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during World War 2.                                 thoroughfare during the 1954 royal visit. Former Westgarth
            A dimmer was added to  Westgarth  Theatre on 22   Theatre employee, Mr Frank George, recalls viewing the royal
          December 1935 by E  A  Webb of Carlton. In 1937, the  spectacle from one of the Westgarth’s balconettes.
          Metropolitan Gas Company modernised the heating and ven-  In 1955, the Westgarth’s bio cabin was enlarged. The out-
          tilation systems.  An additional storey was added to the  door toilets were roofed and the walkway leading to the toilets
          machinery room at the rear of the building. In 1938, a section  was covered.
          of the women’s toilet adjoining the circle foyer was converted  Then in 1956, CinemaScope necessitated further modifica-
          into a men’s lavatory by the firm Cowper, Murphy and  tions to the Westgarth Theatre. Former projectionist, Mr Les
          Appleford.                                                         Murphy, confirmed the presence of Bauer
             Australians had little time to savour                           projectors at this time. The dimensions of
          these few short years of relative equanimity                       the new CinemaScope screen, as confirmed
          before the maelstrom of war would again                            by Mr Murphy, were as follows: 35ft 7inch-
          engulf so many. Paradoxically, World War 2                         es wide x 16ft 2inches high. This compared
          was not the most pernicious of times for                           with an earlier screen of the same height,
          many cinemas as they catered to a voracious                        but only 21ft 3inches wide and a  Vista
          public seeking mass entertainment and war                          Vision screen of the same height, but only
          news footage.  The  Westgarth undertook a                          21ft 1inch wide.
          major electrical overhaul in 1941 which                               To accommodate CinemaScope, a new
          incorporated everything from aisle footlight-                      curtain track and a fibrous plaster pelmet
          ing to the main switchboard. For fire safety                       designed by Mr James Lyall of Essendon were
          reasons, an alternate exit door was added to                       added to the proscenium on 30 April 1956.
          the bio cabin. Plans from July 1941 reveal                         Furthermore, an additional ten feet of staging
          914 stall seats and 512 circle seats, down                         was introduced at a cost of less than $50!
          slightly on the original design.                                      In May 1956, the shop in the south-east-
                                                                             ern corner of the building was converted
          The Calm Before the Storm                                          into male and female toilets. Above timber
          In the years ensuing  World  War 2, the                            panelling on the auditorium walls, at stalls
          Westgarth Picture Theatre upheld its tradi-                        level, there are eight light fixtures, each
          tional status as an independent, repertory cinema. By the late  with a diamond motif. These were probably installed in 1956.
          1940s, popular Richmond footballer Mr Jack Baggott was the
          Westgarth’s new Manager. Mr Yeomans continued in the role  Television
          of Secretary. Baggott needed no introduction to the Westgarth  An ineluctable force would soon reek havoc upon the estab-
          district as his father owned a nearby barber shop on High  lished cinema industry. The cataclysmic arrival of television in
          Street, above which his family had lived. Jack Baggott was  1956 saw cinemas closing their doors at an unprecedented
          also an accomplished cricketer. Therefore, during most of the  rate. It is difficult to quantify the impact of drive-in theatres
          year, his Saturday duties at the Westgarth Theatre had to be  during these years. However, the informal, group and family
          promptly attended to in order that he could fulfil his afternoon  appeal of drive-ins combined with their growing accessibility
          sporting commitments!                               can only have been detrimental to in-house cinemas.
            Australians were settling into an age of post-war prosperi-  In 1959, Mr Baggott reported that in less than three years
          ty. However, Northcote’s reputation was not entirely salubri-  since the inception of television, Westgarth Theatre audiences
          ous. Mr Ian Baggott, nephew of Jack, remembers that there  had plummeted by two-thirds. After a bold attempt to revi-
          was no shortage of SP Bookies in the area during those days.  talise live entertainment, the Northcote Plaza Theatre closed in
          According to legend, a billiard hall across High Street from the  1959. In June 1960, the landmark Northcote Theatre, perhaps
          theatre might also have attracted its quota of scallywags.  once considered to be ensured in perpetuity, sadly concluded
            The pre-war vigilance of the Department of Public Health  its tenure as a picture theatre.
          does not appear to have                                                          Further north, the High
          waned. On 3 March 1953, Mr          Above and below: Dress circle foyer.      Street cinemas of Thornbury
          Baggott was reminded that a              Photos: Adrian Maiolla.              and Preston were faring little
          fireman or fireguard must be                                                  better.
          employed at every evening                                                        The last of these to close
          session and at every day ses-                                                 its doors was the  Thornbury
          sion on Sundays and public                                                    Regent on 24 June 1967.
          holidays. The  combustibility                                                 From 27 May 1965, the
          of picture theatres and their                                                 Thornbury Regent had scaled
          capacious interiors still con-                                                back its operations to three
          figured a dangerous cocktail                                                  days per week, Thursdays,
          with respect to fire.                                                         Fridays  and   Saturdays.
            High Street underwent a                                                     Hence, only the southernmost
          ‘Brighten Up Campaign’                                                        (Westgarth) and the northern-
          when it was learned that Her                                                  most (Cinema North) of the
          Majesty Queen Elizabeth II                                                    High Street theatres were
          would be driven in an open                                                    able  to  withstand  the
          vehicle along the Northcote                                                   onslaught of television. In

          16  Autumn  2001 CINEMARECORD
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