The Silver Screen comes to Box Hill

Imagine living in a new, rapidly developing city: coffee houses abound; tram and train lines are expanding in every direction, many newspapers inform citizens (Trove lists 69 separate Victorian newspapers in 1889). Entertainment Halls dotting the suburbs provide a venue for public and sporting club meetings, Masonic meetings, sale of goods and various ‘entertainments’.

From early 1889 Box Hill had an Entertainment Hall. With few buildings offering address numbers it is unclear how many venues there actually were in Box Hill, however on 10 June 1911 the Box Hill Picture Theatre opened. This new entertainment form was extraordinarily popular with locals packing every session, likely making their way to the theatre by horse-and buggy or car.

Previously Australians had to rely on newspaper articles from overseas, which were often weeks or months old, to inform them of world events. With moving pictures, suddenly a whole new vista opened up. Melburnians could view the fishing industry in Sweden and other wonders. All at a time when Melbourne still had no radio transmissions (these began in 1924).

Eager patrons were seated a half-hour before films began, possibly discussing their favourite serial’s next instalment while listening to the live music provided to accompany the otherwise silent films. Well before the days of weekly television programs, when one could barely wait for the next episode of a favourite show, people flocked to cinemas to view episodic ‘shorts’ such as Trey o’ Hearts1, a 15-episode serial film.

For the 14 November 1914 showing, as well as the latest ‘war pictures’, patrons had requested a viewing of the Melbourne Cup race (won by Kingsburgh at five-toone odds).

The Box Hill Reporter, Friday, 13 November 1914
Full houses are still the rule of the Box Hill picture theatre, which is not surprising, for the programme is, as usual, of the very best quality. Noteworthy items in last Saturday’s programme were “His Guilty Conscience”, a very powerful and finely screened drama; and “Educating His Daughters”, one of the most amusing comedies shown for some time. This was the verdict of those who sat in judgement. Next Saturday, November 14, at 8.15 pm, Mr. Williams will present … by special request, “The Melbourne Cup Race”, together with the latest war pictures.

The Box Hill Reporter, Friday, 29 October 1915
The “Trey o’ Hearts”, the big serial film, which has been showing at the above pictures for the last 15 weeks, came to a finish last Saturday night. Though the weather was very bad, a large crowd which had been following the film right through turned out to see the final series. Another splendid star film, depicting “The Life of Florence Nightingale” was also shown. This splendid picture described fully the hardships of the soldiers and nurses in the Crimean War, the hospitals being almost on the same country as the Australians are now fighting. … Several other interesting pictures booked include “Ostrich Farming”, and the latest war gazettes…

In June 1920 a new picture theatre opened at 936 Whitehorse Road.

The Box Hill Reporter, Friday, 25 June 1920
Next Saturday evening, June 26, will mark the opening of the new picture theatre in White Horse road, Box Hill. This fine, commodious building will be utilised for showing the most up-to-date pictures. The popularity of the moving picture is undoubted, and its educational value is the main essential in making it so popular. From the standpoint of amusement, one sees in the present day as perfect a representation of play, comedy, drama, etc., on the picture screen as in the best theatre, in addition to which the variety of subjects is practically unlimited —a phase of entertainment beyond the power of any other form of amusement. … modern music is another essential branch of the moving picture show, and in building and equipping this theatre which will cater for the public of Box Hill, all these desirable details have been kept in front all the time. In short, Box Hill’s modern theatre will be a combination of comfort, handsome appointments, first-class music, and the very latest in pictures perfectly shown—the very last word in amusement enterprise.

By September 1928 Box Hill had another new picture theatre in the Recreation Hall built in the 1880s.

The Box Hill Reporter, Friday, 14 September 1928
Box Hill is to have a picture theatre, which it is claimed, will be equal to anything of its kind in the suburbs. The Recreation Hall is to be converted and enlarged and plans have already been passed by the Board of Health and the local city council. The new hall will seat 1,200 people, and its design includes a dress circle to accommodate 370, lounges, a foyer, comfortable cloak rooms, retiring rooms with up-to-date lavatories connected with a septic tank system. The installation of a heating system is contemplated, floors will be carpeted, new and comfortable seats will be provided throughout, in fact no detail for the comfort of patrons will be overlooked. The front of the building is to be altered to present a bold appearance and cantilever verandahs added. The whole structure will be raised. These operations will interfere very little with the convenience of the public. The ground floor will still be available for dances, and lodge and ante-rooms will also be available for letting. These alterations are being carried out by the proprietor of the hall, Mr. E.H. Daniel, who is to be commended for his public spirit and enterprise in helping to put Box Hill on the map by the introduction of such an up-to-date theatre.

About Raine Biancalt 35 Articles
Raine Biancalt has a Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing & Editing) and a background in both government and corporate worlds. She enjoys art, history, writing and old movies.