Port Theatre

220 Bay Street,
Melbourne, VIC 3207

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Additional Info

Functions: Retail

Previous Names: Port Melbourne Theatre

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Port Theatre

Located in the west inner city Melbourne district of Port Melbourne, at the corner of Bay Street and Liardet Street. The Port Melbourne Theatre was opened in 1913. It was built by Mr. Alexander Rogers with a 1,000-seat capacity, on the site of the Fire Brigade Hotel, once the site of the Foundry Hotel. The site was purchased for £5.00. Alex Rogers was a high achiever and a prominent citizen of Sandridge. Sandridge was the name of the locality at the head of Hobsons Bay where Colonial passengers disembarked to journey across the sandy land between there and the Yarra River, Melbourne. It is now known as Port Melbourne.

Mr. Rogers sat on the Council from 1904 to 1910, and was Mayor in 1908-1909, retiring from the Council in 1910 because of ill health. Later he was to become the member for Melbourne in the Legislative Assembly. While in Parliament he served as Labor Party whip, and a member of the House Committee. Alex Rogers MLA was an enthusiastic cinema owner who journeyed to Hollywood in 1918 to satisfy his fascination with movies. While there he was given the grand tour around the studios and fraternised with Charles Chaplin and supped with Douglas Fairbanks.

On 17th May 1924 the Observer newspaper reported a fire at the Port Melbourne Picture Theatre. A woman’s leg was broken, and several other persons were badly bruised as panic broke out. Many of the 500 strong crowd suffered from shock as the fire took hold, and a stampede towards the exits began. Flames could be seen shooting from the operator’s box situated under the gallery at the rear of the theatre. The cinematograph operator Mr. Roy Geer was burned about the face by the rapidly spreading flames which was caused by nitrate film tearing and igniting the film gate. Adults and children were crushed in the rush, while cloaks and other wearing apparel were deserted. The police reported that immediately the panic started pickpockets became active and relieved women of their handbags. The fire was extinguished with approximately £500 damaged caused by the outbreak (Note:- Roy Geer had a long and successful career as a projectionist with Hoyts Theatres which lasted well into the 1960’s.)

On August 2, 1928 Alexander Rogers died from an extended illness. He was given a state funeral, leaving a widow and grown family. The operation of the theatre was passed on to his son George Alexander Rogers, who for some time had acted in a managerial capacity. In 1935 following in the footsteps of his father he was elected Mayor of Port Melbourne. By 1952 the suburb of Port Melbourne had become over-seated with the emergence of the Eclipse Theatre, and theatres close by in Albert Park. The Port Melbourne Theatre with rapidly diminishing returns at the box office was offered to Hoyts Theatres on a rental basis, however that offer was refused.

The press announced in April 1952 that “The old Port Theatre, built 39 years ago will close and become a distribution centre for Masse Batteries, the Australian firm of battery manufacturers. The price in the new sale, is reliably stated to be £25,000. Masse Batteries (Vic) Pty have plans to expand the market for its products in Victoria and Tasmania, The vendor, a former mayor of Port Melbourne, Mr. George Alexander Rogers, whose father Alexander Rogers died in 1928 is retiring. He has managed the cinema for over 24 years, except during the period 1922 to 1928, when he was proprietor of a brick works in Morwell. Built in 1913, the old Port Theatre dates back to the silent picture days, when "Les Miserables” and “The Battle of Gettysburg” were ‘box office’, in this new and exciting medium of Motion Picture exhibition. Closing its doors in 1952, senior residents affectionately remember the theatre as a ‘flea house’ and for a place for a cuddle in the back stalls.

Later the former theatre became used for office space by the Keep Australia Beautiful Council. In 2016 it was in retail use as a Telstra shop. On 30th August 2015 a fire destroyed the Port Theatre causing an estimated $2 million worth of damage. More than 60 firefighters arrived at the scene and brought the fire under control. It is thought to have been started by an electrical fault. The old Port Theatre has been decimated, while its skeleton sits empty in Bay Street waiting for its next phase in it existence.

Contributed by Ken Roe, Greg Lynch

Recent comments (view all 1 comments)

davidcoppock on July 13, 2019 at 2:16 am

The building is now a Telstra Shop.

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