The Localist

The Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace

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Sydney’s buildings and architecture tell its story, its fascinating history. Elaborate and decorative art deco inspired pubs sit alongside federation era houses (early 1900s) and 1980s brick apartment blocks.

When I first moved to Sydney, I was immediately taken by its abundance of art deco architecture. Nowadays, so many contemporary buildings are generic, boxy, lacking character, and made on the cheap. There seemed to have been no constraints when it came to money, or creativity between 1915 and 1940, when art deco was the dominant style of architecture in Sydney.

In the 1930s, cinemas in particular drew heavily upon the art deco style to attract customers. One of my absolute favourite art deco buildings in Sydney is the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace in Cremorne. Yes, it is a ‘Picture Palace’, not a ‘cinema chain’.

It’s not close to my home, and more often than not you’ll probably find me at the Dendy in Newtown, which is wonderfully cheap if you become a member. But I do make the trek every now and then to the Hayden Orpheum, not only because I love the building, both inside and out, but also because it gives its patrons a real cinematic experience.

The original ‘Orpheum’ was built as a theatre in the 1930s, with seating for 1735 people over two levels. It screened films, as well as live cast musicals, and even played host to the Australian Ballet. Over time it became run down and was eventually ripped apart and turned into a shopping arcade and gym. Thankfully, it was painstakingly restored and reopened to the public as the Hayden Orpheum in 1987.

Each of its 6 cinemas is decorated differently, and all are a tribute to the art deco/modern era and the origins of the Picture Palace.  This is Cinema One, The Rex, just to give you an idea.

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In the main auditorium, you’re in for a real treat. Before most films are screened, a Wurlitzer organ pops up from below the stage, complete with an organist, who plays away before the film starts, then descends back into the ground.

I always end up in one of the smaller cinemas every time I go, as I tend to see films towards the end of their season to avoid the crowds.  One day, though, I will see this organ being played. Can you think of any other cinema where this tradition still carries on?

Compare the Hayden Orpheum to most modern multiplex cinemas, which boast a huge number of cinemas, most of which are often just slightly bigger than your living room. If you’re really unlucky, and the cinema is already packed, $20 might get you a seat in the first four rows, the outcome of which could very well be confusion, seasickness, and a really sore neck.

Give me a real cinematic experience at the Hayden Orpheum any day.

Getting there

The Hayden Orpheum is located at 380 Military Road, Cremorne, just north of Sydney’s city centre. If you’re coming from the city, you can catch any bus from Stand A outside of Wynyard station. Just ask the driver to let you know when you’re close to your destination. You can also catch the ferry to Cremorne Point, and catch the 225 bus up to the intersection of Military Road and Spofforth Street.

If you’re coming from a different direction, further advice is provided on the Hayden Orpheum website.

Other art deco cinemas and theatres in Sydney

Collaroy Cinema. 1097 Pittwater Rd, Collaroy.

The Metro Theatre. 30 Orwell St, Kings Cross.

Crest Cinema. Blaxcell Street, Granville.

Roseville Cinema. Pacific Highway, Roseville.

 

MEET THE LOCAL: SALLY LANGFORD

Images. Photo 1 by Seattle’s Travels. Photo 2 by Rommel Ceseña.

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