A big night out at the flicks

Image:The open air theatre at Shorncliffe Pier.
In January 1911, the Brisbane Telegraph reported “That the extension of Mr S. Cook’s moving picture business to Sandgate is appreciated by residents of this popular seaside resort, was evidenced on Saturday night by the large crowd which assembled on the beach to witness the moving pictures. Many persons residing in the city availed themselves of the cheap railway fares and travelled to Sandgate. An excellent programme was presented and the applause of the audience was loud and frequent.”

It was the beginning of Sandgate’s long love affair with cinema – 10 theatres in all. The first open air theatres had started operating in Sandgate from 1910, one at the Pier, another at Moora Park and a third in Flinders Parade.

The generator which provided the electricity to illuminate the projector was powered by the town gas supply and silent movies were accompanied by a pianist to set the mood. They closed after 1922 when Bon Accord, Strand, Beach and Mayfair were built.

Best known was the open air theatre at the Shorncliffe Pier, where patrons had to sit with their feet up at high tide. From 1882-1910, the original wooden Town Hall in Kate St (now Pier Ave) was the venue for picture projection shows operated by the Hancock family.

The hall section had a seating capacity of 350 and also was used for concerts, civic gatherings, band recitals and church services. The last “cinematograph” show was on May 24, 1910 when the Town Hall was destroyed by fire.

Someone was retrieving projection equipment and dropped a hurricane lamp. The fire engulfed the hall as well as a neighbouring house as there was no water supply to try and save them.

The Bon Accord (French for “goodwill”) Theatre operated from 1922 until 1960. It was built by Ossie Brooks for the first owner, George Hancock.

Mr Brooks also built the Beach and Strand (Felix) Theatres for Mr Hancock.

It screened silent movies that were accompanied by a Mrs Hamer on the piano and, on occasion, by a three-piece orchestra. The first full length talkies movie, The Jazz Singer was released in 1927. Bon Accord had a dirt floor until 1932, when it was closed for renovation and the installation of a stage, wooden floor, new seats, plaster ceiling and lining of the theatre walls and foyer.

The curtains opened at the Beach Theatre in 1924. During the 1960s, it was the Saturday night go-to place for the teenage Baby Boomers who occupied the downstairs canvas front stalls.

There was a searchlight on the roof which shone vertically to advertise its location, possibly inspired by the 20th Century Fox logo. The Beach was destroyed by fire on April 13, 1978.

The Felix Theatre opened in 1928 and replaced Decker Hall. Two years later it was renovated and renamed the Strand.

The ticket office was a circular moveable box type structure which was moved on to the footpath to sell tickets.

In 1959, the Strand closed and the building moved to Northgate where it became Maunsell’s Furniture Factory.

The Mayfair Theatre was built in 1934. It closed in 1947 but three of its wooden seats remain on display at Sandgate Museum.

The building became the Pelaco Shirt Factory, providing employment for about 200 people. For two decades from 1962, it was Bayards department store and then in 1985, it was demolished.

From the early 1940s, films were shown at the Sandgate RAAF base in a theatre known as the Sea Breeze.

It continued for 40 years until it was demolished to make way for an auditorium. Sea Breeze Theatre was used to provide entertainment for the RAAF trainees and staff who were stationed there from 1942. The base site later became Eventide Home and then Brighton Health Campus.

The Boondall Drive-In theatre opened in 1956 and closed in 1990.

  Pam Verney is a member of  the Sandgate Historical Society and Museum, 150 Rainbow St, Sandgate. Open Wednesday and Sunday, 10am-3pm.