Saraton Theatre | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage

Heritage

Saraton Theatre

Item details

Name of item: Saraton Theatre
Other name/s: Saraton Theatre complex including 4 shops
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Recreation and Entertainment
Category: Theatre
Location: Lat: -29.6888807173 Long: 152.9345977820
Primary address: 95 Prince Street, Grafton, NSW 2460
Local govt. area: Clarence Valley
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Grafton-Ngerrie
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT21 DP1115455
LOT22 DP1115455

Boundary:

Refer HC Plan 1892
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
95 Prince StreetGraftonClarence Valley  Primary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Notaras Bros Entertainment Pty LtdPrivate 

Statement of significance:

The Saraton Theatre building is highly significant because of its integrity and rarity as an example of a picture theatre built in a small country city during the heyday of the development of, and high audience attendance for cinema (i.e. the first half of the 20th century). As an example of Greek immigrant interest in theatre construction in country NSW to supply entertainment to the majority Anglo-Celtic population, it has been owned by the Notaras family for the 73 years of its existence. As one of only 4 per cent of the country picture theatres built up to World War II, that are still operating in recognisable original condition, both its exterior 1920s style and interior late 1930s style of design provide a now rare insight into the setting of the major leisure activity of the period. (Thorne 1999)
Date significance updated: 05 May 00
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: Mr F. J. Board (1926) & Mr George Rae (1940) 1940: Mr George Rae, architect, from Brisbane
Builder/Maker: Mr. J. Walters (1926) & Goddard & Goddard (1940) 1940: Messrs Goddard & Goddard from Grafton
Construction years: 1925-1940
Physical description: The building in relation to its suroundings:
The building that comprises the Saraton Theatre and four shops is situated on the western side of Prince Street between the railway viaduct (that crosses the street) and Pound Street. The Saraton complex has, to the north, some two storey retail buildings (built or modified in recent decades of undistinguished design), and an unsympathetically altered Edwardian hotel (Parkview Hotel-Motel) on its southern side. The principal commercial area of this city's main street lies in the next block from Pound Street to Fitzroy Street. On the western side the late 19th century Commercial Bank Building has been retained in its pristine Victorian quality, otherwise every other building has been modified in the most banal, tawdry and cheap commercial manner (that epitomised the attitudes of the 1960s and 1970s).(See Image No.1)

Opposite, on the eastern side of Prince Street, commencing at the railway viaduct, there is the fire station that is a quality building, and a park that extends to Pound Street. The next block commences at Weiley's Hotel (that is having its turn-of-the-century verandah balustrade rehabilitated). In this block the Ada and Flynn chemist shop has demonstrated to Grafton what can be achieved through restoration (of its faade and verandah).

In summary, on the western side of Prince Street, between the railway viaduct and Fitzroy Street the Saraton Theatre complex currently provides one of only two buildings in a suitable state for modest restoration - two buildings of reasonable quality in a streetside of otherwise ruinous modifications.
(It is difficult to understand why development processes have deteriorated the main street of Grafton so much when compared to say, Orange or Bathurst where development pressures have been even greater than those in Grafton.)

The Saraton building must be viewed in two separate time zones - the exterior that dates from 1926, and the interior of the theatre that dates from 1940.

The exterior
The building is substantial, built in (cement rendered) brick with, for the auditorium, a steel truss and corrugated iron roof. (Image 2) The stage is of lightweight construction, recently reclad in 'Colorbond' ribbed coated steel sheeting. (Image 4) Portions of the theatre, such as the stairway and floor of the dress circle foyer, and projection box floor are built in reinforced concrete. Along the side walls of the auditorium there were large ventilation openings over which are steeply sloping hoods (to minimise light penetration) covered in asbestos cement sheeting. (Image 5)These openings have been closed to allow for partial air-conditioning of the interior. Emergency exit doors to the side of the auditorium open onto a narrow passage on the south side (alongside one shop) and into a large court on the northern side (behind three shops).(Image 7)

From the street there is a cantilevered awning (supported by hangars off the building faade) of unusual design. It possesses an extraordinarily deep flush fascia finished in almost square panels of fibre (probably asbestos) cement without cover strips. (Image 2) The owners appear to have exercised moderate control over the tenants of the shops insofar that only two have painted signs on the awning fascia, and two have modified the windows on the shop fronts above the awning. Otherwise, the awning, the face-brick faade of the shops above the awning, the rendered almost Edwardian theatre faade above the awning are as original. Seven out of the eleven multi-pane windows in the faade also appear to be original to 1926.

The soffit lining to the awning is, for the length of the theatre, in pressed metal of an angular Art Deco style design (consistent with the 1940 alterations). Inappropriate bare-tube batten fluorescent light fittings are fixed to this soffit. Also, the lining metal appears to be water damaged (perhaps rusted from above). The remaining soffit lining in front of the shops are plain. The shop-fronts themselves are varied and not of high quality; none, except for a fragment above the door of one being original to 1926.

The pavement front to the theatre is original to the 1940 rehabilitation with the exception of the double doors or glazed panels at the northern end (in front of the candy bar or former "cafe"). The four sets of 1940 vintage double doors are handsome with their varnished timber finish and heavy triple horizontal, chrome push bars. Above the doors, for their full length, is one of the largest seen (for a single screen cinema) rear-illuminated opalescent program sign to take removeable letters (for the films currently being shown). (Image 3) It is also a typical element of the late 1930s, but has continued through until today. (It is quite suitable for announcing films for a triple cinema, if that proposal eventuates.)

The other architectural element seen from the street and the auditorium rising above the lower fronting foyer and shops. It is set back 12.5 metres from the boundary and is cement rendered with classical elements of blinded arches and corniced entablatures, flanking a protruding projection box surmounted by a pediment. It provides an imposing appearance to the whole complex.

The Interior
Upon entering the front doors one is in a commodious carpeted rectangular foyer. (The foyer was also carpeted when the building was reopened in 1940; wall-to-wall carpet being indicative of a luxury rarely seen in domestic environments.) The present design gives a modest impression of Art Deco in buff and brown tonings.(Image 8)

Unlike so many cinemas of the 1920s and1930s where the stairways were tucked to one side of usually a small lobby, the stairway at the Saraton is on the axis from the front door to the auditorium. For the full length of the foyer, beyond a candy bar off at the right, there is a flight of four risers to a landing directly off which leads the main stair (15 risers) up to a landing, then splitting into two dog-legs back up to the dress circle lobby. This main stair flight occupies almost one third of the width of the foyer.

On each side of the dress circle stair the lower landing continues to two sets of double doors giving entry to the stalls. The doors contain two almost half circle panels of glass (of typical late 1930s design). Along these extensions of the lower landing are the toilets, each with an illuminated frosted glass panel (above the door) painted with either a man or woman dressed in cocktail or evening dress.of the period. (Images 10&15)

The ceiling is in fibrous plaster that, apart from flat sections, uses four decorative elements of what might be termed late Art Deco, but not Art Moderne. They are flat ribs, ribs of cross fluting, longitudinal panels of shallow Vee section, and longitudinal flutings. The small cornice is also fluted vertically. The ceiling is painted all-over cream at present.

The candy bar, recessed off the northern side of the foyer, has been modified since 1940 with a carpeted front to the counter. A "Formica" type laminated plastic top has replaced the original which may have been either marble or plate glass. (Image 11) The original display shelves and their backing behind the serving area have been replaced with simple shelves on "peg-board".

A contemporary description of the theatre mentions a mirror on the stair leading to the dress circle. It was possibly on the wall that backs the mid-landing, thus providing a greater feeling of spaciousness. The original light fittings on the ceiling have been replaced by cream opalescent glass "oyster" fittings which, although available in the 1940s, were more appropriate for plain surfaces without decoration. It is suspected that the original fittings were square boxes of "frosted" sand-blasted glass in metal frames.

With the exception of these minor points the foyer, its dado bands, skirtings, door architraves and doors, and the ceiling, remains an excellent example of a foyer for a better class of the late 1930s large theatre, built in a small country city or well-populated suburb of Sydney (in which city they are now almost all demolished).

The lobby to the dress circle is relatively narrow (Image 14) after entering it from the two flights of stairs that provide access. (Images 12 &13) Windows are opposite the stairs as are also two toilets, above the doors of which are the same type of illuminated signs as over the toilet doors on the ground floor. At the two ends of the dress circle lobby there are (curtained only) entrances to flights of stairs leading up to the dress circle. The (non-original) ceiling light fittings are in a poor condition.

The auditorium, originally seating 1166 persons (from the 1959 Chief Secretary's license list) possesses an almost grand spatial quality. It is, for the most part, original as of 1940. (Image 16) The principal alteration seems to have only been the removal of some 20 wall lamps. The rectangular sand-blasted "frosted" glass flush-to-the-ceiling light fittings remain. Fortunately the owners have not been tempted to destroy the proscenium for an extra-wide screen presentation. The proscenium opening is currently about 10 metres wide - sufficiently wide for most travelling live shows if, and when these are permitted.

The 1926 interior design was plain with the roof trusses exposed. Typical of many picture theatres the bottom chord of the roof trusses were not fully horizontal: they were divided into three sections with only the central section being horizontal, while the other two sloped down to the springing point on the wall piers. The central height was dictated by the projection beam of light from the operating (bio) box to a screen that provided suitable sight-lines. Possessing a flat floor for most of the stalls floor (for social events) the stage and screen are required to be raised to provide reasonable sight-lines from this part of the auditorium. This requirement forced the trusses (and the later ceiling) to be high over the front portion of the theatre, thus creating a noble visual quality to this part of the auditorium space.

At the rear of the auditorium, over the dress circle, the roof was stepped up in relatively short lengths, to provide both adequate headroom and space for the projection light beam. The 1940 architect, George Rae, very skillfully lined the ceiling beneath the trusses' lower chords, stepping it under the raked section of the chords, but retaining flat sections as high as possible in the centre in order to prevent impediment to the beam of light. To the non-expert viewer this ceiling appears to be an abstract blocky composition of steps, overlaid with flutes and bands, tumbling down the auditorium. (Images 18 & 19) Apart from the now demolished Kings Theatre at Mosman (Sydney), this is the best example in NSW (now the only example) of this type of intricate design of suspended (apparent) weight within a given envelope. Apart from some criss-crossing strapping elements on the bulkhead rise linking the steps in the ceiling, the ceiling plaster repeats elements found in the foyer (except that the edge bands of vertical flutings have been painted gold which helps to accentuate the different levels of the ceiling).

The side walls have a unique pattern of grille decoration (in cast fibrous plaster) to cover the former ventilation openings. The basic pattern element is a square in which there is a hexagon, in which in turn, are three horizontal lines (forming four ventilation spaces). Sixteen of these basic elements form one panel in the stalls area, and twelve in the dress circle. Forward of the dress circle there are two panels (one above the other) in each bay between wall piers.

The splay walls that lead into the proscenium opening possess an Art Deco style element of three half (stylised) urns from which light (symbolising flames) rise, washing the wall recesses above each. Finishing each recess at the top os an inverted arrow element. Immediately in front of the stage is an orchestra pit, about 10 metres by 1.5 metres wide. (Image 17)

The dress circle is partially supported from the floor below by four columns. The front of the circle is the only apparent remnant of the 1926 interior. The facing to the balustrade ha been formed, in a slightly bellied shape, with sheet-metal pressed lightly with a repetitive pattern of stylised vertical "stalks". A flower or plant motif is at the top of each second stalk. The stalls floor beneath most of the dress circle has a very slight slope up towards the entrance doors, otherwise the remainder of the floor is flat extending to an orchestra pit that is immediately in front of the stage. (Image 20)

A stage was originally added shortly after1926. It has two dressing rooms (including washing facilities), one on each side extremity of the space. The stage is little more than an enclosed platform without flying space above or lighting grid, and with little wing space. It is generally unsuitable for shows requiring anything more than one fixed scenic setting and a small cast of actors, but would be more suitable for music concert performances. It is dressed with black wool leg and border drapes, and front curtains (behind which is maintained the cinema screen).

All live performances however, are currently prevented by the Grafton City Council's requirements for upgrading fire and smoke protection facilities on the stage. Building regulations have been upgraded since the stage was originally used for live performances, but it appears that the Council has applied the regulations for "large stages" (over 150sq m) whereas it seems that the stage, including the dressing rooms, behind the proscenium fire-wall is about 124sq m in floor area. This size falls within the less stringent requirements of "small stages" (according to Building Regulation Australia, Butterworths, 1992 Vol. 1, NSW H101.5.2). Notwithstanding, there are some safety measures that should be made if live performances are required.

Grafton possesses no theatre for live performance, or for large gatherings. The Council's chief planner, Mr R. Pavitt, informed this consultant that the population of Greater Grafton is around 28 000 people. This indicates that the area should be able to support a community performance facility (much the same as built in Wagga Wagga in the mid-1960s, or Orange in the mid-1970s by their local councils). Modifying a building such as the Saraton would be less expensive than constructing a new facility from scratch. This idea is elaborated upon as one of the scenarios in the recommendations section of this report.

All the seats in the auditorium are the "traditional" tip-up type of the 1930s (and later), with sprung seats and upholstered curved backs. They are "leatherette" covered in the stalls and plush, fabric-covered in the dress circle. Considered comfortable enough in their day the expectation of patrons has risen after experiencing seating in the newer cinemas in other cities. When asked about their attitude to the Saraton, the few people met in the shops, the council, or at the motel in which this consultant stayed, only complained about the seating, and that the films shown at the theatre were shown some time after the cinema complex at Coffs Harbour (operated by a major exhibition chain). The latter problem is created by the decision of film distributors and may not be solved by Grafton having a multiplex cinema, particularly while people are willing to travel to Coffs Harbour. (That is, the major exhibitor at Coffs Harbour is likely to press the film distributors to maintain the status quo in order to continue to attract this spillage of audience from Grafton.)

The equipment includes one recently purchased projector with film on a continuous platter arrangement. The large speaker boxes and multi-cellular horn speakers are moderately old, possibly dating from the 1940s, but auditorium speakers on the side walls (for multi-channel sound) are of a more recent vintage. (Thorne 1999)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Surface inspection shows the general condition of the building to be good. (Thorne 1999)
Date condition updated:05 May 00
Modifications and dates: This report has treated the building as two entities within the total complex: the original structure completed in1926, and the interior of the theatre completed in 1940. (See description.) Both possess heritage value in their own right. (Thorne 1999)

Dates of minor modifications, such as changes to the footpath fronts to individual shops, and modification of four windows above the awning line, are unknown.
Further information: . In the longer term, depending upon the future uses of the building, asbestos cement sheeting will either need to be sealed or removed; shop fronts will need to be more sympathetically designed; and the front exterior will need to be repainted in a more flattering colour scheme consistent with the period of construction. (Thorne 1999)
Current use: Picture theatre and one tenanted shop. (3 shops are vacant)
Former use: Showing films, social events and live performances with all shops tenanted.

History

Historical notes: These notes commence with a chronological list of known events. (As the owners’ history of the Saraton Theatre is at odds with some records at the Archives Office of NSW, the latter are used.) The Grafton City Council, unfortunately, has no records except files from recent years. As a consequence there is little detailed information about the theatre. Research, therefore, needs to be done of copies of the Grafton Examiner that exist at the local historical society to find out, in particular, what important social events occurred at the theatre. Also, research is required at the Registrar General’s Office to identify the exact dates of leases for the Saraton Theatre.

A few persons, other than the owners, who have had some relationship to the theatre, will be noted under their individual headings following the chronology of events. At the end of this section is a brief summary of the important role of Greek immigrants in cinema exhibition in country NSW.

Chronology
1905: John (Ioannis) Notaras arrived from the island of Kythera (Greece) and joined his
father who conducted a food retail shop.
1908: Tony (Anthony) Notaras arrived from Kythera and joined his brother and father (Cork,
1998).
Unknown date: The brothers open a café in Grafton. (Cork, 1998)
1926: Saraton Theatre is opened by the Mayor, Ald. W. T. Robinson, on 17th July. He praises
the Notaras brothers by saying that the occasion only went to show that there were at
least some men in this district who appreciate its value and were prepared to put in all
they could to make it a better place to live in.He hoped it would be an example to
many others who were reluctant to spend their money on progressive ventures to make
this part of the State more attractive from the point of view of up-to-date institutions.
(Grafton Examiner, 19 July 1926)
1932:The Board of Fire Commissioners reported a fire on the stage on 20th August,
damaging the floor, roof of the stage, (loudspeaker?)baffle board, screen and curtains.
1932: 18th November. Board of Fire Commissioners report that T.J.Dorgan conducts the
theatre, but it was not being used at present.
1933: Reports of the B of F Cs indicate that the theatre was still not used as a cinema, but
dances and socials were being held in it.
1935: By 20th June a sound screen had been installed (following the fire of 1932), and the
equipment in use was made by RCA (Radio Corporation of America).
1937: By 18th May the screen and projection/sound equipment had been removed.(B of F Cs)
1938/9: Reports of the Board of Fire Commissioners indicate that no films are being shown,
but the theatre is used for dances, concerts, and social functions.
1939: On 3rd September, World War II was declared.
1940: The interior is completely remodelled to produce an ultra modern luxury theatre, on the
lines of the metropolitan picture shows, with a glittering foyer laid down in rich pile
carpets.and the decorative and lighting scheme blends harmoniously in cream and
green, with a touch of blue and gold, while the stage is draped in gorgeous curtains, and
fluted columns and frescoes give a finishing touch to a splendid interior(Grafton
Examiner, 10th July 1940). A detailed description of the decorative colour scheme and
lighting is given in the same newspaper for the 6th July 1940. It notes also that the cost
was almost 4000 Pounds. The architect was George Rae, from Brisbane.
The opening ceremony was performed by Sir Earle Page, MHR, who congratulated T.J..
Dorgan Pty Ltd and Messrs Notaras Bros on their enterprise. He emphasised how
important it was to provide entertainment during times of war. Although World War II had
only been progressing for less than one year, Page gave three principals on how to win
the war: The third and most important [principle]of all is to keep up the spirit of the
people. Men and women are better able to work hard and continuously if they are
entertained. At the front in the last war [World War I] we found the lighter side relieved
the tension, kept the men’s nerves from snapping. I am sure that in these times we will
think clearly, work better, plan straighter if we mix work with amusement, and therefore I
am glad to open this place of entertainment (Grafton Examiner, 10th July 1940)
1944: On 10th May another fire occurred on the stage (Board of Fire Commissioners files).
The screen had to be replaced, as also was the curtains.
1951: New South Wales has 295 country towns containing 385 enclosed picture theares
1955: A Brakelite plastic, wide screen, suitable for Cinemascope presentation, was installed
on 27th April. (B of F Cs)
1963: The year by which television had arrived at most of the country areas. Around this time
or just after, T. G. Dorgan closed the Saraton.
1982: December, 10. The Saraton is reopened after the auditorium has been repainted, and
general refurbishment.. (B of F Cs)
1989: On 13th January a fire, allegedly caused by an employee, destroyed the equipment in
the projection box. Awaiting repairs and purchase of new equipment, films were
temporarily shown in 16 mm from the front of the dress circle, commencing on the 26th
January.(B of F Cs) Since that fire projection of films (on a 35 mm projector with
continuous platter system of feeding film) has continued until the writing of this report.
1999: New South Wales country towns have only 13 picture theatres still operating in
recognisable condition out of the 385 that were operating in 1951. The Saraton is one
of those thirteen.

Other history-related information.
SIR EARLE CHRISTMAS GRAFTON PAGE: He was a native of Grafton, had been a Member of the House of Representatives from 1919 to1961 and the leader of the Country Party from 1921 to 1939. In 1923 he became deputy to the new Prime Minister, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, and remained as such until 1929 when the conservative coalition went out of government. He again became Deputy P M in the Joseph Lyons’ government from 1934 to 1939 when Lyons died in office when he was Prime Minister. In early 1939, Earle Page became Prime Minister for a brief period until Robert Gordon Menzies took office on 26th April 1939. Page had promoted the area and been active in the New England new state movement which commenced in 1915 and did not conclude until1967 (Barnard, 1962; Bassett, 1996, pp. 211,199).)

Page opened the Saraton Theatre the day before the Battle of Britain began, but after the defeat of the British Commonwealth forces at Dunkirk. The Australian war effort had become well established by the time Page opened the Saraton, and the seriousness of the war situation was much appreciated. It therefore is of considerable interest, from the viewpoint of social significance for heritage listing of this item, that he placed so much importance on entertainment. As soon as the war broke out there were calls by patriotic conservatives to close down theatres and cinemas, claiming that they did not contribute to the war effort. Fortunately, more experienced conservatives, such as Earle Page, saw from his observations during World War I, the benefits provided by entertainments for both the armed forces AND the general population. Of course, almost the only entertainment available to suburban and country people was through attending the local picture theatre. Page’s attitude is also interesting when seen against the attitudes of his superior, S. M. Bruce. In 1929 Bruce thought it was rather dreadful to see great queues of people waiting outside picture palaces that have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to build, when money was needed for industrial development and social welfare. (Tulloch, 1982, pp.89)

T. J. DORGAN: T. J. Dorgan conducted a small independent chain oof picture theatres in the north-east towns of the state. From a letter and comments on the files of the Board of Fire Commissioners it appears that he quite ruthlessly maintained his territory. One single-cinema operator who opened in opposition to Dorgan in Lismore explained how he had been squeezed out and closed down by, he claimed, T. J. Dorgan. Dorgan, he alleged, colluded with the film distributors to restrict product to the newcomer. Dorgan appeared to pursue similar business methods to those then conducted by the major exhibitors. They would arrange to lease an opposition theatre when the former operators were forced to close, either because of a price-war or of an inability to obtain films. They might then close it down, leaving it on hold for future use if demand, in their view, warranted its reopening.

This may be what happened to the Saraton. The timber building known as the Fitzroy Theatre opened as a skating rink (1889), was converted to a cinema in 1924 but the license was temporarily revoked in 1928 and it finally closed as a cinema late in the 1930s. Perhaps the Notaras Brothers attempted to beat Dorgan at his own game because, as well as building the Saraton, they gained control of the Fitzroy in the early 1930s. But both were leased to Dorgan who had also operated the Kinema (licensed in 1913). In a booklet on Grafton, published in 1931 (in possession of the Grafton Historical Society), Dorgan advertised that he controlled the Saraton, the Fitzroy, the Garden Theatre and the Prince Edward at South Grafton. It was only after the closure of the Fitzroy that Dorgan perhaps decided to reopen the Saraton, it also being the only well-built substantial theatre in town suitable for upgrading into a first class venue. It was Dorgan’s architect who was selected to design the complete doing-over of the interior of the Saraton.

GEORGE RAE, ARCHITECT: From personal communication with Mr. Les Tod, George Rae related that he had designed about 30 picture theatres in Queensland and ones at Murwillumbah, Casino, Cabramatta, Ballina, and Grafton. Amongst his other works he designed a number of Art Deco styled Commonwealth Bank branches in Queensland, and executed work for Myers stores at Tweed Heads, Cowra and Tamworth.

In summary, Grafton and South Grafton possessed, at some period, at least seven theatres that were being individually used for the showing of movies. For a time four were operating simultaneously. Only the Saraton Theatre remains as representative and symbol of the time when attending a picture theatre was the principal passive recreational activity of the general population (with, on average, every Australian attending around 20 times per year).

The Saraton Theatre is representative of Greek immigrant interest in operating cinemas in NSW from 1911 to 1960 approximately
(Source: K. Cork, 1998, Chapters 1 &2)
The immigration of Greek nationals to NSW showed marked differences in economic sustainability for those who came before 1950 compared to those who arrived during the mass immigration period following World War II. Prior to World War II the numbers of Greek immigrants were small and followed a system of chain migration. That is, one or two members of a family arrived, worked for other Greeks, set themselves up in some form of business, then sponsored one or more members of the family or friends, to come out and work in that business. Businesses were not set up to service other Greeks but to serve the Anglo-Celtic population.

These immigrants frequently went to country towns to set themselves up in a small catering type of business – food shops or cafes that prepared Australian-style meals. A number then moved into motion picture presentation in the same towns, again providing fare for the Anglo-Celtic population. Becoming managers of picture theatres also provided Greek immigrants with greater standing in town communities and allowed them to be better integrated into those communities.

Greek immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries mainly came from islands, (particularly Kythera), coastal towns and inland villages with what is described as a peasant background, often with little, if any, formal education. Between 1911 and 1947 almost half of those who arrived in NSW settled in non-metropolitan areas.

From around 1915 to the early 1960s 116 country picture theatres in NSW were at some time operated by 66 Greek immigrants in 57 towns. Thirty-four new picture theatres were built by Greek exhibitors in these towns. It is known that at least 61 of these immigrants were proprietors of their own food businesses by the time they branched into the motion picture exhibition business.

The Notaras Brothers fitted this model of arrival, extending their original father’s food retailing interest to the opening of a café, then building one theatre and taking control of another in the city (the Fitzroy, now demolished); and taking control of a third in Woolgoolga. Although the Notaras Brothers leased their Grafton theatres to a local independent exhibitor (from the early1930s to early 1960s), a member of the family, Irene Notaras, resumed operation from 1982 to today. However, in the so-called golden age of the population’s high attendance at picture theatres, most Greek proprietors managed their own theatres. They controlled their town’s principal entertainment when the overall population attended the cinema on average from 20 to 31 times a year at a time when there were no registered clubs, no evening opening of hotels, no television, and virtually no professional sport. They had direct input into the moral and social values of the communities in which they operated. They brought national and international events to the rural areas in the form of feature films, newsreels and documentaries. (Cork,1998)

The historical importance of cinema in socio-cultural development.
Cinema and its settings (the picture theatres) belong to a long tradition of narrative story-telling and cultural transmission. In documented history it commenced with the amalgam of performance and religious rights in Ancient Greece and continued through medieval times with the mystery and morality plays performed in the churches and other church-owned property. Some people lament that cinema is not high culture, but then many performances conducted by representatives of the medieval and early renaissance depicted violence, coarse language and obscenities (Bucknell, 1979, pp. 70,71). So too did the Elizabethan and Restoration theatre of England. Governments have recognised the importance of theatrical performance either 'live' or, as recorded on film or some other medium, by both their censorship and regulation, yet also by encouragement through government subsidy.

The progress of popular live theatre reached a pinnacle of mechanical invention for the stage presentation of melodrama. This was achieved through electricity becoming available, but electricity also allowed film to become 'moving pictures'. The narrative story-telling tradition smoothly moved from live plays to what were called 'photoplays', melodrama and epic tales projected onto a screen (See Vardac, 1949/1968). Not only did play texts move from one medium to another but the visual tradition of the stage moved also (See Brewster and Jacobs, 1997).

Whereas a stage presentation may have only had, at most, an audience of thousands it was soon appreciated that photoplays could have an audience of millions paying a fraction of the price to attend a live performance. The rates of attendance rose dramatically. While, before picture theatres, country towns would see an occasional second or third rate touring group of actors perform with dubious expertise, the inhabitants could se a new photoplay once or twice a week if they so desired. And many did. Entertainment tax attendance figures (in the first halves of the 1920s and 1940s, when most seats were taxed) show that all Australians, on average, attended the movies 20 and more times a year. Subtract the very young and the fral elderly and the figure for attendance rises. Where individual cinema attendance figures have been retained for country towns, it shows that the whole population of a town attended about twenty times a year, and they looked forward to that weekly event as a “sense of occasion” and way of catching up with social interaction (and the town’s gossip). They dressed in their “best clobber” and enjoyed the “luxury” of wall-to-wall carpet, a decorated interior and dimming lights, and being greeted by the manager in a dinner suit (or the manageress in an evening dress) (Cork, 1995, pp. 8-18).

The first fifty years of the movie film was a revolution in both the presentation of narrative story-telling and entertainment, just as the second fifty years has seen a new move, for the majority of viewers of performed stories, from the picture theatre to video screen. But the audience for the motion picture has not fallen – it has simply changed the medium in which it sees most of them. The quasi theatre that shows projected shadow performance should not, therefore, be seen as a brief occurrence in isolation from the long cultural traditions of narrative story-telling. The heyday of extraordinary attendances at picture theatres lasted as long as, for example, the heyday of Elizabethan theatre in London.

Irrespective from where the filmed performances have emanated (USA, Britain or Australia, etc.) they have provided possibly greater cultural learning for more of the population than the morality plays did in the 12th to 15th centuries. But movie theatres were not only relating stories as entertainment: in the first World War and World War II they provided visual news of battles thousands of miles away. The production of patriotic films encouraged people’s spirits, and during World War II managements of picture theatres conducted campaigns to entice people to purchase War Bonds or War Savings Certificates as a means of helping the war effort.

Sir Earle Page emphasised the importance of entertainment during a period of war, in his speech at the opening of the Saraton Theatre. Not only was entertainment important but the picture theatre brought together a higher proportion of a country town’s population than any other regular activity. It was the ecumenical glue that bound communities together for the half century from around 1910 to 1960. (Thorne 1999)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Ethnic influences-Activities associated with common cultural traditions and peoples of shared descent, and with exchanges between such traditions and peoples. (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Communication-Activities relating to the creation and conveyance of information (none)-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Involvement with the Second World War-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
It is important in the course or pattern of NSW's cultural history because, like the very few remaining picture theatres of its era it is of historic, social and cultural significance due to 'its association with past events, persons and groups who contributed or participated in an important social and cultural phenomenon of the 20th century, namely 'movie going'. The importance of such historical phase or phenomenon may be gauged...by its physical manifestations, including the number of theatre buildings then existing [from 1910 to 1960], the amount of employment created, the fact that 'picture going' was second only to sport as a leisure time activity, ands by its impact on popular taste of the time where concerned with fashion, design generally, language, music and behaviour. Such phenomenon can . . . be regarded . . . as being 'historic - meaning noted in history' and 'historical - belonging to history' (Simpson, 1986, p.109)

Special association with the life or works of a person: As far as is known it only has a modest link to Sir Earle Page, MHR for the district, former long-time leader of the Country Party, Deputy Prime Minister first to Stanley Melbourne Bruce, then to Ben Lyons; and Prime Minister for a brief period. The importance of this link is the importance he placed on entertainment (and therefore their settings) for the general population (as well as the armed forces) during times of war, when he reopened the Saraton Theatre in 1940. (Thorne 1999)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The item is quite important to Grafton and NSW for its aesthetic characteristics - they denoting its being one of the few superior designed buildings of the first half of the 20th century that remain in the commercial centre of Grafton. It is noteworthy for both the external (1926) streetscape and internal rebuilding (1940). For the state of NSW it represents the best of what was built in a country city of modest size - its owners being complimented by the Mayor in 1926 for investing so much money, and for their setting an example to other people in the town whom he hoped would follow suit. The theatre has been noted for its aesthetic qualities, together with a recommendation for its retention, in the 1984 Report to the Heritage Council, Theatres/Cinemas in New South Wales by R. Thorne with K. Cork and L. Tod; and again in Thorne, Tod and Cork (1996, p.266 ) and Thorne, Tod and Cork (1997, p.275) where it was claimed that 'the theatre is one of the most decorative and architecturally handsome in NSW'. (Thorne 1999)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Saraton represents the involvement by Greek immigrants during the first half of the 20th century in the exhibition of films in country towns. Out of the 385 country picture theates at some time owned and/or operated by Greek immigrants this is possibly the last being operated by members of the family of the original Greek entrepreneurs. (See sub-section under History.) It makes a century of involvement in Grafton by the Notaras. (Thorne 1999)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Saraton Theatre, as erected in the period when attending a picture theatre was second only to active (non-professional) sport as a leisure pastime, can be regarded as a physical record of the important social and cultural phenomenon of cinema at a time when going to the pictures was almost a universal regular activity. (Entertainment Tax on admissions shows that many more people attended picture theatres than all sports, including racing, combined, on an annual basis.) This theatre, as with other types of the genre that are in rare quantity in the state, shows young people and future generations what it was like for their forebears to attend cinema and participate in the major commercial leisure and social activity of the time (from, say, 1910 to 1960). (Thorne 1999)
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The Saraton Theatre is an example of a building type and style that was once common in country towns but now rare with only 14 still operating, and in recognisable original condition to their pre-World War II designs (13 of which were built before 1942). In 1951 there were 385 enclosed movie theatres in 295 country towns in NSW. In 1999 only 66 country towns possess 83 cinema buildings containing 184 screens. (Source for 1951: A list compiled from the Film Weekly Motion Picture Directory, 1951-52 with town entries checked against ‘urban centres’ in the 1954 ABS Census. The source for 1999 is a table compiled by R. Thorne and L. Tod from the Movie Theatre Heritage Register for NSW, 1896-1996, and personal files.) The Saraton is therefore one of nearly four per cent of country picture theatres still operating in relatively original design condition as existed in the first half of the 20th century. Its interior also symbolises the design of many Sydney suburban cinemas that were built or refurbished in the 1930s, almost all of which have been demolished. (Thorne 1999)
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
The Saraton very well demonstrates the principal characteristics of the settings or environments built in the larger country towns or populous Sydney suburbs for the viewing of the cultural phenomenon of the 20th century namely, movie film-recorded performance of traditional narrative stories, and film-recorded news and information documents. (Thorne 1999)
Integrity/Intactness: The building has a high degree of integrity for its 1926 exterior, with almost exceptional integrity for its1940 interior, right down to the illuminated signs over the men's and women's toilet entrances. (See Image No. 15) Less important parts of the exterior have been altered, such as the shopfronts; and four out of eleven windows above the awning have been modified, all of which can be suitably reinstated. The stage has always been a lightweight structure and, as far as is known, possesses little heritage value in its own right. If it does possess heritage value, due to some association with a famous person or event, it could be assumed that this could be 'transferred' to a new stage provided the existing proscenium is not interfered with, for, to an audience, it is what is or has been seen through the proscenium that provides the experience. (Thorne 1999)
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
39Minister makes heritage agreementHeritage Agreement signed by Minister Jun 16 2009

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage RegisterSHR Listing0140109 Jun 00 684918
Heritage Act - Interim Heritage Order - Former     
Royal Australian Institute of Architects register     
Register of the National Estate 10288718 Apr 99   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Movie Theatre Heritage Register for NSW 1896-19961996 University of Sydney  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenBarnard, M.1962A History of Australia
WrittenBassett, J.1966The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of Australian History
WrittenBrewster, B. & Jacobs, L.1997Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film
WrittenBucknell, P. A.1979Entertainment and Ritual, 600 to 1600
WrittenCork, K.1998Parthenons Down Under: Greek Motion Picture Exhibitors in NSW, 1915 to 1963.
WrittenCork, K.1995Cinema as ‘Place’: The case of the picture theatres in a group of towns and villages in the Central West of NSW
TourismHeritage NSW2013Saraton Theatre View detail
ElectronicSaraton Theatre Saraton Theatre View detail
WrittenSimpson, W.1986Report of an Inquiry under the Heritage Act 1977 into the Regent Theatre, George Street, Sydney
WrittenThorne, R1999State Heritage Inventory Form
WrittenThorne, R., Tod, L. and Cork, K1997Cultural Heritage of Movie Theatres in New South Wales, 1896-1996. (2nd Edition of the Movie Heritage Theatre Register for NSW)
WrittenThorne, R., Tod, L. and Cork, K.1996Movie Theatre Heritage Register for New South Wales, 1896-1996
TourismTourism NSW2007Saraton Theatre Grafton View detail
WrittenTulloch, J.1982Australian Cinema: Indusrtry, Narrative and Meaning
WrittenVardac, A. N.1968Stage to Screen: Theatrical Method from Garrick to Griffith

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5044690
File number: H99/00129/001


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