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Randwick Ritz celebrates its 50th birthday, 1987

Austin, D. The Ritz birthday passed unnoticed Southern Courier 26.8.87

The Ritz birthday passed unnoticed

With extras milling on the St Pauls Road, Randwick, footpath last Wednesday week as drama took place on the cutting room floor, pretty well everyone seemed to forget that Randwick's most famous art deco movie house had celebrated its 50th birthday a matter of 10 days previously.

The record was set straight to The Courier last week by Mr John Langford, of Coogee, whose credentials to talk about the Ritz are well nigh impeccable. Mr Langford is Heritage Officer of the Randwick and District Historical Society and president of the Randwick Residents' Action Group. He has lived in the same Mount Street house since 1934 and remembers going to the Ritz and other movie houses as a small boy. "The going rate for children was sixpence," he reminisced the other night.

Mr Langford's data indicates that Randwick Estates Ltd bought the St Pauls Street site from Robert Crawford and John Taylor on October 3, 1936. On January 6, 1937, architect A.M.Bolot (whose business address was listed as 115 Pitt Street, Sydney) produced the design for the new theatre. Nine days later, Bolot's design and a building application were submitted to Randwick Council and, it can be assumed reasonably, work on the theatre started very soon after that. The firm of C. and B.J.Williams, of Coogee, won the building contract.

The theatre was completed on July 12, followed a fortnight later by a "gala opening". Mr Langford was not entirely clear on the point, but a local first-night patron told him the official opening was performed by the Mayor, Ald R.F.Bourke. As the clipping from the classified advertisement section of the Sydney Morning Herald advised moviegoers on the Ritz's opening day, the opening-night fare consisted of "God's Country and the Women," starring Hollywood archetypal bad guy George Brent, with the major support being Olivia de Havilland in "Call it a Day". There were, of course, the usual shorts, featurettes and doubtless trailers for the following Saturday shoot-em-up children's matinee serial.

For the edification of movie buffs, the same night the Five Ways, Paddington, theatre (now Clancy's supermarket) was screening Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy in- "Rose Marie", while the Oxford theatre at Paddington featured Dorothy Lamour in "Jungle Princess" and Edmund Lowe in "Espionage."

Mr Langford paid his sixpence to attend that historic Ritz opening night and said the second-half movie was in Technicolor (something of a rarity in those days) and concerned itself with the derring-do exploits of backwoodsmen in northern USA or the wilds of Canada. He and his fellow' patrons sat on maroon and grey-striped velvet seats, marvelling at the house lights built into the ceiling of the auditorium. The Ritz's interior colors were beige and tones of pink, Mr Langford recalls. He is quite firm on another point, as well. "The term 'art deco' did not appear in common useage until around 1966. "In those days the architectural style was known simply as 'modern', with rounded corners inside and out, concrete-rendered walls outside, steel window frames and fluted columns cast into exterior walls which curled over the roofline."

The Ritz is the sole remaining art deco-style theatre in the Eastern Suburbs. The last art deco theatre in the City was the Rapallo (formerly the Victory, in George Street), which was demolished some time ago. As Mr Langford remarked in a letter dated March; 28, I 1984, to the Heritage Council of NSW, "...Cinemas were ideal commissions (for art deco architects). "Lofty facades pierced by few windows became bold abstract compositions of strong horizontal and vertical linear character. The vast unbroken auditorium spaces gave scope for massive decorative schemes, illuminated by unprecedented lighting in tiers, banks and bands."

Mr Langford said that, surprisingly enough, the Ritz had been changed structurally very little in half a century. The ticket office had changed location in the foyer and a small room had been partitioned off the foyer. In the auditorium, the proscenium arch over the stage was enlarged in 1954 to cater for the Ritz's new Cinemascope screen.

The succession of ownership of the Ritz over the years is not easy to tie down. However, it is certain that the Trustees of the Sisters of the Brigidine. Congregation, Coogee Bay Road, Randwick, owned the theatre for some years. They had bought it from a Mr Mel Chong, according to Randwick Council records, and then disposed of it to Mrs Dianne McGee, of Kensington, as recently as August 1975. The two shops adjoining the theatre (which were 'sold the other night) had been bought by Mr and Mrs Jack Ziade and Mr and Mrs Fred Mezrani.

The intricacies of ownership aside, the undertaking given in: public by new owner Hercrest Pty Ltd that the Ritz would continue to screen films for all tastes was welcomed by at least one seasoned moviegoer, Mr Langford: "The Randwick Historial Society and the Randwick Residents Action Group were thrilled that the Ritz will stay as a movie house".

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