Page 10 - CR-93
P. 10


                                                 By Richard Twentyman
          n  Geelong,  we  are  fortunate  to  have  a
        Iprofessionally  run,  technically  superb   Mechanics’ Institute, 1856
        entertainment venue known locally as GPAC
        (Geelong  Performing  Arts  Centre).  GPAC
        was opened in 1981, and is comprised of the
        Playhouse Theatre (745 seats over two levels),
        the  Drama  Theatre  (325  seat  studio  style
        theatre),   private   meeting   rooms   and
        dance/rehearsal  studios  which  are  also
        available for hire.
        But the history of this site goes back 170 years
        to 2 December 1846. On that date, a public
        meeting was held to investigate the possible
        erection of a Mechanics' Institute building in
        the  town.  The  world's  first  Mechanics'
        Institute was in Edinburgh, Scotland, with the
        first  in  Victoria  being  established  in
        Melbourne  in  1839  (now  the  Athaneum
        building in Collins Street). Their purpose was
        to  provide  technical  education  for  working
        people and professionals and, as such, usually
        incorporated a substantial library. They spread
        rapidly throughout Victoria wherever a hall,
        library or school was needed.
                                            On 15 November 1857, the foundation stone  Between  March  and  May  1926,  there  were
        The  first  Geelong  Mechanics'  Institute  was laid for a Temperance Hall at the corner  three  unsuccessful  arson  attacks  on  the
        opened in 1846 at a temporary site. In 1856, a  of  Aitchison  Place  and  Little  Malop  Street,  Mechanics'  Institute.  A  fourth  attack  took
        new  single  level  building  was  erected  at  immediately abutting the rear of the Steeple  place early in the morning of 22 June 1926,
        79  Ryrie  Street,  with  a  concert  hall  being  Church,  construction  being  completed  in  resulting  in  complete  destruction  of  the
        added in 1857, and a second floor being built  1859.  The  three  buildings  (Mechanics'  concert hall and stage. The Argus newspaper
        in around 1868. Also in 1857, the Ryrie Street  Institute,  Steeple  Church  and  Temperance  of June 22 reports that "Mr. E.S. Kishere, the
        Presbyterian   Church   opened   at  Hall) were all located on the site of the current  conductor of picture entertainment in the hall,
        69  Ryrie  Street,  and  was  known  as  the  GPAC.                     suffered  burns  to  his  hands  whilst  trying  to
        "Steeple Church". The congregation remained                             remove his biograph machine".
        at this site until 1914, when they relocated to  By  1914,  the  Mechanics'  Institute  concert
        Aphrasia Street, Newtown to form St. David's  hall was being used for lectures, live variety  A new concert hall and stage were built on the
        Church. The steeple of the former Church was  shows  and  film  screenings.  Newspaper  site, opening as the Plaza Theatre in 1928.
        removed  some  years  later,  and  the  building  advertisements  in  the  Geelong  Advertiser  at  This  was  used  for  both  film  and  live
        became known as the Band of Hope Building,  the time announce the same films also being  performances, but its use as a cinema ended
        which  incorporated  the  GAMA  (Geelong  screened  at  the  West  Park  Theatre  in  West  on  18  March  1939  with  the  screening  of
        Association of Music and Art) Theatre which  Geelong,  so  film  switching  could  well  have  Winterset  and  The  Life  of  the  Party,  the
        later became GPAC's Alcoa Studio.   taken place.                        projectionist  being  Mr.  James  Fenton.

                         Steeple Church, c. 1920  Temperance Hall, 1859

        10   CINEMARECORD  # 93
   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15