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Aaron Bolot’s contribution to cinema in Australia

Architectural Projects The Ritz Cinema, Randwick

Aaron Bolot was born on the 14 February 1900 in Crimea, near the Black Sea. Increasing victimisation in Russia lead his family to migrate to Brisbane, Queensland in 1911. He enrolled at Brisbane's Central Technical College to study architecture in 1919. He graduated in 1926 and was awarded the Queensland Institute of Architects Gold Medal gaining a Gold Medal Pass for Excellence.

Following his graduation Bolot worked with Hollinshed and Gailey. Whilst there he assisted on two notable theatre projects, the Melbourne Comedy and the Brisbane Regent (which was partially demolished). It was this work that would provide him with the necessary experience for later theatre commissions. He moved to Sydney during the 1930s, the era of the Great Depression, and set up his own practise and worked from a small office in Pitt Street. It was during this period that he worked with the well known American architect Walter Burley Griffin., Architect of the Capitol Melbourne and Plaza the Melbourne Comedy. Bolot worked on the drawings for two Sydney incinerators, one located at Pyrmont (which was demolished in the early 1990's) and the other at Willoughby (which is currently used as offices). In an interview with Trevor Waters, Bolot spoke of Burley-Griffin as easy to work with, and a man of great vision. It was probably through Griffin that he made contact with Bruce Dellit. During this time Dellit was involved in the design of the Liberty Cinema, Sydney, which appears to have strongly influenced Bolot's cinema design.

It was in the theatre building era of the late 1930s that Aaron Bolot came to be more involved in cinemas. In 1936 he produced the plans for the very moderne Ritz Theatre at Goulburn, NSW, an outstanding example of its genre, clearly showing the influence of Griffin & Dellit. That same year he produced the designs for the Astra at Wyong. By 1937 he designed the Randwick Ritz similar to the Ritz Goulburn and the large and decorative Art Deco Regal Theatre at Gosford, featuring a prominent facade of stylish blocks and curves in the then streamlined moderne style. In 1939 he worked on the designs for the remodelling of the old Melba Theatre in Melbourne, which emerged as the Liberty. The treatment of the auditorium was akin to the classic art deco of the early 1930s, before the curved architectural form dominated the whole wall or ceiling surface". This curved form is characteristic of the West's Theatre at Nowra, NSW which he remodelled in 1940. It was reported that "the new West's has been completely transformed under the artistry and design of A M Bolot", by the "spaciousness, modern lighting and general modernity of the design". Around 1940 he is believed to have produced the last of his designs for traditional theatres – the tiny Oatley Radio Theatre, seating capacity of 460, opening in 1942 and becoming the Mecca.

In 1941 Bolot joined the war service and on his return was not involved (as far as is known) in a theatre again until 1957, when he designed the Erina (Gosford) Drive-in. Aaron Bolot passed away in 1989. There is value in examining the six cinemas that Bolot designed and Dellits Liberty Theatre which was obviously highly influentiai on Bolot's Ritz Cinema.

The Liberty Theatre in Castlereagh Street NSW 1934

The Liberty theatre in Castlereagh Street, Sydney was designed by C. Bruce Dellit, architect and designer, Frank G O'Brien, prominent glass merchant and built by William Hughes & Co, Ltd, well known builders. The theatre was compared with the latest theatres in America and the Continent where this type of modern architecture was so apparent. Its features were the modern and untraditional treatment and decoration. The exterior of the theatre above the awning was strongly vertical with the essential illuminated signs integrated into the design. This central sign was two-sided with the word "liberty" spelt vertically. Windows were hidden behind grilles which were integral to the whole wall decoration.

The first impression of the entrance to the Liberty is a magnificent glitter of glass panelling enhanced with neon lighting and chromium metal fittings. Metalite doors opening into a grand foyer. Immediately in front of the three central double entrance doors were three more pairs of double doors of Queensland walnut, unmoulded but with slight decorative strips of gold. The main stairs led to the dress circle, the two large newel piers internally iiluminated and surmounted by gold " Pans" by G Raynor Hoff. The stepped balustrades were adorned by flower boxes. The bronze sculpture and murals explored themes of 'The Muse', the traditional masks of Tragedy and Comedy, 'Life's reflection in the mirror of the Motion Picture'. The lighting conveyed the impression of expansiveness that made the theatre seem larger than it actually was. Entering the auditorium, the diffused wall lighting silhouetted with attractive modern patterning was set in art moderne panels. This effect was gained by the use of diffused glass, sandblasted coloured with ceramic dyes. The ceiling was illuminated with concealed lights, which tended to give the theatre a rich yet restrained atmosphere. A strip of red Neon light ran along the two side aisle in a concealed trough red glow.

The interior form was animated and coloured by light rather than colour and texture, though to a lesser degree texture was employed on all the wall surfaces.

The proscenium was formed by a treatment of receding planes, with straight and waved outlines at the top and at the flanks, which were decorated by broken, radiating lines – to represent sound which rose from the lower corners, where two receding curves formed an appropriate apex. Along the sides, five shallow panels in the walls were infilled by elaborate grille work which incorporated a cloud-like light effect at the base terminating in the red flamed torch of Liberty. The balcony design in low relief showed touches of Egyptian, Aztec and fret designs. The ceiling "grew" out of the proscenium, for the verticals at the side of the stage ran up and continued along the ceiling, returning on themselves just above the circle line, and between this a receding plane design echoed the proscenium treatment.

A feature of the theatre was the comfort of the seating, for every one of the 650 seats in the house was an armchair. The seats were covered with rich browny buff material of simple design, which toned with the general colour scheme.

Hoyts Theatre. Goulburn NSW 1936

The building was designed to house 990 patrons at an estimated cost of £18 000. The building was nearly identical in appearance to the Ritz. Eight doors (four pairs) opened off the street under a stepped awning. The foyer was spacious with a stair to the left. The Stairway off the foyer possessed a good deal of large mirrors creating a sumptuous appearance. The walls were of textured plaster and the ceiling of fibrous plaster which were carried out by GR Lumb & Sons. Three murals painted in oils on canvas on the curved stairs relieved and at the same time preserved the horizontality which because of its curve gave the effect of streamlining so popular in modern design. The dress circle stepped down under the stairs. The Proscenium and treatment of walls in fibrous plaster with decorative qualities was also carried out by GR Lumb & Sons. The theatre opened in September.

Astra Wyong. NSW. 1937

The Astra was the first of a more three dimensional theatre developed at the Regal Theatre, Gosford. The Theatre was built for the same family, the Brennan family.

Regal Theatre. Gosford. NSW. 1937

The Regal Theatre was more three dimensional and expressionist in appearance. It was owned by the Brennan family and built by Mr W. Drinkwater. A "Crying Room" was installed as a new planning feature. The building was admired for its rich blending of colours, the perfect unseen and channel lighting, the costly soft carpets, the luxurious seating and the clear view from all parts of the interior. The clarity and wonderful reproduction of the RCA high fidelity projection and sound equipment was noted. The same equipment was installed in the Radio City Theatre in New York, the Empire Theatre in London and in the new Metro-Goldwyn theatres in South Africa. It was opened on Tuesday, September 14, 1937.

The New Liberty Theatre. Melbourne. Victoria. 1939

The main facade was dominated by five vertical members, the actual window openings, where they occurred, being subordinated and covered over by decorative concrete grilles. Six large plate glass doors opened into the entrance foyer. The glass was sandblasted with a key pattern used as the motif for the decoration throughout the building. The walls had a dado of Australian silver beech with textured plaster above. Wrought iron work had been used for the two booking office grilles and the stair balustrades. The recessed circular feature in the ceiling was lit with concealed tube lights. Originally planned for 1100 persons, the auditorium seatings was reduced to 898 to allow more space between the seating. In the circle the seats had 27 inch centres and used Dunlopillo cushioning upholstered in a fabric velour. Australian carpets, manufactured by Carpet Manufacturers Ltd, Five Dock, Sydney were supplied by Grace Bros. The floor of the auditorium had been built so that it sloped towards the centre and rose gradually towards the screen. The theatre was the first in Melbourne and the second in Australia to have a"gold fibre" screen suitable for three dimensional pictures. The walls of the auditorium were divided with fluted piers with similar bronze grills to the side of the stage. In the auditorium shades of green, orange and cream were used. For acoustic purposes the walls were painted with a soft texture finish. The rear walls were panelled with acoustic boards. Lighting played an important part in the decorative scheme. In addition to three ceiling fixtures fluron tube lights run the full length of the side walls and were concealed in coves near the ceiling. Flood lights were introduced in the proscenium to light the curtain and the three vertical grille features on each side. The drop curtain had a very special quality to reflect light and colours. A forced draught gas operated heating system was installed throughout. The ducts supplying the warmed air were carried along inside deep fibrous plaster cornices with outlets at intervals. The used air was drawn off through grilles under the seats so that a down draught of air was created.

West's theatre. Nowra NSW 1940

A Neon sign was incorporated as the main feature of the facade which was more streamlined in appearance. The entrance foyer gave an idea of the spaciousness, modern lighting and general modernity of the design. The simple lines of the auditorium were relieved by the curved surfaces of the ceiling, all directing attention to the proscenium. The appearance is more expressionist.

Reproduced with permission of Architectural Projects Pty Limited

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