Victory Theatre Antique Centre

100 Years of the Victory Theatre

2015 marks the centenary of the Victory Theatre. Despite the many changes in name, function and appearance, for 100 years it has been an iconic Blackheath landmark and an attraction for locals and visitors alike.
The Victory Theatre, with its contemporaries in Katoomba’s Savoy and Embassy Theatres, represents the rich musical and theatrical history of the upper mountains.
While no films or stage productions have taken place inside its doors since 1960, the building still retains much of the rustic charm which was so adored by its patrons in the days when a shilling still got you a night out.
View of Govetts Leap Road 1917
A view of Govetts Leap Road, 1917. The Arcadia Picture Palace, as the Victory Theatre was originally titled, is pictured, a mere 2 years old at the time.

1915 Arcadia Picture Palace

The Arcadia Picture Palace Facade 1919

Herbert Robert Neate, brother to John and Claude Neate – proprietors of Neate’s stores – was himself a real estate agent in 1914 when he acquired the land on which the Arcadia Picture Palace would be built.

Herbert soon enlisted the services of Sydney architects Hassall and Stockham to draft plans for a picture theatre on the site, and before long, Neate was preparing for opening night in mid 1915 after swift construction.

In its early days, The Arcadia was as much a theatre for film and performance as it was a community hall – seating 800-1000, it hosted meetings, rallies, farewells, celebrations, and even rollerskating. Given the fact many Blackheathens were fighting in the First World War, Anzac services were also very common.

1919 also saw the theatre’s first major event – a celebration on the evening of National Peace Day, 19th July 1919.

Going to the theatre for a flick became the hottest ticket in town. Even in wintertime, when, due to financial restraints, heating equated to a strategically placed fire drum. Warmer weather brought more screenings and events, including popular boxing bouts, in which hometown favourites were pit against foes from rival towns.

The 1920s were good to the theatre, as they were for Blackheath. The community began to embrace the theatre and it saw considerable popularity despite receiving less advertising than its counterparts in Katoomba. During the 20s, the community also held various fundraisers, many of which the Arcadia Theatre, as it was now officially titled, played an important role in. It held functions that raised money for what would become the Memorial Park and its pool, as well as the Memorial Arch
Gala Picture Night at Arcadia Theatrevaluable publicity

1930's & Onwards - Blackheath Talkies & Many More Titles

Blackheath Talkies Latest Film PostersBlackheaths Monarch

In 1924, Neate had sold the theatre to the local butcher, Reginald Delaney. Success followed right through to 1932, when the name was changed to ‘Blackheath Talkies’. With the introduction of sound in cinema, the popular Saturday night screenings were frenetic – the local police officer was required to be present to decongest traffic on Govetts Leap Road.

From the mid-30s onwards, possession of the deeds changed hands multiple times, with each new lease or deed holder inheriting a plethora of fire safety and maintenance issues.

Despite the theatre putting on up to 4 films per week, attendance began to dwindle. Renamed to the Blackheath Picture Palace, followed by the Blackheath Theatre, and finally to the Victory Theatre after World War II, it was clear the good old days of flicks at the Arcadia were numbered with television well on the way.
 
Minor renovations by architect Guy Crick in 1954 proved to be in vain. The Victory Theatre had its final screening on 21st May 1960, going out with a bang, screening the mountains premiere, together with the Savoy, of ‘On The Beach’. After this, the theatre was to close, and a shoe factory was allegedly taking the space, though this never came to fruition. Over the next couple of decades, the theatre changed hands many several times.
 
The theatre was for a time used by Zenewig Boris, who bought the building in 1971. As proprietor of a deli he used the space to manufacture his famous horseradish sauce.
Victory Theatre Home in Indiana Movie Poster
An ad from the Blue Mountains Advertiser 1st December, 1944.

1977 to Present - New Life

Victory Theatre looking upstairs to former projection room
A look upstairs, towards the former projection room

In 1977, the building was reconnected with Blackheath’s turn of the century pioneers, when it was bought by Henry Thomas and Lois Collier. The building had fallen into disrepair and stood virtually empty for some time. In the early 80s, it was briefly used to store furniture, and in 1984, the lease changed hands to David Gerrard, who restored and reopened the building as a retailer of second-hand goods and furniture with a cafe at the rear.

In 1996, the lease was taken over by Ted Greenwood, and at this time the café closed up shop at the rear, and was moved into the old theatre foyer, where it exists today. Ted reorganised the retail component, transforming the shop into something resembling what we see today. It was then that the theatre had the last in a long line of name changes – The Victory Theatre Antique Centre.

In 2000, local restaurateur Terry Tan took charge and revamped the Victory Theatre Cafe, turning it into a bustling, high quality eatery.

A former stockbroker in Malaysia, Terry got into hospitality in the 1980s in Australia, and eventually ran his own restaurant in Bronte, in Sydney’s east. In the early 90s he relocated to the Blue Mountains, running Satay Sultan and Cafe 40 in Katoomba for a number of years before taking the reins at the theatre.

Since the mid-90s, the number of traders inside the antique centre has increased from 1, to over 50, experiencing rapid growth and bringing life to the building that hasn’t been seen since the matinees and Blackheath Brass Band concerts of the 20s and 30s.

If the last 100 years is any indication, we will seldom have a dull moment in the next.

fire and germination
Jenny Kee Mural July 2015
The Jenny Kee mural, July 2015.
19-21 Govetts Leap Road, Blackheath NSW 2785

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