294 Sydney Road,
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Previously operated by: Hoyts Theatres
Architects: Frank G. Richardson
Previous Names: Pictureland
Located in the north Melbourne district of Brunswick. In 1908 Pictureland was run by partners Messrs Johnston & Gibson. The pair were the first to advertise the venue then known as Pictureland, complete with vaudeville acts presented in a magnificent open-air amphitheatre. Messrs Johnston & Gibson were renting the land. They soon recieved an offer from J & N Tait and left to form Amalgamated Pictures - Out of this came the birth of the Greater Union circuit. In 1909 Neil Gow had been the manager of Pictureland for Johnston & Gibson, and was well in a position to take over the lease. He called it “Neil Gow’s Open Air Retreat”. In 1912 Neil Gow was forced out when Thomas Crisp of ‘The Empire Picture Theatre Company’ purchased the land and decided to build the Empire Theatre.
The Empire Theatre was opened to a huge crowd on 27th June 1912. It was a grand affair officiated by the Mayor of Brunswick. The architect was Frank G. Richardson and the builder was John Carey. In 1913 it was decided that the Lyric Theatre, Brunswick would merge to form the Brunswick Theatres Ltd. In 1926 Hoyts Theatres leased the Empire Theatre from Brunswick Theatres Ltd. In 1929 the Empire Theatre became the first Brunswick theatre to install ‘talkies’ when Warner Baxter in “In Old Arizona” was screened. It was the first ‘talkie’ western movie. The Lyric Theatre was closed in 1930. In 1937 Hoyts built and opened their own theatre, the Padua Theatre and did not renew their lease on the Empire Theatres. The Empire Theatre would continue under the Brunswick Theatre Ltd. banner until 1948 when they sold the Empire Theatre to the Kings Theatres chain.
By 1957, Television had all but destroyed the cinema business. The Empire Theatre was revived by screening Italian films. In 1965 the Greek owned Cosmopolitan Motion Pictures chain purchased the Empire theatre outright. They introduced a policy of screening Greek movies and for a while business was very good. The nearby Padua Theatre had gone over to screening Italian movies in 1968. Eventually the Greek audience drifted away and the Empire Theatre was closed in 1975.
In 1976 the Empire Theatre was destroyed by fire.
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