Lorne Theatre

78 Mountjoy Parade,
Lorne, VIC 3232

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Lorne Theatre (Official)

Additional Info

Functions: Live Music Venue, Movies (First Run), Movies (Foreign), Movies (Independent)

Styles: Art Deco

Previous Names: Lorne Cinema

Nearby Theaters

Lorne Theatre 78 Mountjoy Parade, Lorne, VIC

Located in the beach resort of Lorne, to the southwest of Melbourne. The two-storey Lorne Cinema with its rendered concrete Art Deco style facade, which opened in 1937, is the only cinema in Surf Coast Shire still showing films According to a recent study of Art Deco style cinemas in Victoria, the Lorne Cinema in one of the relatively few such cinemas built in Victoria, and one of the few that have survived.

The Lorne Theatre has long entertained locals and visitors along the Great Ocean Road. An Art Deco style theatre in the Streamline Moderne style, its symmetrical facade, parapet, and iconic vertical sign open-up to Terrazzo floors, geometric ceiling panels, metal balustrading, lush carpets, and an impressive 670-seat auditorium with a mezzanine. The curtain over the screen were originally operated by a pully system of 100-metres of rope running from the stage to the projection room. Almost 87 years later the Lorne Theatre embraces the adage of ‘the good old days are now’.

The Lorne Picture Theatre Company was established as early as 1915. The partners were Albert Jarratt, photographer; J.T. Anderson, president of the Lorne Progress Association; Jack Stirling, a prominent Lorne resident and Jim & Bill Dormann, well-known local butchers.

According to Jarratt family records, the site on Marine (now Mountjoy) Parade on which the cinema stands, was bought from Jim Dorman. Albert Jarratt supervised the making of the cement blocks on the vacant land in preparation for the construction of a new theatre which was designed by Charlie Frase and built by Mr. Owen. Lyn Jarratt, Albert’s son, helped to make up the new sound system.

Opening night in 1937 was a grand occasion in Lorne, despite some problems with the lighting and the sound system which was due to some fault in their manufacture. To make matters worse, one of the projectors began to seize up not long after the interval. Lyn later told how he could remember standing by and squirting oil into the seizing projector for the remainder of the show.

The late-1930’s were important years for the resort town of Lorne with increasing numbers of tourists flocking there in the summer season after the completion of the Great Ocean Road. The Chalet and the Cumberland opened during the same era as the new Lorne Cinema. Lorne was now a major holiday destination.

The events that led to the opening of the cinema are told in the history of the Jarratt family, pioneer photographers and cinema proprietors. This history compiled by Lyn Jarratt between 1996 and 1991 is held by the Lorne Historical Society.

Albert Jarratt (1886-1962) was born in Ruby near Leongatha in Gippsland. He was the youngest of a large family on 11 boys and 2 girls. The Jarratt’s ran a butcher’s shop and farm, some of the older boys working in the timber industry. Albert went to Ruby State School but had to leave at an early age to help at home. However, the local schoolmaster, Mr Mead, took an interest in the boy and taught him about electricity and photography.

Albert became a competent photographer and found employment with a postcard publishing company in Melbourne. As a result, he traveled to beauty spots all over Victoria, much of it by foot. In 1908, he was sent to Lorne and like it so much, he gave up his job and decided to stay there.

In 1910, Albert set up a photography business at Lorne. He sold photographs of Lorne and group photographs of visitors to various beauty spots, such as Erskine Falls and the Phantom Falls. Many Jarratt photographs have survived, including a number of natural portraits made during the construction of the Great Ocean Road.

After Jarratt installed an electric light plant for his business (most probably the first in Lorne), Winchelsea Shire Council commissioned him to install streetlights throughout the town. He brought a large oil engine and generator, and a set of batteries, and ran wires from the bridge to the Pacific Hotel with poles carrying streetlights. This early electric supply later went to the Erskine House, Carinya, and many guest houses and private homes. Eventually the Shire and, later the S.E.C, took over the supply of electricity to Lorne township.

In 1915 Albert married Mary Ethel Seymour in All Saints Church with a reception at Carinya. During the same year, a travelling picture show came to Lorne. The owner was in financial trouble and offered his equipment for sale. Following its formation, the Lorne Picture Theatre Company bought him out. They built a first picture theatre on a large block of land on the Lorne foreshore, part of the Mounjoy Erskine House property. Opening night was late-1916. This theatre showed silent films supplied at first by Jack McFarland, a friend of Jack Anderson, who owned the Yarraville Picture Theatre and later the Regent Theatre, Ballarat.

Albert was the projectionist, and the original projector was a French ‘Pathe, which was hand operated. Light was provided by carbon arc. The audience sat on forms and a pianola provided the music. This theatre proved to be so popular, particularly during the holiday seasons, that it was decided to build a larger one alongside. It was twice as large and had a dress circle and more comfortable seating. The old building became a dance hall known as “The Beach Hall”. By the end of the 1920’s, the new picture theatre began to show 'talking’ pictures.

The Age Newspaper reported during December 1933 that the Lorne Picture Theatre Company had erected a roller-skating rink as a special attraction in an effort to attract more customers. This was common in Australian theatres during that period as an extra means to combat the Depression that was sweeping the world.

Four years later it was decided to build the present Lorne Cinema in Mountjoy Parade, but on the south side of Grove Road. It is shown on the 1938 Winchelsea Shire Engineer’s Plan of Lorne Township in Mountjoy Parade next to the San Toy Cafe.

Albert Jarratt, whose son Lyn was born in 1916, continued to run his photography business, which over the years also sold wool, fancy goods, china and glassware, schoolbooks, pens & pencils, and souvenirs. In 1932, a dwelling had been built at the rear of the shop and this became the Jarratt family home.

Toward the end of his life, Albert began to suffer from dermatitis caused by the photographic chemicals and handed over the film processing and the running of the theatre to his son Lyn. Albert’s wife died on 19th June 1959 and he died on 1st August 1962. Lyn and his wife ran the family business and the theatre until December 1981. During the final month the Lorne Theatre hosted the World Premiere of “Dead Man’s Float” (aka “Smugglers Cove). This brought many celebrated stars to Lorne including Sally Boyden, Gus Mecurio & Marcel Cugola. That same year the Jarratt’s moved to Canberra and a well-deserved retirement. Lyn Jarratt was a much-loved gentle man whose family was regarded as significant pioneers of Lorne and its surrounding areas. The Jarratt era had finally come to an end.

Change came when Ken Todd, who has been involved with the movie industry for more than 50-years, and his wife, Nanette, bought the Lorne Cinema in 1981. “The Picture Palace on the Coast”, as it is called by Todd and his manager, industry stalwart Alby Petherick. The old cinema shows a range of films from Hollywood blockbusters to art and foreign language features. Films are shown for 10-months of the year and during the Christmas to Easter season. There are up to 5 sessions a day with as many as three different movies. The Lorn Cinema attracts large numbers of tourists and holidaymakers.

Todd claimed that the Lorne Cinema was “one of the few remaining original single-screen movie houses left in country Victoria. He pointed out that it has never been closed, and since the day it opened, it has only been used as a cinema. The two original projectors are on display in the foyer. The Todds also ran films over the Christmas period at public halls in Anglesea and Apollo Bay.

Another recent change: The team behind Sydney’s beloved Golden Age Cinema & Bar and Melbourne’s Rooftop Cinema, brothers Barrie, Bob & Chris Barton, have taken over the beautiful Art Deco style Lorne Theatre on Victoria’s Surf Coast. Since 1937 the cinema has operated within spitting distance of the beach, screening almost 90 years' worth of films to locals and holiday goers, including the Barton’s, who spent their childhoods holidaying in the seaside town. The now 550-seat cinema reopened on 1st December 2023 for a pop-up summer season that will last until Easter 2024 when it closes once again. This time for an extensive renovation under the watch of Heritage Victoria. The renovation will be highlighting its existing historic features, while updating the seating, lighting, acoustics, snacks & programming. A licensed bar will also be installed. It would seem that the future for the Lorne Theatre is now assured.

Contributed by Greg Lynch
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