Page 14 - CR31R.pdf
P. 14

Theatre concerns an alleged association of revered architect
                                                              Walter Burley Griffin. Numerous press reports and perpetuat-
                                                              ed hearsay evidence inform of an adornment performed at the
                                                              Westgarth Theatre during the early to mid 1930s by Griffin.
                                                              An examination of three indices of the works of Walter Burley
                                                              Griffin and a consultation with the RMIT Department of
                                                              Architecture could not substantiate this claim. Mr John
                                                              Baggott, son of early post  World  War 2 Manager, Jack
                                                              Baggott, advised that this argument had arisen many years ago
                                                              and his father was most adamant that Griffin had no involve-
                                                              ment whatsoever with the Westgarth Theatre. Former employ-
                                                              ee of the 1920s, Mr Jack Nicholls, reiterated this view.
                                                                 Certainly the geometric detail of the foyer decorations do
                                                              bear a powerful resemblance to Griffin’s style. However,
                                                              Griffin departed Melbourne in 1924 to live at Castlecrag. It is
          Above: Doors to balcony from dress circle foyer.
          Right: Dress circle foyer.  Photos: Adrian Maiolla.

          weakness I fell to these persuasions.” A $5 fine was the out-
          come. Perhaps the Westgarth had already reached its apogee,
          so early in such a long life.
            The 1920s ended with a surge of innovative flair and ambi-
          tion as a direct corollary of the arrival of films with sound,
          ‘talkies’. This encouraged the first significant remodelling of
          the Westgarth Picture Theatre. On 29 July 1929, approval was
          received for the installation of french polished Tasmanian Oak
          vestibule doors by the Northcote company H Stevens & Son
          Pty Ltd. For several weeks workmen were engaged in making
          extensive alterations and an elaborate scheme of decoration
          was introduced. According to the Northcote Leader, the hand-  possible that a protégé of Griffin’s may have designed the
          some  Westgarth  Theatre could now compare “more than  Westgarth Theatre foyer in Griffin’s style, perhaps with the
          favourably” with the interior of city houses of entertainment.  1924 Melbourne Capitol Theatre as inspiration. Eric Milton
            Contemporary Westgarth Theatre audiences can admire a  Nicholls entered into a partnership agreement with Griffin in
          very attractive plaster overhead design before the proscenium.  1923 and remained his closest associate until Griffin’s death in
          It can be confirmed that this was not part of the original ceil-  1937. Nicholls remained in Melbourne in charge of the part-
          ing design as there is an ornamental ceiling above it. It is most  nership’s office after Griffin’s departure to Sydney.
          likely that the decorative overhead was implemented as part of  Nicholls worked on various projects around Melbourne in
          the artistic adornment of the theatre to welcome the arrival of  the late 1920s including the Barracchi house project at
          sound in 1929.                                      Fairfield, near  Westgarth, in 1927. Nicholls’ house designs
            Due to the absence of building documents and pho-  were barely distinguishable from Griffin’s. A number of house
          tographs, there are a number of unresolved issues concerning  projects and the Methodist Sunday School at Kew and its fur-
          the 1929 refurbishment of the theatre. The first of these con-  niture were entirely his own work although often erroneously
          cerns the relocation of the projection box. A new cabin, 20ft  ascribed to Griffin.
          long and 7ft 6 inches wide, was established at the rear of the  Without building records one can only speculate. However,
          dress circle. The National Trust file concerning the Westgarth  it would appear not beyond the realms of possibility that Eric
          Theatre and the report Cinemas of Melbourne                       Nicholls, not  Walter Burley Griffin, may
          1896-1942 confirm that this occurred in 1929  Stalls entry. Photo: A Maiolla.  have been the architect responsible for the
          to coincide with the introduction of sound.                       1929  Westgarth  Theatre remodelling. Eric
          However, it is interesting to note that a 1932                    Nicholls was one of the names offered by Mr
          building plan of the theatre shows the bio                        E F Billson when queried on this point. Mr
          cabin at the rear of the stalls. A 1938 building                  Billson was able to confirm that his father,
          plan does not reveal the bio cabin at stalls                      Mr Edward Fielder Billson Snr, was not
          level. Probably the 1932 building plan depicts                    involved with the Westgarth Theatre project.
          the enclosure at the rear of the stalls in which                     Mr Billson Jnr did name other possible
          the projectors were  formerly  housed.                            proponents including, but not limited to, Roy
          However, if it could be substantiated that pro-                   Alston Lippincott and James Frederick
          jectors were still operating at stalls level in                   Ballantyne, both of whom worked in
          1932, then it would be most likely that the                       Griffin’s Melbourne office. However,
          projectors were finally relocated to the rear of                  Lippincott departed Griffin’s office in 1921
          the dress circle when the circle was remod-                       and moved to New Zealand where he
          elled in 1934/5.                                                  remained until 1939. Ballantyne was
            The second contentious matter relevant to                       Griffin’s first articled pupil. He became an
          the 1929 refurbishment of the  Westgarth                          architect and builder. Ballantyne and Leslie

          14  Autumn  2001 CINEMARECORD
   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   19