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               Showman T. J. West's bold decision to open ‘the world's biggest picture theatre’ in Melbourne,
                   upstaged the traditional theatre district, and reinforced the notion of the south side of
                                 Princes Bridge as an alternative entertainment precinct.
                                                    By Peter Wolfenden

            When The Kinematograph and                                         located on part of an entertainment
          Lantern Weekly (London) informed its                                 complex known as Princes Court. The
          readers in 1909 that the world’s biggest                             Wirth brothers built a new circus
          picture theatre had opened in                                        hippodrome nearby.
          Melbourne,  the scale of the enterprise                                 The old Olympia, seating 3,670
          and the fact that it was the first                                   people, opened for movies on 12
          purpose-built picture house for the city,                            October 1907. Admission ranged from
          was news indeed. In Melbourne, a paid                                six pence to two shillings (five cents to
          inclusion in The Argus reported that:                                20 cents). (4)
            West’s opened last night to an                                        In 1908 a show at Wests lasted
          enormous audience who were                                           about two hours, twenty minutes. A
          unanimous in their expression of                                     typical West’s Olympia program
          delightful surprise at the wonderful                                 included:
          forethought shown by the management                                     Canals of Sweden, Julius Caesar,
          for their pleasure and comfort.                                      The Little Plaster Seller, Toy Making, A
            The theatre was the creation of                                    Gay Old Dog, Snapshots in India,
          Thomas James West, usually referred to                               Peggy’s First Prance, Katie’s Birthday,
          as T. J. West, a name unknown to                                     a Rifle Bill series, and a host of other
          cinema patrons today.  But about a                                   subjects, ‘both grave and gay.’ (5)
          hundred years ago, Mr. West was an                                      Definitely something for everyone!
          extremely powerful and well-known
                                                                                  Wests ran one show a day; the most
          operator, not only in Australia but also
                               (1)                                             popular by far was on Saturday
          New Zealand and the UK.
                                                                               evening. At every show West’s Full
            West was an interesting character, a                               Military Band of 24 bandsmen
          man obviously sure of himself and one                                provided the accompaniment. (4)
          who did not shy away from big
                                                                                  West had a reputation for high-class
          decisions. He became involved in
                                                                               musical accompaniment. The
          moving pictures at their time of great
                                                                               Handbook of Kinematography included
          expansion and public interest.
                                                                               him as an example when it stated:
            Born in London on 1 April 1855,                                    …but real concert artistes lend tone to
          West first worked in the box office of                               the picture theatre, as has been proved
          the St. James Hall. He became                                        over and over again at shows run by
          treasurer of Hardy Gillard's American                                Mr. T.J. West, Mr. Dove Paterson and
          Panorama (which brought him into                                     other leading showmen. (6)
          contact with motion pictures). He
                                                                                  Up until this time, moving pictures
          travelled to America and by the age of
                                                                               were screened in converted halls,
          30 was managing a number of
                                                                               legitimate theatres, and converted shop-
          theatrical establishments.
                                                                               fronts. In country towns the most
            West developed his skills as a                                     suitable venue was often the local
          public lecturer, probably speaking to                                Mechanics’ Institute Hall.
          lantern slides- a very Victorian activity.
                                                                                  In Sydney, West operated at the
          An eloquent speaker could turn a dry
                                                                               Glaciarium; in Perth at His Majesty’s
          subject into a great night’s
                     (3)                    T. J.West and his Australasian cinema  and a touring company visited the
                                            holdings.                          larger country towns in South Australia
            When projected motion pictures                                     and Victoria. Another company
          became the novelty all the public    West’s first commercial venue was  operated in Queensland and at the
          noticed, T.J. certainly took notice! He  in Edinburgh. He then moved to New  Centennial Hall in Brisbane. (4)
          was intrigued with the Kinematograph  Zealand where he established four  In Melbourne, West leased the
          and its potential business opportunities.     travelling circuits based on Wellington,  Olympia for about two years before he
            According to one report West at  Christchurch, Auckland and Dunedin,  opened his own theatre. He took a long-
          once saw its enormous possibilities,  commencing in 1904 at His Majesty’s  term lease on a block of land reportedly
          and from that day to this he has been a  Theatre. (4)                adjacent to the Olympia. (7)
          faithful adherent to this scientific form
                                               By 1908 West was well and truly    In fact the site was across the road
          of what one might call educational
                   (3)                      established in Melbourne. He leased the  from the Olympia, in the wedge
                                            original Olympia from Wirth’s Circus,  formed by the intersection of Sturt
          6   2006 CINEMARECORD
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