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reading the past in the Ritz Theatre, Randwick

Roy Lumby, Chairman of the Twentieth Century Heritage Society of NSW for the Teaching Heritage Website

The Randwick Ritz was designed by the architect Aaron Bolot in 1936 and it was commissioned by Randwick Estates Ltd. It opened on 12 July 1937. Bolot designed a number of other cinemas in south eastern Australia during the second half of the 1930s, including the Ritz in Goulburn, Wests in Nowra, Liberty in Melbourne, Regal in Gosford. Most have been demolished.

Exterior

  • The exterior of the building was designed as advertising, intended to stand out from other buildings in the street. Very often this was emphasised at night by floodlighting.
  • The building is an example of Art Deco style architecture, which was a popular style for cinemas during the 1930s (although not the only one). Here some of the characteristics of the style that the architect has employed include symmetry, a stepped parapet line, vertical emphasis by means of projecting piers and stepping out of the various planes contained within the facade. The horizontal lines that run between and above the windows became a fashionable decorative element on buildings and many other designed objects during the 1930s, especially during its latter years.
  • Highlighting of the decorative lines in a contrasting colour is not original, so that the painting of the facade is recent. Architects then tended to have the building finished in a single colour, so that its decoration relied on shadows for its impact.
  • The simplicity of the "Ritz" sign suggests that it is a new sign designed to impart an Art Deco character. The original sign would have been in this location, as it was for many cinemas of the period.
  • The later addition, to the right, can be recognised by its more simple form, the different decorative detailing at the parapet, and by the fact that it disturbs the symmetry of the original building.
  • The height of the facade indicates that the auditorium behind it is a tall space.
  • Cinemas of the later 1930s generally had few windows, because ventilation and control of temperature was all done with machinery. Cinemas were amongst the first buildings in Australia to have air conditioning, and by the second half of the 1930s it was even being installed in suburban cinemas such as the Ritz. The lower windows here provide light and air to foyer spaces, the high ones may light office areas.

Foyer

  • Cinemas in the second half of the 1930s were carpeted throughout all of the public spaces. Carpet was still very costly for very many people at this time, and so installing it in a cinema was one way to impart a special feeling of luxury to the experience of going to the movies.
  • The space contains what would have been termed at the time a "soda fountain" for refreshments. These would not have included alcoholic drinks. The metal finish of the bar is not original, nor is the counter top or the lighting on the raked section of the ceiling.
  • The shape of the air conditioning registers and the light fittings suggest that they have replaced original fitments. The wall lights, on the other hand, may be original, as light fittings on walls were popular during much of the interwar period.
  • The lines inscribed in the wall surfaces were a popular decorative motif during the second half of the 1930s this was the first time in western art history that the straight line was used as decoration. It is one of the characteristics of the so-called Interwar Functionalist style, which showed the influence of Modernist European design but also the streamlined architecture that developed in America during the 1930s.

Auditorium

  • Cinemas of the 1920s and 1930s featured highly decorated interiors. This interior is a reasonably good example of the Art Deco style. In the wake of the depression many cinemas were built or refurbished and this needed to be done quickly and inexpensively. Fibrous plaster answered the prayers of the architects who designed the buildings because it was cheap, easily moulded and quick to install. It also allowed them to give each building its own distinctive character. Here it can be seen in the ceiling and lining the balcony.
  • Cinemas were mechanically ventilated and, as the 1930s progressed, air conditioned. This provided a decorative opportunity, and so grilles and vents became an integral part of the decorating scheme.
  • The dress circle suggests something of the social make up of the area during the 1930s. The seats in the dress circle were more expensive than those in the stall below. The refreshment bar was often located in the foyer at dress circle level.
  • The seating has been renewed. Seats of the 1930s did not have contoured backs such as these. However, they were as likely to be equally comfortable, for they were constructed with sponge rubber.

  • The walls of the auditorium are characteristically modulated with tall, wide, regularly spaced piers, decorated with very stylised capitals.
  • Lighting was an important part of the cinema interior during the 1930s and great efforts were made to integrate the light fittings into the decorative scheme of the building.
  • It is possible that much of the ceiling is made of acoustic tiles. With the advent of sound in the movies the walls and ceilings became an important part of movie going technically, as they had to perform acoustically so that the movie sound track was not distorted. This had not been a consideration during the 1920s with silent movies.
  • Because of their careful acoustic design and air conditioning for patron comfort, cinemas were amongst the most advanced buildings that many suburbanites would encounter in their lives during the 1930s.

Reproduced with permission of The Twentieth Century Heritage Society of NSW.

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