Ascot Theatre and Gardens
March 14, 2017
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Ascot Theatre and Gardens 33 Great Eastern Highway, Rivervale, WA
One shilling would buy a ticket, with sixpence left over to buy a Dixi Cup.
During the middle part of the 1940’s, my dad returned from the war and we moved as a family to Rivervale WA, a suburb of Perth. Food rationing coupons were still being enforced, which meant clothing, tea, sugar, butter and meat were limited to the number of coupons you had on hand. Butter was limited to 1 lb per household per fortnight, and for most of the war years there was a shortage of quality meat, so for the bulk of the time we ate offal, such as lambs fry, tripe and brains, with sago or tapioca pudding for desert. Rabbit fare was a big highlight for Sunday lunch. Rationing for tea and butter didn’t finish until June 1950. Money was tight back then, and there wasn’t a lot left over for extras, such as visits to the Rivervale picture theatre.
From an early age I had an interest in anything to do with cinema, and we were not long settled when I discovered the local flea house (that’s the Ascot Theatre located on the right of the Great Eastern Highway Rivervale, as you proceed towards Belmont). In my young life a visit to the flicks was always a much looked forward to event, and a major distraction from the social problems that were around us. Even walking by the theatre and checking out the coming attraction posters was a simple enjoyment. The Ascot during the 40’s was indeed a flea house, however in retrospect I use the term with much affection. The building had pretensions of Art Deco, but once you walked through the door all bets were off, as it was really only a dressed up country hall. Perth in the 40’s was still a village with approx 250 thousand people, and Rivervale a bustling, but still pioneering suburb. The front stalls were equipped with wooden benches without backs, while the ceiling featured exposed beams which were curiously decorated with fading streamers, or bunting which fluttered in the projection beam when ever a patron entered or left the theatre.
During the winter of 48 and after a lot of pestering, dad took me to a Friday cartoons & featurette night, (admission for me was one shilling) which included an episode of the Columbia Pictures, Sam Katzman produced, 15-part black-and-white serial “Superman” which starred Kirk Alyn as “The Man of Steel”. Later I was to learn that this was the first live action appearance of Superman on film. Some time during 1948 an open air theatre was built along side the existing cinema with seating for 300, thus becoming “The Ascot Theatre & Gardens”. The term gardens were a stretch as there was very little greenery. The theatre walls and elevated bio box were made from corrugated galvanised iron and A/C sheeting. The colour scheme was yellow with green trimming. On the plus side the sight-lines were excellent and the step down canvas seating always popular with the patrons. The screen was made of flat tin sheeting and was erected with it’s back facing the highway. Of interest the painted (flat black) screen masking featured rounded corners. It was a pleasure to sit under the stars on a hot summers night in the comforting bosom of the new open air gardens. On one such night Perth were having power problems and electricity was being rationed. In this case the power was on for one hour, then browned out for half an hour. So there we sat like lemmings watching the 1946 Monogram Pictures production “The Shadow Returns” in installments, while the power company played musical chairs with our entertainment. I can’t imagine today’s theatre audience accepting this for a micro second.
Later in life and with a lot more savvy I looked into the nut and bolts of the Rivervale Ascot. The Ascot Theatre began as a public hall, opening 22 February 1919. The local Rivervale community and the prominent Newey family raised the funds to build it. Films were shown from the beginning mixed with public events. As time progressed the local committee running the hall ran into debt, and the property was sold and used for a variety of purposes, including a billiard saloon. After World War 2. the hall reverted back for use as a cinema with seating for 250. For many years it was the Belmont district’s only dedicated theatre. In the main the theatre and gardens were operated by R. R. Perrie, who over the decades ran a circuit of theatres in the southern suburbs. This included Armadale Hall & Gardens, Gosnells Hall & Gardens, Queens Park Hall & Gardens and Bayswater Hall & Gardens . R. R. Perrie was a talented visionary and showman, with extensive managerial experience at the prestigious “Prince of Wales” (Perth City) and “Hoyts New Regent” (Perth City)
By 1959 the television juggernaut had began with the launching of TVW-7 Perth, and the resulting devastation of our cinema audience. The Ascot Theatre and Gardens survived longer than most, however were forced to close in 1966. And now after a lifetime of working in the Cinema/Motion Picture Industry this writer looks back with warm appreciation to the Golden Era, and know we have lost something very special with the passing of our suburban Picture Palaces and unique cinemas, such as the humble Ascot Theatre and Gardens in Rivervale WA. …Greg Lynch –