This gallery contains 10 photos.
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 […]
So sad to see The once mighty Kogarah Mecca in this state. Please come along on Wednesday night and help bid farewell to a local icon.
Opened 1920 as the Victory Theatre. Demolished February 2013. R.I.P.
For further details on the theatre, click here.
For a blog with beautiful images of what still lies within the walls of the Mecca, click here.
Anyone who has been to Avoca Beach on NSW’s central coast will know what a quaint and picturesque seaside village it is. Lovely beaches, rock pools, surf club, sleepy seaside atmosphere, even a historic picture theatre to complete the scene. I personally happened to be there last weekend and was quietly amazed that such a peaceful and lovely hamlet can still exist so close to our major city Sydney in this day and age. Now all that is about to be ripped apart as Avoca Beach Picture Theatre owners Norman and Beth Hunter plan to launch their 1951 single screen theatre into the 21st century, with a 5-screen 615-seat multiplex monster along with cafe, gallery and apartment block containing 5 units over 3 stories. A big sea change from the existing old time theatre; residents say too big, and vow to fight the Development Application. Rightfully so, as this will dramatically reshape their little village into a modern metropolis, a change that many who live here don’t want to see.
Several years ago Owners Norman and Beth Hunter bought an adjoining block of land and managed to get it along with the Theatre rezoned to allow mixed use commercial and residential. “Lodging this development application has been a 10 year journey,” Mrs Hunter said. “Now the time is right to get the DA through.” The proposed floor space ratio of the DA however exceeds council zoning regulations by 14 percent and the height exceeds regulations by 1.52m. They have sweetened the deal with Gosford Council by offering to pave the carpark opposite, as well as upgrade the adjoining park and footpath.
At a public meeting in the Surf Club on Monday 17th September around 230 residents turned up to voice their concerns against the proposed bulk and scale and of the plan (and that is a huge number in a community of this size). Avoca Beach Residents Group President Steve Fortey cited some of the residents concerns. “There is one road in and one road out of Avoca,” he said.”We are at capacity already and have managed to keep the high rises at bay so far…” Parking and gridlock would be an obvious concern especially on weekends when nippers, holiday makers, beach goers and now increased cinema traffic all drive around in circles competing for the limited amount of car spaces that simply won’t cope with what is being proposed here. “Most of the parking projection was based on a 2003 study, but traffic has increased substantially since then,” said Mr Fortey.
It’s a picture that is being played out up and down the coast… how to maintain the quiet serenity of a beachside locality that attracts people in the first place, while allowing for future development and increased population growth… Well, the answer is, at least in this case, fairly simple – Don’t.
- Don’t build a 5 screen multiplex in a tiny beach village that clearly doesn’t want or need it. There are many, many places not far away that would be a far more suitable choice for this kind of development – Gosford, Erina, Wyong are all short drives away, and they don’t share the same traffic snarl and parking problems that Avoca Beach clearly would have to deal with.
- Don’t ruin the charming character of a 1950’s heritage theatre, one that is obviously loved as it is, as shown by the loyal patronage and multitude of awards over the years including best Independent Regional Cinema three years running (that was obviously not won by being a multiplex!)
- And quite simply don’t crush the irreplaceable ambience of this seaside village by trying to build a Westfield-like structure in the centre of it; a spectacularly oversized, gruesome looking structure so clearly out of place that nobody particularly wants to infect their lovely village. Make no mistake, once here, Avoca Beach will be changed forever. If a place like this is to change then it should be with community input and acceptance, and it must be a benefit to the townscape, not a brutal nondescript effigy beaten over the heads of unsuspecting locals, one that looks more like a public library than a cinema at that…
Residents have until October 5 to comment on the ludicrous proposal, which coincides with busy school holiday period (funny that) so get busy writing.
Follow the link to a very informative Facebook Supporters page here.
A nice short film outlining the heritage of the theatre and movie-going on the Central Coast here.
Mecca Movie City has been a name synonymous with the St George suburb of Kogarah for decades – many of us still hold memories from the 80’s and 90’s, “catching a flick” at Phil Doyle’s beloved institution on one of the special $5 movie nights. The tones of the Wurlitzer organ, the smell of popcorn wafting through the foyer, sticky carpets, choc tops and a film reel crackling flickering images onto a scarlet curtained screen, these are the images I can recall. I remember bugging my older brother many times over to take us kids down to the Mecca to catch the latest offering from Hollywood, walking up the garden path and grabbing a slice of pizza (there was a pizzeria next door if my memory serves correct), filing in and slumping down into a seat, and letting the fun begin.
But the history of the Mecca goes way back before this.
A brief timeline by movie historian Ken Roe. cinematreasures.org
Located in the southern Sydney suburb of Kogarah. The Victory De-Luxe Theatre was opened on 17th November 1920 with a seating capacity of 1,800. The opening film was “The Brass Bullet”. It was equipped with an American Seeburg Electrical Orchestra pipe organ, with 2Manuals on the console and 3Ranks of pipes in the organ chambers located on each side of the proscenium. In August 1928, a new Christie 2Manual/7Ranks theatre organ was installed and opened by organist Leslie V. Henry formerly organist at the Prince Edward Theatre, Sydney. Other organists to play this instrument were Horace Weber, Eddie Horton & Knight Barrett. From 9th November 1928, the theatre was re-named New Victory Theatre.
The Victory Theatre was re-modeled in 1936 in an Art Deco style to the plans of architectural firm Crick & Furse. The exterior was given a modern deco style. Inside, there were Chevron style decorations on the side-walls and similar decorative features on the ceiling. The seating capacity was reduced to 1,534. Organist Denise Palmistra reopened the organ on 10th October 1936.
The Christie organ was removed in the early-1950’s. It was briefly re-named Avon Theatre in the 1960’s. Taken over by Mecca Theatres on 9th December 1971, it was renamed Mecca International Theatre. A Conn electronic organ was installed at that time. It was remodeled again in 1975, giving the theatre a new ceiling and a false proscenium. A 3Manual/8Ranks Wurlitzer organ was installed, which had originally been installed in the ABC Ritz Cinema, Richmond upon Thames, England, UK. Pantomimes and live shows were introduced to supplement the film programming.
In 1990, the cinema was divided into four screens, and was closed in September 2003.
Since 2004 the Mecca cinema has remained dormant and unoccupied, a shadow of its former self. Passers by have long been wondering what will eventually become of the once mighty Mecca, when or if it would re-open, until now. A 21 million dollar Development Application has been lodged with Rockdale Council, and with 4 levels of basement parking and 10 stories of residential and shopfront above ground this is no short trailer, this is a feature length epic. A King Kong sized towering block perhaps more at home on the boulevards of Manhatten rather than the back streets of Kogarah. Remembering, there are numerous tall buildings around the main centre of Kogarah and up towards the hospital precinct, but nothing on this suburban side of the railway tracks, nothing of this magnitude.
So, we are losing another art deco theatre, one that had a proud history in the St George area. See the pictures of its sister cinema the stunning 1832 seat Hurstville Mecca (formerly Savoy Theatre), which eventually shared the same fate of demolition and redevelopment back in 1995. The National Trust’s president at the time, Barry O’Keefe, QC, said that the Hurstville Mecca was”the most significant surviving cinema after Sydney’s State and Capitol theatres”.
A Sydney Morning Herald report by Geraldine OBrien reported back in 1991: ‘In 1957, there were 660 cinemas and theatres in NSW. In 1983, a report commissioned by the NSW Heritage Council recommended retention and protection orders for 13 of these, all considered gems of the “picture palace” age. Today, seven of those 13 gems have been smashed under the wrecker’s hammer, two – the State and the Cremorne Orpheum – have been retained and restored, another – the Hurstville Mecca Savoy – is about to be demolished and the future of the last three is in grave doubt. One proposal put forward by the trust is the development of “provincial theatre”, a venue for the “out-of-town” try-outs which are standard practice in London and New York. Australia can ill-afford to lose its few surviving cinemas from the great era of “moving pictures”, the trust says.’
While the Kogarah Mecca interior has been altered to the point of having little heritage value, the outside facade with its frescoes still holds some period charm and could possibly be included in any future residential development as a nod to the site’s cultural beginnings as well as a locally unique addition to any future building, something like the Yellow House in Kings Cross. Inheritance recommends this option.
But realistically we will lose the whole lot.
Another option, given the changing demographic of the Rockdale-Kogarah area with large influx of Indian migrants, could be to turn the Mecca into a specialist cinema, running foreign films or art features. Imagine a Bollywood cinema here! That would be grand.
Back in 2011 a famous art deco theatre, the Glenelg (formerly the Ozone) with significant original heritage value inside and out, was demolished in Glenelg, Adelaide, despite a 1200 signature petition and a chorus line of vocal opposition. Fast forward one year and guess what, they want to build a new $20 million, seven-screen cinema above the council-owned Cowper St carpark right there in Glenelg. Click on this picture and try not to shed a tear.
With six submissions here we have no chance of saving the Mecca.
The question then becomes, when is ‘big’ too big?
Well, this is too big. There is nothing around it that is anywhere near that scale. If this was to pass then Rockdale Council is effectively creating a whole new high rise precinct within a suburban area. Tiny Station Street will struggle to cope with the excess traffic and parking issues. The garden rimmed path of Victoria Way will never look the same again. And what of the charming Federation shopfronts nearby, will they share the same fate as this ugly brute?
The St George Leader ran a brief article on the development, only a short grab which was far too insignificant for something of this nature and stature, and as a result only six submissions were received against the DA. I personally had to do a double-take on the story when I noticed, almost in the fine print, that 4 levels of basement carparking were proposed. 4 Levels!! We may not be able to save the famous Mecca, but lets not allow the spread of high rise into this part of the suburb so easily.
If you have any memories of the Mecca or ideas you may like to add, please leave a comment.
And remember Rockdale Council, we are watching your actions.
“…and one final note” (please click)