Have you ever parked yourself on the wall behind the apartment block in Manning Street to watch the football on the oval?
Sitting on this spot 80 years ago, you would most likely have been watching a movie instead of a football match, for these walls formed part of the now demolished Antrim Theatre building.
The Antrim Theatre was officially opened on 28th June 1924 by Mr M F Morton, MLA. The first picture screened, ‘The Covered Wagon’, was an American silent western film starring J. Warren Kerrigan and Lois Wilson. The projectionist at the time of opening was Mr Frank Tuohy who was to hold this position under different owners and managers for the next 37 years.
The Antrim was built by its original owner, Mr Alexander George Carson of Kiama and was situated on Manning Street, where the St Tropez apartments are now located. The Antrim Theatre was also a very popular location for many community activities such as school speech and presentation nights, parades, concerts and balls. The Antrim was reputed to have the largest dance floor outside Sydney at the time it was built and had a total seating capacity of 999.
Molly Estelle Mackie in her book “My Kind of Town” (held at Kiama Library) reminisces about the Antrim;
‘When functions such as bands and concerts took place, the seats in the picture show remained in the normal place but when the more grand affairs such as the Annual Diggers Ball, Presentation of Debutantes or Juvenile Fancy Dress Frolic were held, there was an immense amount of extra work removing rows of seats and covering the dance floor in beeswax and candle shavings.’
‘Matinees for the kids, years ago were a Saturday afternoon treat. Youngsters would queue up for an hour before the doors opened, pay sixpence admission and have a few pennies to spend at interval. The program consisted of cartoons, a serial, a James Fitzpatrick Travelogue followed by two ‘big’ pictures, as the main features.’
On 7th June 1928, the Kiama Independent carried the first of a new series of advertisements under the heading of Kiama Cinema. The advertisement included the following inducement:
‘Patrons please note that for 1928 we have secured the pick of the world’s film market and with most film distributors, we will have a pre-release, which means the pictures will be screened at the Kiama cinema before they are shown at the big Sydney Theatres.’
During the winter months of 1928 and for several years following, roller-skating sessions were run on the days when no pictures were screened. On 29th November, 1939, the “Kiama Reporter” reported on the installation of ‘the new talkie equipment’ and that ‘in spite of the war, progress was being maintained.
Kiama now had a theatre of the same standards as some leading Sydney theatres. The first film to be shown using the new sound equipment was ‘Stanley and Livingstone’, with Spencer Tracy.
Orry Kelly, Academy Award winning costume designer and former resident of Kiama, contributed to many films shown at the Antrim – though patrons would not have been aware of this at the time.
Over the following years, the Antrim was to have many owners and in 1967 it was sold to its last and final owner, Hughs Bros. Pty. Ltd., a firm of building contractors. In 1971, Hughs Bros demolished the Antrim and the site was used to build a block of home units.
References:My Kind of Town by Molly Estelle Mackie
With thanks to Malcolm Bedford
There is an image gallery available of the Antrim Theatre