Westgarth Cinema

Corner Barry and High Streets, Westgarth

Westgarth Cinema, on the corner of Barry Street and High Street, Westgarth was built in 1921, and was known as the Westgarth Picture Theatre. It was officially opened on October 20th, 1921, the main feature being 'Anne of Green Gables' starring Mary Miles Minter. Westgarth was a small area in the south of Northcote, named after William Westgarth, a revered English merchant who derived an enormous profit from 45 acres of land he had acquired in 1845 on the Brunswick side of Merri Creek.

The builder was 26 year old John Seccull of Barry Street, and at the time the theatre was the biggest project that the firm had undertaken. It was financed locally as well as being created by a local. Directors of the theatre were Sam Dennis, Arthur Shands, William Horan and F. Yeomans. E.C. Yeomans was appointed secretary and manager.

In 1924, Westgarth Picture Theatre was one of 23 cinemas involved the Melbourne Cinema Alliance which allowed them to buy films in bulk without the obligation of screening them. It was refurbished in 1929, and there was a myth surrounding this refurbishment relating to an association with the well-known architect, Walter Burley Griffin. However, as no documents could substantiate this, it is possible that a protégé of Griffin's may have designed the Westgarth's foyer in Griffin's style. In September 1929, The Westgarth showed its first 'talkie'. Some modifications took place during the 1930s, including new seating, a dimmer, new heating and ventilation systems and an additional storey. In 1941, there was a major electrical overhaul from aisle lights to the main switchboard. During the 1950s, more modifications were made to accommodate technical developments in the industry.

The cinema was bought in the 1960s by Peter Yiannoudes and gave the Greek population of Northcote an opportunity to see films in their own language. Films in other languages were given a showing, too. A stage extension in the 1980s meant concerts could be held.

In 1987 The Valhalla Cinema moved location from Richmond into the Westgarth when its lease there ran out. It showed art-house, nostalgic, foreign and cult movies an airing. The Valhalla did not renew its lease in 1996,but the Yiannoudes' family continued to operate the theatre, combining the new releases with the other genres. In 2006, it was bought by Palace Cinemas who re-opened it after adding 2 more cinemas within the building while retaining its integrity.

CinemaRecord. The Cinema and Theatre Historical Society Victoria. 'The Westgarth Picture Theatre' by Cameron Hall. Issue 32 Autumn, 2001.

'The Westgarth Theatre'. 80th Anniversary Commemoration Magazine, [2001].