Renown Theatre

378 Glenhuntly Road,
Melbourne, VIC 3185

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Hoyts Theatres

Firms: Richardson & Wood, Thomas Watts & Sons

Styles: Art Deco

Previous Names: Phoebe Picture Theatre, Hoyts Renown Theatre

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Hoyts Renown Theatre

Located in the south Melbourne district of Elsternwick, on Glenhuntly Road near to the corner of Carre Street. The Picture Gardens were built at 378 Glenhuntly Road and opened on October 16, 1915 with a short feature titled “The Man From India” which starred Stewart Rome & Violet Hopson. The venue operated during summer months for a short 7-month period. The seating capacity was approximately 1,000. The following year the open-air was replaced with the Phoebe Picture Theatre which opened on 1st April 1916. The architects were Messrs Thomas Watts & Sons., and the builders Messrs L. & J. Roswell. The land was purchased for £4,000.00 while the theatre was built at a cost of £6,000.00, with a seating capacity of 1,400.

The Phoebe Picture Theatre was named after the wife of the owner Ignatius La Page. The word Phoebe is a Latinized form of the Greek (Phoibe), which means ‘bright & pure’. The Phoebe Theatre was constructed of brick and was erected within a 12-weeks period. A lever veranda afforded ample shelter from the weather, while the entrance to the main building was accessed through a wide handsome foyer. The seats were upholstered in American leather. The frontage measured 76ft, with the main hall featuring a depth of 100ft in length, and a gentle grade to the front, thus enabling patrons of the era to view the screen in comfort. The orchestra well was sunk to an extent as to not interfere with general sightlines. On the curious side the theatre was built without a proscenium with a screen painted on the front wall.

Mr. G. Bond was confirmed as the theatre manager who immediately announced that the opening programme for the Phoebe Picture Theatre would be the very popular Hazel Dawn production “Niobe”, sourced through Paramount Pictures.. He went on to confirm the theatre would have a policy of film supplemented by live entertainment. This would be under the very capable musical direction of Mr. Cecil Fraser, formerly of the Prahran Lyric Theatre orchestra.

Hoyts purchased the Phoebe Picture Theatre early in 1921 for £45,000.00. Geo. B.O. Griffith, managing director of Hoyts negotiated the purchase and immediately began a major refurbishment. A name change becoming the first order of the business. The name ‘Renown’ was selected in a competition among patrons of the Phoebe Picture Theatre, however there is evidence to suggest that Hoyts executives were inspired by the visit of Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor to Melbourne in 1920. Edward travelled on the HMS Renown as part of a Royal Visit. (Edward would later ascend the throne and became King Edward VIII). The following year Hoyts significantly re-named the Phoebe Theatre the Renown Theatre.

Hoyts appointed Cecil W. Fraser to the position of manager. The additions made to the Renown Theatre were at a cost of £11,000.00 which enabled 1,700 people to be seated comfortably. 1,200 in the stalls and 500 in the commodious circle. To cater for the additional seating in the circle the roof was raised by 6ft. Adequate fresh air was provided by the installation of the typhoon ventilation scheme, which gave 38 cubic feet of fresh air per minute to each person when the theatre is filled. This fine up-to-date theatre had been altered and decorated in a most artistic manner, with panels by George Lloyd being a special feature. The alterations were carried out by Messrs Richardson & Wood (architects), and Brockie & Irving (builders).

The grand reopening was on the evening of 1st June 1921. On the night Councillor Packer, Mayor of Caulfield confronted with sustained enthusiastic applause spoke glowingly of the extensive Hoyts refurbishment, and then officially declared the packed theatre open. The proceeds of the night went to the Victorian Institute for the blind & Blind Soldiers Association. Hoyts decided to continue the policy of film supported by live entertainment, and Mr Foster was asked to return to his position of musical director and lead the Renown symphony orchestra of 8 musicians. The Hoyts Renown Theatre continued to operate profitably and was extensively refurbished, including the modernization of the façade in 1940.

In 1954 alterations were made to accommodate 20th Century Fox’s big screen process CinemaScope. A metal tubular frame was built across the face of the existing proscenium to lace up the new Miracle Mirror screen. Then black masking was installed to frame the screen top and bottom, while movable motorized black side masking was installed to cater for all known screen formats. New curtains were hung from an outwardly curved track, complete with valance to hide the track. The curtain track was installed by Tulley Curtain tracks. There was a similar curved track installed in 1959 at the Esquire Theatre, Melbourne, for the release of “South Pacific” in 70mm. The owner of the Renown Theatre at the time was George Griffith Jr.

The Renown Theatre traded well until the advent of television, and somehow managed to survive by diversifying into specialized product. A fire in 1970 led to the demolition of the theatre. This valuable main road site was finally cleared for the construction of a multi level retail and apartment site. The development was fittingly named ‘Renown Apartments

Contributed by Ken Roe, Greg Lynch
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