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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Palace Westgarth

Due to a childhood filled with forced visits to antique shops, I now have a solid fondness for Art Deco and Nouveau architecture, furniture, jewellery and design. What, at the time, was a begrudging exercise for me, has actually cultivated an appreciation that I now enjoy. I guess I should thank my parents at some point...

Cinema foyer. Note the parquetry flooring,
fanned ceiling lights, and door craftsmanship.

So, naturally, whenever I come across a cinema with Deco stylings, I become inordinately excited. Although Palace Westgarth isn't as decadent or magic-filled as some Deco cinemas I've seen (looking at you, Hayden Orpheum Cremorne and Village Rivoli Camberwell), it still has plenty of charm and enough features for me to want to take photos. Hence this blog post!

What is now Palace Westgarth originally opened as the Westgarth Theatre in 1920. Increased immigration levels and proximity to the city led to burgeoning growth in the area, and a small strip of bohemian shops sprang up at the southern end of High Street, Northcote. The area retained a village feel, and the Westgarth Theatre sits in the centre of that strip to this day.

Cool curvy chairs and mirror. Matchy matchy.

In 1986, the Westgarth Theatre became the art-house Valhalla Cinema, which had been operating since 1976, but was relocated to Northcote after its original venue in Victoria Street, Richmond was sold (and later demolished). It's a good thing too, because originally, at the Richmond venue, patrons had to bring their own seats! After ten years of operation in Northcote, soaring rental costs meant the Valhalla had to close, and the cinema was taken over privately, and run as "The Westgarth" for a further decade.

Even the bathrooms are Deco. Note the mirrors and lights.

Facing commercial difficulties, in 2005, the owners sold the business side of the cinema to chain Palace Cinemas, whilst retaining ownership of the building itself. In 2006, the theatre underwent a $4 million, six-month refurbishment, converting it from one of the last two remaining single-screen venues in Melbourne, to a three-screen venue: one with 300 seats downstairs, and two with 100 seats each, upstairs.

I LOVE movie theatre carpet

Many of the building's original features were preserved, with their distinct Art Deco geometric shapes, lines and patterns. The venue also contains a wine and espresso bar (available for private functions, pre- or post-screenings) - but I was disappointed to see the coffee they choose to offer is Lavazza. [clicks tongue]

Why Lavazza, oh why?

The Palace Westgarth is a relatively quiet, small, suburban cinema but with good amounts of charm. It offers all the usual features of modern cinemas (surround sound, 3D, blah di blah, plus cheap-arse Tuesdays), but I find it's a more pleasant evening out when you can also nod to the past.