theatre Company hierarchy, it could not compete in prestige with the older and more luxurious Royal. All three were taken over in 1973 by the consortium which bought out City Theatres, and in 1978 by TVW Enterprises which took over complete control from the consortium.

In 1983 a thorough renovation transformed the cinema. The lower level was converted into a shopping arcade, and the lounge into a four hundred seat cinema, still called the Piccadilly. In deference to the origins of the theatre in the thirties, and in keeping with cyclical fashions in architecture, the whole remodelling was in Art Deco style, and much of the atmosphere of the original Piccadilly was retained. In fact it won the 1986 Architect's Design Award for Excellence in Renovation.

Chris Simmons describes the renovations like this:

'...the main screen was brought forward 10m. The upstairs section was brought forward and a new floor put in. The screen frame and gold velvet curtains with the original lifting gear were put in place. The curtains lift up not out like on most screens. They recreated the Art Deco look around the screen so you can’t tell the difference unless you know.'

In 1989 the venue was sold by Hoyts to Glen Darlington, of Classic Cinemas, and closed briefly in early 1990. Malcolm Leech then took over the lease, and converted a section of the disused stalls into a small cinema, making the Piccadilly into a twin, seating 443 in Cinema 1 and 165 in Cinema 2. He continued, screening Hong Kong movies in Cinema 2, but the lease of Cinema 1 went to Greater Union in the summer of 1991-2. Then Malcolm Leech turned the venue into a triplex (seating 443, 110 and 103), by adding Cinema 3 behind the main screen.

Chris Simmons again:

'Cinema 2 is on the left side of the old stalls and Cinema 3 is sideways behind the main screen with the left side siting above Cinema 2. So I guess it is in the stalls but it is right down in front of where the main screen was originally. The right side of the stalls is now a small foyer. The area was left unusable... fter the renovation in the 80s. Malcolm found it fairly easy to build Cinema 2 although it has a small screen and he was able to get a Projector from the closed Town Cinema. Cinema 3 had to have large steel beams put in for the steep floor which appeals to the younger ones more. Each row is .5m higher than the one in front so you always get an uninterrupted view. The air con is situated in the basement of the arcade and it is ducted up to the cinema through brick ducting. There are 2 large compressors that are the originals. They were rebuilt and converted to run on the newer gas. The main problem it had was gas leeks but since being rebuilt you could cool the cinema with only 1 compressor... The Piccadilly has heaps of character and is quite a contrast to today’s large complexes.

'I was a projectionist there and also did a lot of repairs including painting and I can tell you that there is a ghost. Several people saw it but it was harmless if not a little creepy... I was replacing the curtains with doors on the entry to cinema 1 late one night when my friend and I took a break. I was in the candy bar getting a drink when I saw a shadowy figure move across the entry to the lift. My friend didn’t believe me until he saw the same thing 15m latter. I’m sure it was a ghost as it gave us that kind of feeling that several other people have had there. The cleaner had to have all the lights and music going in order to do his work and when I was doing any late night repairs you would always hear noises but you got used to it. Apparently some years ago a customer was locked in and in the dark fell down the stairs and was found dead in the morning.'

The Piccadilly continued to operate into the new century, but Malcolm Leech leased it to Dennis McKenna in May 2001.
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Sources:
Building permit, Battye 1459, Folio 2
Max D. Bell, Perth: a cinema history, The Book Guild, Lews, Sussex, 1986, pp.88-89
Vyonne Geneve, ´The vulnerability of our Art Deco theatres', Kino, no.28, June 1989, pp.6-8
Vyonne Geneve, ´William Leighton, Architect', Kino, no.25, September 1988, pp.11-12
Vyonne Geneve, Significant buildings of the 1930s in Western Australia, Vyonne Geneve, June 1994, National Trust of Australia (WA)/ National Estate Grants Programme, vol.1
Jack Honnibal, ´The theatres of Perth 1939 - 1993', Kino, no.45, September 1993, p.29
Jack Honnibal, ‘The Piccadilly, Theatre of Distinction’, Kino, 74, Summer 2000, pp.24-28 (erratum Kino no 75, Autumn 2001, p.34)
Bob Parkinson, ´Field report', Kino, no.41, September 1992, p.12
Stage, Screen and Stars, West Australian, n.d. (1997?), pp.31, 42
Ross Thorne, Cinemas of Australia via USA, pp.265-267
Film Weekly Directory, 1943/4 - 1971
Kino, no.18, December 1986, p.24; no.26, December 1988, p.23; no.28, June 1989, p.23; no.32, June 1990, p.23; no.33, September 1990, p.23; no.36, June 1991, p.24; no.39, March 1992, p.25; no.40, June 1992, p.26; no.59, March 1997, p.31; no.62, Summer 1997, p.35; no.72, Winter 2000, p.43.
Post Office Directory, 1938/9 - 1949
West Australian, 10 February 1938, 10 March 1938, 11 March 1938, 1938 - 2000
Interview (Ina Bertrand): Arthur Stiles (1985)
Interview (Ina Bertrand & Bill Turner): Ray Cooper (1981)
Informant: Chris Simmons (2002)
Photos:
1 exterior, b&w, 1930s? (Arthur Stiles) Link to image
1 exterior, colour, 1981 (Bill Turner) Link to image
3 exteriors, 2 interiors, b&w, n.d. Ross Thorne, Cinemas of Australia via USA, pp.265-267
21 exteriors & interiors, colour, after 1985 (Roy Mudge) Link to image Link to image Link to image Link to image
1 exterior, 1 interior, b&w, 1986, Kino, no.25, September 1988, p.13 (Byron Geneve)
1 exterior, b&w, n.d. Kino, no.28, June 1989, p.7 (Vyonne Geneve)
1 interior (ticket box advertising Wells Fargo), b&w, n.d., Arthur Stiles Link to image