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A Family                                                      By

                            Affair:                                                   Ian Smith

                    unding the construction of a suburban
                 Fpicture-theatre was often the ‘next big
                 thing’ for a local businessman in the heady
                 days  of  cinema  expansion  immediately
                 after World War I.

                 What was unusual, especially by 1924, was
                 for a family with no formal architectural or
                 other training to design the theatre, project
                 manage  its  construction,  then    have  it
                 accepted as a prestige suburban Regent.
                 Yet Sam Millsom and his sons, shouldered
                 all that responsibility, and pulled it off.
                 The Millsom family’s timing was perfect.
                 Associated  Theatres  Pty.  Ltd.  was  a
                 company with a bold vision, thanks to its
                 governing director F.W. Thring.
                                                              Above: Opening year 1925. The high arch frames a ploughman and his horses.
              Thring was keen for the public to link the name      Pediments and quorns are emphasised.  Re-mastered by Barrie Wraith.
              Regent with superior venues in which to enjoy
              motion  pictures.   By  accepting  the  Millsom   For  his  first  Regent  Thring  turned  to   into adulthood. Each of the surviving boys
              theatre he was able to open three Regents in 1925:   his  friend,  Melbourne  architect,  Cedric   entered  the  firm.  Their  descendants  have
              the flagship Regent South Yarra in April, Regent   Ballantyne. The success of this commission   many stories about the family involvement
              Thornbury  in  June  and  Regent  Gardiner    guaranteed  that  Ballantyne  would  design   with  theatres,  but  no  primary  documents
              in September.                      other stand-out examples, including some in   about  preparations  for  Thornbury  survive.
                                                 New Zealand.                       For  some  of  this  story  a  bit  of  conjecture
              Thring  must  have  seen  something  in  Sam                          must suffice.
              Millsom  which  convinced  him  that  this   For the third Regent the Associated directors
              family could pull off their part of the bargain.   chose  Sydney  architect  Charles  Bohringer,   When  construction  was  well  advanced,  the
              The Millsom company letterhead stated their   who,  in  a  prolific  career,  would  also  have   Member  for  Northcote,  John  Cain  Senior
              accomplishments as Fibrous Plaster Experts,   some  prestige  theatres  to  his  credit.  The   received a letter: ‘The disquieting rumours to
              Architects and Figure Modellers, skills learned   Millsoms were in distinguished company.   the  effect  that  the  New  Theatre  (Regent)  …
              without  recourse  to  formal  apprenticeships    Sam  Millsom  Senior  had  14  children  of   through  faulty  construction  is  unsafe  should
              or degrees.                        whom five sons and five daughters lived long   be authenticated one way or the other. ….An
                                                                                    inspection  and  an  announcement  from  the
                                                                                    Authorities  would  be  reassuring.’   After
                                                                                    checking  on  progress  the  council  Building
                                                                                    Inspector reported that nothing was amiss. This
                                                                                    was not the only time in the history of cinema
                                                                                    construction  in  Melbourne  that  envy  tried  to
                                                                                    trump enterprise.

                                                                                       Left: Foyer dome and its surrounds show-off
                                                                                        The modellers’ skills. Image: Ren Millsom.
                                                                                       Below: A cable tram passes the new Regent.

                                                                                       CINEM AREC ORD  2012      9
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