Two heritage-listed pleasure palaces - the Regal Theatre and Cygnet Cinema - will be given new leases of life 75 years after their opening night glory.
A $1.5 million Lotterywest grant will fund the first stage of a planned $5.5 million renovation of the art deco-style Regal in Subiaco.
Work will start late next year on the first major upgrade since the Regal was built as a cinema by the father of WA author Dorothy Hewett in 1938.
Its 1100 seats will be replaced, the stage lighting upgraded and interior paint scheme restored.
Toilets for the disabled, lifts, a new roof and other exterior renovations will be installed once more money is raised.
The Regal was left to the people of WA by its last owner Paddy Baker in 1986 and is run by a venue manager on behalf of the Regal Theatre Foundation.
Foundation chairman Richard Diggins said the Regal desperately needed restoration. The foundation was exploring all fundraising options, including possible sponsor naming rights.
"We hope we can get the full renovation done before we all die," Mr Diggins said. "It is going to be some years but we look forward to making sure that the building exists in the way Paddy Baker thought should happen after he passed on."
The Regal is one of the few venues not subsidised by the State Government and depends on ticket sales and community support for its survival.
Conservation architect and foundation member Ian Hocking said he hoped the full renovation could be finished in five years.
Heritage rules restricted what changes could be done within the existing building so demands for more offices, set storage space, and corporate hospitality facilities could be met later by using adjoining properties, Mr Hocking said.
The local member, Nedlands MLA and Mines, Petroleum and Housing Minister Bill Marmion, said the Lotterywest grant would provide an initial measure of relief for the foundation.
“It is important to stress that more funding is needed in the future to restore the theatre to an appropriate standard,” Mr Marmion said.
The work followed a comprehensive community engagement plan and a phased restoration plan, Mr Diggins said.
“A building compliance investigation is currently in progress from which a more detailed plan will be developed.”
Mr Diggins stressed the Foundation would be financially self–sustaining in the long run, while at the same time making a very meaningful contribution to the community, which was the essential purpose of the Foundation.
The Regal was designed by architect William G. Bennett for the original owner Thomas Hewett and built on the site of the former Coliseum Open Air Gardens at the corner of hay Street and Rokeby Road.
The new cinema was opened on April, 27, 1938, with a glamorous function and screening of Shall We Dance with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
In 1946, Mr Baker (WA’s legendary travelling showman who took movies to towns all over the State) bought the theatre and lived in a flat upstairs.
The theatre started hosting live performances in 1952. The stars to have appeared there include Barry Humphries, Marcel Marceau, Harry Secombe, John Cleese, Slim Dusty and Billy Connolly.
In 1977 the building was leased by Stan Bird and John Thornton, who installed air-conditioning, red carpets and seats rescued from the Ambassadors, Capitol, Grand and Metro theatres before they were demolished.
In 1985, Mr Baker established the Baker Theatre Trust to ensure his beloved theatre would continue to provide entertainment for the people of WA. He died a year later - aged 87 - in the Regal. The upstairs Paddy’s Bar occupies part of his former flat. And the red chair, where he used to sit and watch the crowds entering, remains in the foyer.
Como’s Cygnet Cinema is getting $100,000 from a $1.26 million pool of 24 heritage grants from the State Government.
The grant will allow the Cygnet’s owners to upgrade the electrical and the fire prevention systems and install a digital projector, which is vital if Perth’s most authentic (that is, least altered) 1930s-era suburban cinema is to remain viable in the era of the multiplex.
Colin Stiles, whose father James built the then Como Theatre in 1938, was grateful for the lifeline because the cinema was still an important part of the cultural life of Perth’s southern suburbs.
“Cinemas such as the Cygnet can’t possibly match what’s on offer at the multiplexes. But people still love the ambience of these old-style theatres,” said Mr Stiles, who remembers the days when trams pulled up in front of the theatre on a Saturday night to pick up patrons after the last session.
It is hoped that the digital upgrade is the first stage in converting the Cygnet into a multiplex, with the beautifully preserved Inter-War Functionalist-style building retained and screens added around it.
“Change is inevitable. It is how we manage that change that determines how we retain things that are culturally significant to a community,” Mr Stiles said.
Others historic buildings that will benefit in this round of money for conservation works include the Fremantle Post Office, the Septimus Burt Boatshed in Freshwater Bay, London Court and the Postal Hall in the Old Treasury Buildings.