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The Balwyn Cinema or Balwyn Theatre is a 1930s-era cinema located on Whitehorse Road, Balwyn in the Balwyn Shopping Centre. It is one of only a few remaining art deco picture theatres remaining in Melbourne.
The 1920s and 1930s saw an explosion in the number of picture theatres throughout suburban Melbourne. The Balwyn Cinema was one of several in the area to open during this time, including the Time Theatre.
After some years of negotiation with local residents and Camberwell Council over planning permits, the Balwyn Theatre officially opened on 4 January 1930. The construction of the new theatre also gave rise to the extension of the Whitehorse Road shopping precinct, with new lots zoned for commercial use adjacent to the Theatre being subdivided to the east of Austin Street
At its opening, the single theatre could seat 1,800 people and was one of the largest in Melbourne - second only to the Astor Theatre in St Kilda. It also featured foot heaters and 200 large 'lounge chairs' or 'cuddle seats' for couples. The Balwyn Theatre promoted itself as being part of 'Independent Theatres'. This was a group of theatres that were not part of the large conglomerates that were quite powerful at the time, particularly Hoyts. This is thought to have contributed to their survival later in the 20th century when many other suburban cinemas were forced to close.
It featured live musical performances up until the 1940s. Jazz bands and local musicians entertained patrons both before the commencement of screenings as well as during intervals.
1930 robbery and fire
Only a few months after opening, the Theatre was the subject of a robbery and arson attack. At approximately 3am on 20 June 1930, a group of thieves broke into the Theatre and ransacked the manager's office. After finding only a few items of limited value, mainly tobacco and alcoholic products, they set fire to the screen curtain in the Theatre and fled. Nearby residents alerted authorities and the local Box Hill and Surrey Hills Fire Brigades arrived within minutes of the alarm being raised.
Damage was limited by the quick response of firefighters and the foresight of the Theatre's builders to install up-to-date fire protection systems and designs. However, damage to the Theatre was extensive and the total cost of repairs estimated at approximately 1,000 pounds. The Theatre had taken precautions to have the necessary insurances and so was not financially bankrupted by these events. The perpetrators were thought to have also committed several other robberies of picture theatres across Melbourne, but were never caught.
1947 attempted robbery
During 1947, a series of safe robberies rocked suburban Melbourne. In the early morning of 13 January 1947, a nearby resident alerted police to several men who he had seen break into the Balwyn Theatre. A number of policeman arrived shortly afterwards and set up a cordon around the building, waiting for the men to come out.
As the robbers emerged from the rear exit, police fired several shots from their pistols both was warnings and in attempts to stop their escape. Nobody was seriously injured, although one policeman was struck over the head by one of the robbers and one shot fired by police grazed one of the men's hands. Police found explosives, fuses and other equipment that was planned to be used by the group to blow up the Theatre's safe and steal its contents. A cash register and other items were also found in the ransacked manager's office.
Four out of the five burglars were arrested that morning, with the fifth accomplice dying shortly afterwards while awaiting trial. He had died from tetanus - an infection thought to have been acquired while he was attempting to escape the Theatre during the robbery without his shoes.
Between around 1960 and 1980, it was known as the 'Cinema International'.
Its single large screening room was split into three smaller screens in the 1990s. An additional two screens were added to the building in 2002 as part of refurbishments which restored period elements of the building, including the original floor of the foyer.
- O'Dwyer, Patricia. The Balwyn Picture Theatre. Balwyn Historical Society, October 2008. http://home.vicnet.net.au/~balwynhs/newsletters/letters/articles_08-09.pdf, accessed: 14 July 2019
- Subdivision Plan - Balwyn Theatre and Shop Sites, circa 1927-28. Kew Historical Society. 1928. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/59f7889321ea670ee8d03820, accessed: 14 July 2019
- Duffin, Simon. Balwyn Theatre. Vintage Victoria: 2019. https://vintagevictoria.net.au/balwyn-theatre/, accessed: 14 July 2019
- FIRE AT BALWYN. (1930, June 21). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 23. Retrieved June 9, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4094921
- "Fire at Balwyn.", 21 June 1930, p. 23. Retrieved on 14 July 2019.
- "BALWYN THEATRE DRAMA", 14 January 1947, p. 3. Retrieved on 14 July 2019.
- "Recovered from Bullet Wound", 31 January 1947, p. 3. Retrieved on 14 July 2019.
- "Man Dies After Police Shooting", 30 January 1947, p. 9 (LATE FINAL EXTRA). Retrieved on 14 July 2019.
- Roe, Ken. Balwyn Cinema. 14 January 2016. https://web.archive.org/web/20190713223247/https://www.cinematour.com/tour/au/49.html (archived from the original), accessed: 14 July 2019
- Gliddon, Geoff. "Plans for full restoration of Palace Cinema, Balwyn, still up in the air", 15 April 2015. Retrieved on 14 July 2019.