The Sydney Film Festival has just started, and this year (2014) it celebrates its 61st year.

This week we’ll explore some of Sydney’s early cinemas, with a focus on Newtown, which once hosted up to eight cinemas.

One of them, The Hub, was briefly home to the Sydney Film Festival – and after years of neglect, seems to be getting new lease on life as a ‘live venue’.

The Hub having had seen better days, 1991 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC22407)
The Hub having had seen better days, 1991 (City of Sydney Archives, SRC22407)

In the early decades of the 20th century, before the advent of radio in the 1930s and TV in the 1950s, Sydney had a love affair with movies. In 1921, there were 18 movie theatres in the city centre, with a further 96 in the outer suburbs. Today the State Theatre is the only remaining functioning cinema in the CBD; some of the other early cinemas still operating in Sydney’s suburbs include the Randwick Ritz, the Collaroy Cinema and the Orpheum at Cremorne. But there are other survivors too: The Hub and the Enmore Theatre.

The Hub Theatre is located just opposite Newtown train station. Locals may remember it as a ‘blue movie house’ although it has been vacant now for almost 20 years.

The first theatre on this site was the Hippodrome in 1908. It was followed by Clay’s Bridge Theatre in 1913, at which time it was said to be the only vaudeville entertainment venue in Newtown.

The theatre was converted to use as a cinema in the 1930s and renamed as The Hub. In the 1950s and 60s, it screened non-English language films to cater to Newtown’s migrant population, and was briefly the home of the Sydney Film Festival (1965-66). After a spell as a ‘blue movie house’, The Hub closed in the early 1990s and has been vacant since this time.
Inside the Majestic Theatre (corner Wilson Street and Erskineville Road), one of Newtown’s eight mid- 20th century cinemas, c1938 (Sam Hood, State Library of NSW, Digital Order No. hood_23260)

Further along Enmore Road is the Enmore Theatre. There has been a theatre on this site since 1910, and it’s touted as ‘Sydney’s oldest and longest running live theatre’.
Films ‘Nelson’, and Rin Tin Tin in ‘Dog of the Regiment’ at the Szarka brothers’ Enmore Theatre, 1927 (Sam Hood, State Library of NSW, Digital Order No. hood_05890)

Read more about Newtown’s lost theatres here in this book, publisehd in 2012: Parkinson, Robert James 2012, Picture shows in the Marrickville and Newtown districts, 1898-2012, Woollahra, NSW