THE Mildura Historical Society currently has a fascinating display in the street facing window of the former Carnegie Library building, now home to the society, which features memorabilia from former Mildura cinemas and drive-in theatres.
The really interesting aspect of this exhibition is how it highlights just how many cinemas there have been in Mildura during the past century or so.
Many of our older residents will recall the Astor and Ozone picture theatres and the Hoyts Sixteenth Street and Crossroads drive-ins, all of which closed many decades ago, the Crossroads being the last, in 1984.
The fact is though, that there have been many others some in different locations around the town but interestingly, the site of the Astor Theatre was home to several other theatre names.
The first cinema there was the Paramount, which opened in 1923, not long after the name was changed to Wonderland until 1937, when the Astor opened. All of the Astor’s seating was on a single floor. In later years it would be operated by Ozone Theatres and then by Hoyts Theatres.
It was closed on June 24, 1967 and today it is the site of the Mildura Brewery Pub.
Another of Mildura’s little know picture houses was the The Olympia Theatre which was located on the corner of Orange Avenue and Eighth Street.
The venue was a popular hall that was used for a variety of purposes, like many of the venues that screened films in the early days of cinema.
As well as having a regular film program, the hall hosted concerts and at one point even functioned as a dance hall known as ‘Palais de Danse’.
It’s history as a cinema is believed to have dated back to 1913.
There was also the Capital Theatre which was in Langtree Avenue in the building that was once occupied by Ishka. It was the shortest-lived of Mildura’s cinemas lasting just three years between 1935 and 1938.
Mildura’s most well known cinema was The Ozone, which opened on December 15, 1938. The Ozone was designed by renowned cinema architects, H. Vivian Taylor and Soilleux, who also worked on six other cinemas in Victoria from 1935 to 1941, including the famous Rivoli Theatre in the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell.
The Ozone, located in Langtree Avenue, was a large theatre with downstairs stalls − ‘the cheap seats’ − and an upstairs lounge for those who could afford to pay a bit more and could avoid the often boisterous kids attending the Saturday matinee.
It’s true that sound of Jaffas could often be heard rolling down the theatre’s isle during the Saturday matinees courtesy of some of the cheeky kids having fun at the movies.
Hoyts Theatres took over in later years and closed the Ozone down on June 23, 1971.
The final program was ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ starring Robert Mitchum and John Mills.
The building stood empty for several years until it was replaced by a Commonwealth Bank which has now relocated to Lime Avenue.
Four years after the Ozone closed its doors, Mildura gained a new cinema.
Cinema Deakin opened in 1975, and 10 years later a second screen was added.
The cinema also changed its name to the Deakin Cinema Complex and today the theatre is known as the Wallis Cinema.
The Sixteenth Street Drive-in opened in December, 1958 at the corner of Sixteenth Street and Deakin Avenue. It closed in January, 1979.
The site is now occupied by homes and one of the street names is Hoyts Drive, another Hollywood Boulevard.
Mildura’s second drive-in theatre − the Crossroads − opened on October 14, 1963, at the corner of Fifteenth Street and Deakin Avenue and it operated for 21 years before closing in 1984.
The drive-in site was demolished and became a caravan park.
It is now occupied by an Aldi supermarket.
The Historical Society’s window display will run until December, after which the group will set up its Christmas window.
Volunteers are welcome to join the Historical Society who is always looking for new members to keep the organisation going and to allow them to continue their important work in documenting and preserving Mildura’s rich history, both now and into the future.
For more information contact Judi Hyde on: 0418 596 135.
* Some reference material included in this article was sourced from: www.thecinemasproject.com.au and cinematreasures.org.
By JOHN DOOLEY