On Wednesday night, 27 February 2013, a small group of dedicated locals and heritage activists gathered by candlelight opposite the old Mecca theatre site at Kogarah.

We shared Fantales and choc tops, listened to tones of the original Christie 2/7 Victory theatre organ “broadcasting from the wilds of Kogarah” and showed poster billboards of The Brass Bullet, the 1920 opening night feature film which, not unlike the Mecca itself, has now sadly vanished from any trace of existence.

Considering the complete disdain for local history Rockdale council has shown by pushing through this unrelenting 92 unit redevelopment on this site with zero public consultation, it was the least we could do to farewell a much loved landmark, a movie theatre from the golden age of cinema, that literally put Kogarah on the cultural map.

Of the number of options that were available for the site – either A. reopening the theatre as a public arts space or venue, for example showing arthouse, Bollywood, or open-air screenings; B. rebirthing the theatre into an inner-west style warehouse conversion, while maintaining heritage elements such as the 1920s brickwork and hardwood floors; C. redeveloping the bulk of the building while retaining the 1936 art deco facade; or D. knocking the entire building down and redeveloping into units – what we are getting is the worst possible outcome of all, a complete knock down of all heritage on site and in its place a mega development of 92 high rise units (mainly single bedrooms), and 5 retail ground spaces that has set a massive precedent for any future urban renewal in the area.

It is a shame the council couldn’t have acted with more dignity to the heritage of the site and appropriateness of scale. Together with the proposed loss of Griffith House on the grounds of St George hospital, Kogarah is quickly redefining itself from a historical cultural hub to a cultureless void of mundane overdevelopment. The theatre will be a great loss not only to the community of Kogarah but the southern suburbs of Sydney in general. Bills Collins once said he “never saw a bad movie at the Mecca.” Now future generations won’t get that opportunity.

Thanks to everyone who came and enjoyed our special closing night.

Following gallery, pictures by Peter Suchecki.

So much history is lost when we demolish cultural buildings of this stature. From the architectural teachings of historic building styles, to the visible quantitative reminder of materials used, to where a building stands in context of its surrounds and just how it related to the development of a geographic area, or indeed on a chronological scale. The Victory theatre as it was known at the time was built in a suburban growth area just as the age of cinema for the masses was dawning, and this was no small thing, as can be seen by its 1,800 seating capacity back in 1920. Electrification of the Illawarra rail line concurred almost immediately after in 1926, being the first line in Sydney to be electrified, and this paved the way for further expansion to the south. Talkies, or talking pictures, commenced in 1929 at the theatre, a year after it was sold and renamed the New Victory. The name Mecca International didn’t come into being until 1971, when Phil Doyle took ownership and began remodelling the historic theatre in order to compete with the large multiplexes that were springing up in the big end of town. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the end for the theatre.

Phil Doyle, now incarcerated on multiple charges of child sexual abuse, left a sordid legacy behind and stained the name of the Mecca forever. The theatre itself, the bricks and mortar, and the many good memories that were lived out within those walls, will remain a glowing light in our past, for anyone who ever managed to catch a flick there. Long live those memories, even after developers and governments have bulldozed their way right through our collective souls for the sake of lining their own pockets with a few holy dollars. Our culture was once bright here in Kogarah, let’s hope some of it still remains after this current regime of heritage smash and grab has been to the bank and collected their sizeable pay checks on their way to a wealthy resting place. I’m not sure if the policy makers of our society even contemplate that they are stealing our heritage, redeeming our culture of all its value when they sign the death warrants for buildings such as these.

The following gallery shows just what else is being lost in the rubble of the Mecca. Decades of movie memorabilia lie under the floors within damp office rooms and hidden back stage awaiting demolition. Images by Inheritance.

For further history on the Kogarah Mecca click here.

For further images from inside the Mecca by Jasmine Poole, click here.

For Australian theatre organ sound archives including that of Kogarah click here.

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  1. Russell Arkinstall says :

    A sad historical loss for the St.George area and for Sydney The building should have been placed in the official heritage list, refurbished and retained for historical tours of a past era, a long gone Sydney, going back to War World 11 connections. . There would be no, or few, picture theatres of that era (1940s 50s & 60s) left after it is demolished.

    • inheritanceorg says :

      Sign of the times unfortunately Russell, when real estate value is put ahead of heritage or anything else… An apartment conversion retaining heritage facade and features would have been an acceptable outcome in this case, far better than the inappropriate soulless monster that will now rise from the ashes.

  2. Brian says :

    I grew up in West Kogarah in the 1930’s and 40’s and well remember the “picture” nights and Saturday matinees at the old Victory. Singing along with the Christie organ and following the bouncing ball on the screen was wonderful entertainment – Lily of Laguna was a favourite song. The organist was immaculately dressed in a blue tuxedo and the organ rose out of the floor whilst playing. During the war the theatre ran on a large generator stationed in the paddock at the rear of the building, and the noise could be heard quite some distance away. Christmas pantomimes starring Aunty Maud and Uncle Cy were a great attraction for the kids. Very sad indeed that the old theatre is now history.

    • inheritanceorg says :

      They are some great memories Brian… The Victory and later Mecca was a much loved institution by generations of locals. As I grew up in the 80’s the Mecca was still THE place to see a movie. What a shame it was owned by a developer-minded proprietor Phil Doyle rather than a true cinema buff, and an even greater shame that council couldn’t see the heritage value in at least retaining the structure of the building for future generations.
      So many movie fans have been saddened by the loss of this institution. Now it is just another memory for us all. Thanks for sharing yours.

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  1. Mecca Theatre/Residential – Kogarah, NSW | Past/Lives - September 29, 2014

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