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91 William St, Perth IN closed



91 William St, Perth


The Wesleyan Methodist Church had had its West Australian headquarters on the corner of William and Murray Streets since their first chapel was built there in 1830. Alterations and additions and replacements took place over the remainder of the century, until on 19 April 1899 the Premier, Sir John Forrest, opened the grandest of all their buildings just around the corner in William Street, next to the church which still stood on the corner site itself. This new building was the Queen's Hall:

The style of architecture is Romanesque, and it is very effective. Attention was confined principally to the hall, entrance to which is obtained from William-Street, through a marble-tiled vestibule 15ft wide. The ascent of a dozen marble steps leads to the corridor, which runs to the hall...At the end of the corridor mentioned are the staircases which branch off at either side, and which lead to the galleries of the hall, while a few yards further along three large double-swing doors admit to the body of the hall. At a cursory glance it can be noted that this is by far the largest, and, to all appearances, the most commodious hall of its kind in Perth. Its measurements are - length, 100 ft; width, 60ft; height from floor to roof, 42 ft; and stage 35ft by 24ft. The ceiling of the hall is coved, lined with wood, with heavy cornice moulds, panels, and centre flowers; while the windows on either side through which abundant light streams, are built in the coves. At night the light will be supplied by six electroliers, each containing 25 lights, while scattered around the hall are numerous single incandescent lights. The galleries, which run round three sides of the hall, are 12ft wide, and from any part of them a perfect view of the stage can be obtained. The galleries are supported by iron pillars, and another set of pillars from the galleries supports a series of arches, which, in addition to imparting a picturesque appearance to the hall, have, together with the pillars, an important effect on the acoustic properties of the hall, in that they break the sound waves. Seats are provided for 1,500 people, while an additional 500 could be accommodated without any degree of discomfort. (Daily News, 19 April 1899)

Provision was made to clear this large audience quickly in the event of fire or other emergency, through escape doors fitted with 'Chubb's Patent Locks' which could be easily opened from the inside, and which gave access to rights-of-way to both William and Murray Streets. Ventilation and fire precautions were also considered to be of the most modern design. In addition to the main hall, the building contained classrooms and offices, and provided for eleven shops along the street front.

It was intended that the hall would be used for Church purposes on weekends, and hired out for lectures and musical presentations for the rest of the time. The first film exhibition was only months after the official opening, and would have been considered eminently suitable, though presented by a representative of another denomination: on August 16, 1899, Commandant Booth opened a special campaign to inform the citizens of Perth of the operations of the Salvation Army, through his 'Wonderful and Thrilling Lecture, assisted by Limelight, Kinematograph and Graphophone' (West Australian, 14 August 1899).

Mrs Booth conducted a further series of limelight lectures in the hall in September 1900, and in October 1901 this was where Perth witnessed the remarkable Melbourne production of Soldiers of the Cross, two hours of films, slides, exhortations, prayers and music.

The Methodists were perhaps stimulated by this use of a modern invention in the service of the Lord to introduce something similar themselves, starting with limelight lectures from 6 to 9 July 1900 on ´The Melbourne Mission: Lights and Shades of City Life', and continuing throughout the rest of the year with lectures on many subjects, by many different lecturers, ranging from travelogues of Britain to explanations of the progress of the Boer War.

This high-minded programming did not prevent more commercial exploitation of the venue by regular cinematograph entrepreneurs, who presented seasons at the hall in the usual way, before or after their country tours and visits to Fremantle. But the Church also expanded its own use of the moving picture during the period of office of Rev. G.E.Rowe. This gentleman introduced the ´Sunday night after church', a programme from 8.45 to 9.30 on a Sunday evening, advertised as ´Bright. Brief. Brotherly.' (West Australian, 16 April 1904)

Rowe played an active part in the presentation by performing the ´descriptive sketches' which accompanied the films or slides. A new subject was presented each night, sometimes in serial form over several weeks. The most popular of these was apparently that entitled 'Ben Hur - the life of Christ', which Rowe was exhorted to present complete in the hall on a week night, as the effect of the serialised version had been so profound. He also introduced the 'Children's Nights', again of films and slides with ´descriptive sketches', and these too were well-supported, so that ´There was barely standing room for the children's entertainment' (West Australian, 14 October 1905).

By the end of 1905, however, Rowe must have moved on as the frequency of the Sunday lantern services diminished noticeably and the degree of entrepreneurial effort in their presentation slipped dramatically. Perhaps, like the Salvation Army, the Wesleyan Methodists had second thoughts about employing a medium which was obviously becoming increasingly commercialised. They did not, however, feel compelled to limit the hiring of their hall, which had already become one of the major venues for moving pictures in the city. Cozens Spencer presented some of his early seasons there (September 1905, October - November 1905, March 1907), as did local entrepreneur Charles Sudholz (December 1905, April 1907), the Taits (April 1906, May 1908), and the Corrick family (February 1907, August - September 1907), as well as numerous other lesser lights in the business.

Then, on 20 June 1908, West's Pictures were transferred from His Majesty's, where they had been running continuously, six nights per week, for five weeks. This was the first truly ´permanent' film show in the state, intended to continue indefinitely, though still not in purpose-built premises. West's success was unprecedented in the state. The company (represented between visits from T. J. West himself by B. A. Leix, who had formerly worked for the Taits) had access through its contacts interstate and overseas to an apparently inexhaustible supply of films, enabling a weekly change of programme and a confident claim that all pictures presented were exclusive and had not been screened in Perth before. They were, for instance, the exclusive outlet for Pathe Art Films, including the very successful The Red Hand, and The Assassination of the Duc de Guise, and they stressed the high artistic quality of everything presented under their name.

The response from the public was overwhelming:

Every Saturday evening the management is compelled to proclaim the 'House Full' some time before the entertainment is commenced... This satisfactory position is a reward for excellent screening, complete changes of varied subjects every week and excellent incidental music provided by a large and efficient orchestra. (West Australian, 28 September 1908)

The policy of renewing the bill without waiting for popular interest in a programme to wane is bringing its reward by making the lovers of moving pictures frequent instead of occasional patrons. (West Australian, 16 January 1909)

This success prompted West to expand, into Fremantle, and within the city into Melrose Gardens, which opened in February 1911. Despite reassurances that both city venues would continue, for the rest of the summer Queen's Hall was used only for the matinee or if the weather was unsuitable for an outdoor performance. However, on 3 May the regular West's programmes returned to the hall, when the gardens closed for the winter. An experiment in continuous screening from noon till 5 p.m. was attempted with the Coronation Films in July 1911, but at the end of the season the management reverted to evenings only, except for the Saturday matinee.

Then, at the end of 1911 the lease was transferred from West's to Vic's Pictures, a company owned by four partners, one of whom was T. J. West's former secretary Victor Newton. Another of the partners, Jack Coulter, later to be manager of the Capitol, was the projectionist. This company had been screening for some time in the Fremantle Town Hall, and now added screenings in the Queens Hall from 27 January 1912. They continued with the policy established by West of night screenings, and weekly changes, till the competition of the opening of the Pavilion Theatre in 1914 forced a change to continuous screenings from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. six days a week.

It was probably the rash of purpose-built cinemas in the rest of the decade that forced the closure of the Queen's Hall as a venue for moving pictures, in January 1919. The hall reverted to casual hire, including being used as a department store for a year after the former premises of Economic Stores were burnt down in January 1920.


Photograph of cinema

But its connection with films was not to be entirely severed. In 1927 Hoyts secured the lease as a site for their Perth Regent, one of a chain of major cinemas to be built in each state capital. The hall was rebuilt by the Methodist Church for this purpose, which perhaps explains the conservatism of the architecture, criticised by Ross Thorne (Cinemas of Australia via USA, pp.306-307).

However, if Hoyts' management were disappointed they did not allow the public to know. The tone of the official opening programme for Saturday, 10 September 1927, was as fulsome as such publications always were:

Hoyts Regent makes history for Perth, in the shape of the landmark that has arisen....
The most modern equipment and ventilation inventions will enable the Regent to be the cosiest of rendezvous in winter, and a cool theatre in the summer months.
A typhoon system will flush the whole of the interior with fresh air, but the discomforts of drafts will not be felt. Another feature of the system is that it has been made possible for the huge panels on the side walls to be operated on the shutter principle. Without being designed as an open-air theatre, the Regent will yet embody all the attributes of such...
Every part of the theatre is fireproof, and every modern appliance has been installed...
Foremost, and most interesting of the apparatus, is the patent dimming machine, the first of its kind in Australia...
It will control the whole of the illuminations throughout and vary the shading of the concealed lighting in such a manner that visions of an Aladdin's cave will be conjured up...An orchestra of 15 members, embracing musicians of unquestionable talent and experience in their art will add its share to the enjoyment of patrons.
...Accommodation has been provided for nearly 2,000 people... The principal colour scheme is formed of a neatly interwoven combination of mauve, cyclamen and gold, giving a charm of beauty and brightness, and an artistic magnificence unparalleled in theatre construction in the Antipodes...
Comfortable upholstered chairs have been fitted throughout...
The more than ordinarily pronounced slope given to the floor level throughout ensures a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage and screen from whatever angle they are regarded...
Beautiful crystal glass chandeliers - they are fitted at intervals throughout - illuminated pillars, and bevelled glass mirrors stretching the length and breadth of the spacious foyer, throw their dazzling reflections before the eye: a fascinating and fairylike scene.
The furnishings are as luxurious and tasteful as they could possibly be made. (Official Programme, 10 September 1927)

The opening programme was a charity performance for the Children’s Hospital, including a screening of Three Bad Men (advertised as “a Fox masterpiece”).

At first, the familiar continuous screenings were presented, but by January 1928 these were limited to the daytime, from 11 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., with a special screening advertised to start at 2.30 for those patrons who wished to attend a full daytime screening. Then the usual evening session commenced at 8 p.m. On 4 August 1928 a Wurlitzer Theatre Organ was installed, which survived the various renovations and alterations of the theatre, till it was removed before the theatre's demolition in 1973. In early 1928, Hoyts' circuit in Perth consisted of the Regent and Majestic in Perth, the Majestic in Fremantle, and the Majestic and Cremorne in Kalgoorlie.

The first sound films in Perth opened simultaneously at the Regent and the Prince of Wales on 6 April 1929: the Regent screening The Red Dance using the sound-on-film process, and the Prince of Wales The Jazz Singer on Vitaphone sound-on-disc. The Regent's programme was enthusiastically received by the capacity audience, and by the critics:

The clearness and realism of the sound films was remarkable; it was as though persons clothed in warm flesh and blood were speaking or singing to the audience. (West Australian, 8 April 1929)

However, the reception was not entirely uncritical:

All the films were not of equal merit. All the voices did not record equally well. While there was perfect harmony between action and sound in every case, some of the voices did not sound out clearly, and some of the speakers had such an American twang that they were difficult to understand. (West Australian, 8 April 1929)

The featured film, The Red Dance, had no spoken dialogue at all, just a musical score, and was of very ordinary standard apart from the novelty of the soundtrack. It moved on after only a week, the management insisting that the decision was simply to maintain the service of frequent programme changes which regular patrons of the theatre had come to expect. After that, there were often weeks without a sound feature, though the newsreel was regularly accompanied by sound from then on.

However, within a year, the changeover had been made to full talkie programming, and the nature of film presentation had dramatically altered. On opening night, an overture to the first half and a ´novelty entr'acte' in the second half had been presented by the ´Hoyts Regent Orchestra of 16 Master Musicians'. In addition, an acted prologue called ´The Spirit of Motion Pictures' had been presented as the prelude to the film in the first half, and the theatre also had its own small ballet company which performed in similar prologues in other programmes. The introduction of the Wurlitzer had not affected this, just added an extra element, as Percy Burraston performed both with the orchestra, and solo during intermission. But sound films changed all this. The week commencing 12 October 1929 was the last when the orchestra, the ballet and the organ combined their talents - from then on only the Wurlitzer remained, reduced to playing overtures and at interval, except on special occasions.


Photograph of cinema

Hoyts' fortunes in the West were mixed, and in 1938 they relinquished the lease on the Regent, even though it had been intended as the flagship for the company in the state. On 13 May 1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Theatres Pty Ltd took over the lease, and opened the theatre under its new name - the Metro, as a showcase for MGM films. These had previously been exhibited through James Stiles' Theatre Royal, which continued to screen the overflow, and sometimes negotiated a deal for simultaneous release (as with Gone with the Wind). But later that year the theatre was closed for extensive remodelling.

At a cost of £30,000, ´the whole of the interior was gutted and redesigned and the front elevation was stripped of its former decoration and remodelled in moderne Art Deco style.' (Thorne, p.307) The theatre became the first in Perth to install an electrified air-conditioning system, and the seating was made more comfortable, thus reducing accommodation from nearly 2000 to less than 1500.

With perhaps understandable bias, a former Metro usherette
recalls the theatre as ´the most glamorous in Perth':

The usherettes were chosen for their figures, hair and general glamour. They didn't have to be beautiful, as long as they had 'oomph', but I must admit most of them were beauties.
How we loved our job. We were very conscious of our prestige. Nearly all our wages were spent on hair do's, make-up and clothes.
The shifts were long. Sometimes we would work from 10.30 a.m. until 11.30 p.m. but we didn't care.
We would have a break during the day and spend it walking around the shops. Heads would turn and shop girls would whisper: ´They work at the Metro.'
We were quite aware of the sensation we were creating and our perfectly coiffured heads would be arrogantly angled....
Those uniforms! Every year we would have a new design. The new style would be the most closely guarded secret in Perth....
Nearly twenty girls would be on the floor on Saturday nights, all smiling and relaxed, showing none of the strain of coping with thousands of screaming, yelling children who attended the Saturday shows.
The foyer would be filled with prams on weekdays and this is where we proved we were not just glamour girls. Half the prams would be filled with sleeping babies and it was quite common to see a glamorous blonde, redhead or brunette giving a baby a bottle so the mother could enjoy the show. (Mrs Jean Allen, West Australian, 9 December 1981)

The Metro continued to screen under the MGM banner, as ´Theatre of the stars', till 1970, when Roadshow took over the lease:

Sad to relate, the Metro Theatre finally closed in October 1973, the final film being the immortal classic Gone with the Wind, which was screened before a capacity audience. As the last few feet of film went through the projector gate, a slide of ´Leo the Lion' was superimposed on the screen and the lights came up slowly, the sound of a lone piper then being heard as he slowly walked down the aisles playing The Last Lament. This truly was a wonderful tribute to this warm, friendly cinema that had always been popular. Many patrons were seen leaving with tears streaming from their eyes, remembering the good old days when they had sat in the theatre watching many a silent and sound melodrama through the years. (Max Bell, Kino, no.9, p.13)

Jack Honiball's reminiscences are a good example of the affection with which the cinema was remembered. However, within hours of the closing images on the screen, the wreckers moved in, and the theatre made way for yet another shopping complex.

Jean Allen, 'The way it was', West Australian, 9 December 1981
Max D. Bell, Perth: a cinema history, The Book Guild, Lewes, Sussex, 1986, pp.83-7
Max D. Bell, 'Perth: Regent/ Metro', Kino, no.9, pp.11-15
Stage, Screen and Stars, West Australian, n.d. (1997?), pp.24-25, 42
Ian Hanson, 'Perth's Metro: Theatre of the Stars', Kino, no.84, Winter 2003, pp.6-8
Jack Honiball, 'Metro: more great moments of Perth's Theatre of the Stars', Kino, no.86, Summer 2003, pp.28-29
Ross Thorne, Cinemas of Australia via USA, pp.306-7
Daily News, 19 April 1899, 8 September 1927
Everyone's, 5 September 1928, p.16; 20 March 1929, p.30; 30 October 1929, p.28
Film Weekly Directory 1943/4 - 1971
Kino no.25, September 1988, p.14
Post Office Directory, 1912 - 1949
Sunday Times, 8 October 1973
West Australian, 11 September 1905, 9 April 1906, 5 May 1938, 1899 - 1973
Interview (Ina Bertrand): Arthur Nielsen (1978), Chris Spivey (1978), Arthur Stiles (1985)
1 interior (Queens Hall), b&w, c.1900, Battye 2588B/P17?
1 interior (Queens Hall), b&w, 1911, West Australian no.5932
1 exterior (Queens Hall/ Vic's Pictures), b&w, 1917, West Australian no.1012
1 exterior (Queen’s Hall), b&w, 1899, Alexandra Hasluck & Mollie Lukis, Victorian and Edwardian Perth from Old Photographs John Ferguson Pty Ltd, St Ives, 1977, plate 62
1 interior (Queen’s Hall), b&w, 1903, ibid, plate 63
1 ´Melody Lane Girls', b&w, n.d., Sunday Times, 8 October 1973
1 Regent orchestra, b&w, 1927 Link to image
1 exterior (Regent), b&w, 1928, Kino, no.9, p.14 (Ian Hanson)
1 interior (Regent), b&w, 1928, Kino, no.9, p.14 (Ian Hanson)
1 exterior (Regent), b&w, 1938, Ross Thorne, Cinemas of Australia via USA, p.306
1 exterior (Regent), b&w, 1928, Everyone's, 8 August 1928, p.14; also see 5 September 1928, p.16
1 exterior (Regent), b&w, n.d., Battye, 8292B/ 8723 - 1
1 exterior (Regent), b&w, 1938, West Australian no.2093
1 exterior (Metro), b&w, n.d., Kino, no.9, p.15 (Ian Hanson)
1 interior (Metro), b&w, n.d., Kino, no.9, p.15 (Ian Hanson)
5 Metro Wurlitzer, b&w, 1973 (Roy Mudge) Link to image
2 exteriors (Metro), b&w, n.d., Kino, no.84, pp.6-7 (ACTS archive - Ian Hanson)
5 interiors (Metro), b&w, n.d., Kino, no.84, pp.6-8 (ACTS archive - Ian Hanson)