A couple of doors down Rundle Mall (westwards) from the beautiful Victorian Adelaide Arcade is the Regent Arcade. Like the Adelaide Arcade, the Regent Arcade runs between, and connects, Rundle Mall and Grenfell Street.
A walk through the art deco Regent Arcade immediately brings one back to the roaring 20s. Or does it?
Well not really, this arcade was built between 1961 and the 1980s, when the facade on Grenfell Street, a copy of that at the Rundle Mall end of the Arcade (my main picture), was added. So pleasant and realistic through it is, the whole thing is a modern construction and not even a reconstruction of something that was there.
What is real through is the building at the Rundle Mall end of the Arcade, the former Regent Theatre which sadly is no more a theatre. In addition to the beautiful facade the only part of the Theatre a visitor can see today is a snippet of the interior ceiling. To see this (picture 2) you need to look up when you are a few metres into the Arcade from the Rundle Mall end.
The Regent Theatre (cinema in today’s terms), part of the Hoyts Theatres chain, opened on 29 June 1928 and was one of the most glamorous and beautiful picture houses to ever operate in Australia.
The Adelaide Advertiser of 29 June 1928 described the interior of this ‘Palace of Art’ thus:
’There is a double foyer which presented a picturesque sight with the innumerable floral tributes arranged artistically. Axminster carpets of blue and fawn cover the floors and the furniture is after the Louis XV period. Rucked curtains of golden-hued silk adorn the windows. On the eastern side of the foyer the walls are hung with rich tapestry, and on the western are oil paintings. Artistic lacquer work finds place on the higher foyer, as do also exquisite marble statuettes, charm being added by the coloured illuminations’…..
‘going to the pictures as much a cultural uplifting experience as it was entertainment’.
Eat your heart out, 21st century multiplexes!
The 1920s were the days of silent movies so the theatre had its own 16 piece orchestra and an impressive £25,000 Wurlitzer organ. While the Regent Theatre was principally a cinema it did host live shows too, as can be seen from my attached picture 3 (courtesy Adelaide Advertiser newspaper) which, in addition to letting the reader admire the organ, depicts some dancers from one such show.
The Theatre’s 2,300 seat auditorium was one of the first public buildings in Adelaide to have air-conditioning, perhaps just as well – to keep the dancers cool, naturally!
With the arrival of television in 1959. cinema crowds quickly began to dwindle and in 1961 the theatre lost 298 stalls seats to 6 shops – the beginning of today’s Arcade. In 1967 the remainder of the stalls were lost to accommodate 38 shops. Also, at this time the Wurlitzer organ was removed and installed in the Memorial Hall at St. Peters College (where it remains today). The ‘new’ Regent Theatre seated only 894 on a one raked level, using the former dress circle.
The, by then slightly less grand, Regent Theatre finally closed on 28 January 2004, not before I was able to see one movie in it. Sadly, I cannot recall what movie it was. Every time I see this theatre I recall attending the final night’s showing in the Astral Cinema in Lisnaskea, Northern Ireland (the closest cinema to where I was born) in the mid 1980s. There, I watched ‘Gone with the Wind’ and vividly remember the interval during which the ice-cream lady proffered her wares. Time moves on!
Arcade opening (shopping) hours
Monday – Thursday 9am – 7pm
Friday – 9am -9pm
Saturday – 9am – 5pm
Sunday – 11am – 5pm
Address: Rundle Mall
Directions: Can also be entered from Grenfell Street