AMMPT Logo spacer cinemaweb
WA CinemaWeb search spacer about spacer acknowledgements spacer comments spacer corrections spacer links spacer spacer



details_name details_othernames details_town
GRAND None Perth 


details_address.gif details_type.gif details_active.gif
164-168 Murray St, Perth IN closed



164-168 Murray St, Perth

Photograph of cinema

This theatre was built by entrepreneur Thomas Coombe and purchased from him by his sons Thomas Melrose (later Sir Thomas) Coombe and James Lean Coombe. It opened with a charity gala performance in aid of Wounded Soldiers, and with a ´Soldiers Orchestra', on 20 September 1916. The manager was Thomas Coombe (jnr), a lawyer, who had entered the film business in Perth as a partner in the local firm of Empire Pictures with F. C. Clarke-Cottrell and Thomas Shafto. The company had screened in the Perth Town Hall in 1910, and at Subiaco (in the King's Hall and on the oval) during 1910 and 1911. The partners had then gone their own ways, each into a career in the film industry, Thomas Coombe beginning as attorney for West's, managing the Melrose Gardens and later the Melrose Theatre. The Grand was his first independent venture, and he quickly made a success of it.

In comparison with the live theatres of the time it was small - 1100 seats, about the same size as its competitors, the Pavilion, the Palladium, the Britannia and the Majestic. All five opened during World War One, and followed similar policies of continuous screenings and cheaper admission than the live shows. The Grand, however, from the beginning aspired to a rather more lofty image than the others. It had a windlass-operated sliding roof, like the more prestigious live theatres, and also shutters on the side walls which could be removed for ventilation like the semi-open-air theatres.

When Coombe went into partnership with Union Theatres' West Australian branch, the Grand became an important part of the Union Theatres chain.

Around 1920 Coombe had employed a young man named Hamilton Brown to manage the Princess (Fremantle) for him. Brown did so well in this position that as Coombe involved himself less and less in the daily affairs of the theatres he passed over more and more to the younger man, finally making him manager of all Coombe's various theatrical concerns. When Coombe retired, Brown was appointed manager for all Union Theatres' interests in the state. It was under his management that the Grand was wired for sound in 1929 (and abandoned its orchestra), and in April-May 1932 became an all-British house, a showcase for the most prestigious of the British films.

However, in 1929 at the height of the depression, the theatre had been sold for £82,000 as a speculation to Town and Suburban Properties Ltd, and leased back to continue to run as a Union Theatre. By the beginning of 1932, the financial crisis which was to force Hoyts and Union Theatres into an amalgamation as General Theatres, was being felt in Western Australia also. Union Theatres fell behind with the rent for the Grand, the bailiffs were called in and their tenancy was abruptly halted. This was a decision of James Stiles, on behalf of the owners of the property, of which he was a partner.

Town and Suburban Properties Ltd was a company owned by four families - the Stiles, Taylor, Davenport and Vivian families. Stiles, who had an interest in suburban theatres in South Perth, was the only one with any experience in film exhibition, but he was noted also for his resourcefulness and energy, and when he urged the company to take the risk, in the belief that he could sustain the theatre during the hard times ahead better than any tenant could, they agreed. On 25 August 1932 a new company, formed substantially of the same shareholders as Town and Suburban Properties, was formed - the Grand Theatre Co - specifically to manage the Grand Theatre as a functioning cinema. And, instead of appointing a manager, Stiles took on the task himself. He was so successful that the company went on to lease and build other theatres, eventually becoming for a time the largest local chain, and even larger in the state than the eastern-based national chains of Hoyts and Union Theatres.

As promotion for the film Little Orphan Annie, the Grand Theatre Company held an ´orphans picnic': they invited the residents in all the orphanages in Perth to a day out, including a film screening at the Theatre Royal. This was such a success that it continued annually for many years, with the film presentation usually at the Grand.
Over the years, very little change was made in the façade of the Grand: brickwork was painted over, a neon sign added in the manner traditional to cinemas (down the length of the façade), and the ornate metal verandah replaced with one of cleaner, more modern lines.

Inside there was more change. The first major reconstruction took place in 1938:

The supporting pillars in the stalls have been taken away, and throughout the theatre provision has been made for the comfort of patrons by considerably widening the space between the rows of seats. What were previously two small landings upstairs have been joined together and enlarged to make an attractive smoking lounge. Extensive alterations have been made to the walls which have been repainted in pastel shades predominantly green. A feature of the new theatre is the lighting system, which is done with neon lights. The Grand is the first theatre in Australia entirely illuminated by neon lights, and the effect is most pleasing. (West Australian, 17 December 1938)

When it was re-opened on 16 December 1938, after only four weeks’ work had completely transformed the interior, stress was placed on its reputation as a ´family theatre' and the ´homely' design and comfort it offered. There was considerable pride expressed in the fact that the renovations had been done using as far as possible West Australian labour and materials. By now, however, it had to compete against the picture palaces of the thirties, and its reputation had sunk to that of a ´churn house' - one of the continuous theatres that ´churn' out sessions.

By the time of the second major renovation in 1959, the Grand Theatre Company had been transformed into City Theatres Pty Ltd, in recognition of the wider activities of the company, though the management, in personnel and policy, had not substantially changed. This renovation was extensive:

The Grand Theatre, home of British pictures in Western Australia, has been modernised and refurbished at a cost of £15,000 to make it one of the attractive showcases of the West Australian capital. In the modernisation scheme planned by architects Hobbs, Winning and Leighton a new lounge foyer has been created.
     Lounge foyer is attractively carpeted and painted, with decor set off by the wood panelling of the walls.
     Seating has been provided and there is also a modern and well-stocked candy and soft drink bar.
     A cooling system operating on an air filter system has also been installed, while a new suspended ceiling in the theatre lends a modern touch to the building and has improved sound throughout the theatre.
Similar style ceiling has been fitted in the lounge foyer and in the theatre's entrance lobby. (Film Weekly, 15 January 1959)

It was not fully air-conditioned till 1961.

In 1973 City Theatres was taken over by a consortium consisting of local television company TVW Ltd, Swan Television and Michael Edgley International Ltd. In August 1978 TVW Ltd bought out the other partners, though again there was little change in management, as Arthur Stiles, nephew of James Stiles, remained as Managing Director under the consortium and as Manager under TVW.

By now, the theatre which had changed hands for £80,000 in 1928 was worth £900,000, not so much for the building, which had long since become outmoded, as for the prime position in the central city. Each modernisation, providing more spacious accommodation for patrons, had also reduced the number of seats available, till by the end it could only accommodate 721. Fortunately, the trend in cinema building in the seventies was towards smaller, more intimate theatres anyway, which was probably all that kept the Grand going in its later years. It closed on 6 November 1980, the day that the company opened Cinema City. City Theatres retained their offices in the front of the building upstairs, while the foyer and auditorium was used for a complex of restaurants and fast food outlets. The building was demolished in March 1990.


Building permits, Battye 1459, Folio 2
Max D. Bell, Perth: a cinema history, The Book Guild, Lews, Sussex, 1986, pp.78-79
Rodney I. Francis, ´The Coombe family of Perth', Kino no.34, December 1990, pp.12-17; 'Thomas Melrose Coombe: a pioneer from vaudeville to talkies in Western Ausrtalia', Part 2, Kino no.80, pp.46-48.
Jack Honnibal, ‘Perth’s Grand Theatre in its heyday’, Kino, no.64, Winter 1998, pp.26-29
Stage, Screen and Stars, West Australian, n.d. (1997?), p.20-21
Ross Thorne, Cinemas of Australia via USA p.163
Australasian Exhibitor, 15 July 1954, 5 December 1980
Everyone's, 23 January 1929, p.24; 20 February 1929, p.6,14; 4 September 1929, p.32
Film Weekly, 15 January 1959, p.1
Film Weekly Directory, 1943/4 - 1971
Kino, no.32, June 1990, p.23
Post Office Directory, 1917 - 1921, 1929 - 1949
Sunday Times, 17 April 1932, 24 April 1932, 11 January 1959
West Australian, 20 September 1916, 24 May 1932, 15 December 1938, 17 December 1938, 1916 - 1980
Interview (Ina Bertrand): Arthur Stiles (1985)
Interviews (Ina Bertrand & Bill Turner): Ray Cooper (1981), John Pye (1981)
Arthur Stiles scrapbook
Hamilton Brown scrapbook


1 exterior, b&w, 20s, West Australian no.3394
1 exterior, b&w, c.1921/2, Battye 3183 11811P
1 interior (auditorium - orphans picnic audience), b&w, 1930s (Arthur Stiles)Link to image
2 exteriors (orphans picnic audience), b&w, 1930s (Arthur Stiles)Link to image
2 interiors, 2 exteriors, b&w, 1930s, Jack Honnibal, ‘Perth’s Grand Theatre in its heyday’, Kino, no.64, Winter 1998, pp.26-29
3 interiors (foyers), b&w, 1960s (Arthur Stiles) Link to image Link to image Link to image
33 exteriors & interiors, colour, 1980 (Roy Mudge) Link to image Link to image Link to image Link to image Link to image
1 exterior, b&w, n.d., Australasian Cinema, 5 December 1980, p.8
1 exterior, colour, 1981 (Bill Turner) Link to image
exploitation campaigns, b&w, various dates, Arthur Stiles Link to image Link to image Link to image Link to image Link to image