22 Langtree Avenue, Mildura
Also known as Paramount, Wonderland (indoor)
Showing films from: 1937
Today you can drink an ‘Astor’ beer at the Mildura Brewery on Langtree Avenue in memory of the cinema that once inhabited the building between 1937 and 1967. However, the history of showing films in the building goes further back than 1937. The first cinema there was the Paramount, which opened in 1923, this soon changed its name to Wonderland and stayed as such until 1937 when it was replaced by the Astor. Read more about the Wonderland.
The facade of the new Astor cinema was indicative of the period, confident, stylish, curves in the right place, it spoke of modernity. The Melbourne based architectural firm Cowper, Murphy and Appleford who specialised in cinema design oversaw the refurbishment of the cinema; the same firm had also been responsible for designing the Capital a few doors away. The refurbishment was so extensive that it would have been difficult to recognise this had ever been the Wonderland.
The restyled Astor could be classed as a ‘modern cinema’, even perhaps a ‘picture palace’; close attention was given to the lighting, sound equipment and the overall comfort of cinema goers. The colour scheme used browns and golds throughout. The auditorium now had a raked floor and lounge chairs were added at the rear of the stalls, all of which increased the over all capacity of the cinema. Four chandeliers illuminated the auditorium and red and purple lights decorated the walls. Surrounding the screen was a ‘magnificent sunburst proscenium’ as the Sunraysia Daily described it, coloured with ‘21 blends of brown and gold’. The ‘sunburst’ proscenium was something that Cowper, Murphy and Appleford had incorporated into other designs for cinemas in Melbourne. The Astor certainly competed with their other cinema designs, such as the Sun Theatre in Yarraville. The Sunraysia Daily, boasted that the cinema ‘will bring to picture patrons in Sunraysia a new world of pleasure, and a sense of refined luxury which has hitherto been confined to the palatial theatres of Australian metropolitan centres.’
The Astor opened to a gala premiere on the 20th April 1937, showing Girls Dormitory (1936,dir. Irving Cummings) an American romance staring Simone Simon and Herbert Marshall. Screenings were programmed to take place six evenings a week, with additional matinees on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Films generally had a short run with programmes changing on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Audiences could choose from three levels of ticket prices: Front Stalls 1/6; Regular Stalls 2/- and for the more luxurious Lounge Chairs 2/6. The Astor tended to screen Universal, MGM, Fox and RKO films.
By 1950 the Astor had come under control of the South Australian Waterman Brothers, who by now operated all the cinemas in the Sunraysia area, including the Ozone, as well as countless cinemas in South Australia. The Waterman’s company was a subsidiary of Hoyts Theatres.
Television arrived in the Sunraysia in November 1965 and as with many regional cinemas across Victoria its arrival dramatically reduced audience numbers, the Astor was no exception. The Astor managed to keep going for about 18 months but the 24th June 1967 marked the end of the building’s life as a cinema. The final programme on that day included A Day of Fury (1956, dir. Harmon Jones) in the matinee programme, and in the evening session Alvarez Kelly (1966, dir. Edward Dmytryk with William Holden and Richard Widmark) and Accused of Murder (1956, dir. Joseph Kane with David Brian and Vera Ralston).
The Grand Hotel purchased the building, the auditorium was converted into a workshop, as well as being used as a laundry for a time; the foyer was used for retail outlets. There were plans at one point to turn the upstairs area into apartments, though it is unlikely that happened.
Today the memory of the Astor is evoked once again by the Mildura Brewery who converted the building into a craft beer pub and restaurant. The walls of the cinema auditorium are visible and the projector room is used as a conference venue, the cinema’s screen is situated among the brewing vats. Its modern frontage still adorns Langtree Avenue. There is even a beer named after the former cinema.