‘The movie that I saw the most people walk out of was William Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’, uneducated lot’ – recollections of the Victory Pictures Theatre, Taringa.

This is a summary of the presentation given to the Taringa History Group by Eric Marggraf in June 2013. Eric grew up in Taringa and, assisted by life-long friend Lloyd Crank, put together this virtual reconstruction of the Victory Picture Theatre. The Cinema stood on the corner of Moggill Road and Moorak Street. It was demolished in the early 1960s. Screenings of films at the theatre were advertised from as early as March 1922 (Paramount promotions), however, it is unclear when the building in the configuration described was constructed. Eric’s description suggests the design and construction methodology was similar to the theatre Taringa builders Warendrop and Pipe were erecting at Burleigh Heads in 1930.

I knew this cinema from being a child, passing it twice a day to and from Taringa State School during the war years 1942 to 1945, then through my teenage years until about 1956. I attended many movies there, matinees at first, then graduating to adult screenings (but pretty innocent films by today’s standard).

The location was ideal for a cinema, the land falling away down Moorak Street from the front entrance on Moggill Road, providing the opportunity of a good slope for the timber floor down to the screen at the bottom end. The building was constructed with a pitched gable roof, stepped half way down its length, the main support being clear span curved laminated timber arches. Smaller trusses supported the roof purlins and rafters. The whole thing was sheeted in corrugated iron – unlined and not good during a storm or in hot weather.

The vertical walls on the sides and lower end met up with the tails of these trusses. The walls were also sheeted with corrugated iron but contained several lattice openings for ventilation purposes. Opaque blinds had to be lowered in place over these openings for afternoon matinees, making the place quite stuffy.

The building itself was little more than a big tin shed, admittedly with a complicated roof structure owing to the slope, and a dressed-up facade in front.

Facing Moggill Road was a large plate glass window area with a door on each side. Behind the windows were displayed photos of movie stars or posters of coming attractions, and the like. The left hand door led to a set of steps up to the projection room (the Bio Box Lloyd Crank called it). On the right was the door to the manager’s office.

On the second level, above the display windows, was a set of casement windows – four in all – at the end of the projection room looking out and well above Moggill Road footpath. On either side of this central area were two dummy towers about three to five metres wide, and built deep into the roof structure. These towers were capped by a small hip-roofed sort of cones in metal. On the front of the towers was a design that may have carried coloured neon tubing. The whole facade was built of timber and sheeted with pressed metal to resemble stucco, and painted.

Part floor plan Foyer end Victory Pictures (E Marggraf 2013)

Part floor plan Foyer end Victory Pictures (E Marggraf 2013)

The main entrance was inset on the corner of Moggill Road and Moorak Street, with a level concrete floor painted red. The ticket office was set at 45 degrees across the inner corner, furthest from the street intersection. The main doors to the theatre were over to the left, under another of these artificial towers, with a pair of doors each approximately a metre wide, giving easy access for departing crowds. Once through these doors, there was a landing about two metres square, then a shallow ramp leading down to the middle of the theatre, protected on the lower side by a solid timber wall about a metre high. The ramp finished at a level passageway the width of the cinema with a centre and two side aisles running all the way down to a level area in front of the stage, with the screen above. The building was about 20 metres wide by 40 metres long.

The only area with internal linings was at the projection box end, where this extended all the way up to the roofline. In the projection box wall were five or so small glazed windows or peepholes – two for the main projectors, two viewing openings, and one for the slide projector. The slide projector showed coloured glass slides of coming events, or commercial advertising for all sorts of stuff you didn’t want. The viewing openings were there for the projectionist to keep an eye on the images beamed down to the screen.

The main area of seating was canvas deckchair style, each seat accommodating two patrons. These tilted forward to facilitate cleaning at the end of a performance. There were approximately twenty rows with room for 12 people on either side of the central aisle. In addition, just at the end of the entry ramp, there was a long leather seat to accommodate the local policeman and his family. And up behind this on the far side right, at the top, were about four rows of upright leather seats reserved for mature patrons, or maybe for the young fry where a bit of canoodling went on. Lloyd Crank, who worked at the cinema in the 1940s thought the building could accommodate about 500 patrons.

Part floor plan screen end Victory Pictures (E Marggraf 2013)

Part floor plan screen end Victory Pictures (E Marggraf 2013)

The screen at the lower end of the aisle, including the black linings fixed all around it (no doubt to make the image stand out better) would have been about 10 metres wide by 8½ metres high overall.

On either side of the stage were the doors to the toilets, Ladies to the left, Gents to the right. I don’t profess to know what the Ladies toilet was like, but both toilets were fitted with a chemical waste disposal system – a sort of geared pan connected to the lid, so that when the lid was lifted or closed the pan would turn and dispose of the waste into a caustic-soda-fed chamber. This was the price of Taringa not having sewerage.

The women’s toilet was on the same level as the concourse in front of the screen, probably accessed through two doors to form an air-lock. The men’s on the right hand side had no such luxury. The door opened to outside onto an open landing, then you went down about ten steps to a concrete path going downhill to the toilet block underneath (or just to the side of) the Ladies. The steps were protected by a single handrail, and above them was a single electric light bracket with a white enamel cowl, and sporting a 60 watt bulb. The place was not over-flush with light at night and one had to be careful on the steps, particularly older men. Of course there were a few more lights in the toilet itself. Such was the setup that many blokes never bothered to go down any further than the stairs.

The projection box was fitted with two Kalee projectors from the old silent days, they were lit by an arc lamp and originally had separate equipment to play sound on records, similar to large 78s, even using steel needles. Later, when soundtrack on film was introduced, these projectors were converted to take the new Exciter Lamp system (incorporating photoelectric cells to pick up the soundtrack). Western Electric was the type chosen for this purpose. The projectors were standard 35mm film types. The speakers were located behind the screen.

Diagram of projector Victory Pictures (courtesy Lloyd Crank 2013)

Diagram of projector Victory Pictures (courtesy Lloyd Crank 2013)

Every movie arrived in half a dozen hexagonal metal boxes each with a handle on top. The precious films would be delivered, perhaps via the railway station, to be picked up and transported to the cinema. If two feature films were shown, the attendants would have to wrestle with up to ten of these boxes, and probably more, with shorts, cartoons, newsreels etc.

Reels One and Two would be loaded onto the projectors, and as each only ran for about 15 minutes, a changeover of projectors would be accomplished whenever notification flashed on the top right-hand side of the screen, in the form of two consecutive circles or a blanked-out disc. A switch would cut over one projector to the next. All going well, the change-overs would be scarcely noticeable as the movie continued until the Interval. Of course all these films had to be re-wound before being returned to the distributors.

Patrons would queue up at the box office for their tickets, even for Reserves, unless they were prepaid. Some folk had a Reserve for each Saturday night, no doubt for other nights as well. Once the tickets were obtained it was through the doors, down the ramp and carefully find the way to your seats, jostling past already-seated patrons.

Above the Gents’ toilet door was the theatre clock. This was fairly large, about 50 or 60cm in diameter with bold black numbers and hands. It was lit by an overhead dull green light, easily seen in the dark by most patrons, but not bright enough to be a distraction. Patrons relied on the clock at a time when not too many had watches, nor could afford them, and had to catch the last bus or train to get home.

At starting time the lights would dim, the projector would fire up, a beam of light would penetrate the patrons’ cigarette smoke, and on would come the National Anthem – in those days ‘God Save the King’. It was then that the curtains would be rolled back, and the show was on. There would be a trailer, a news reel, sometimes a serial, and then the first movie, often a B-Grader.

At the interval there would be a rush for the door, pass-outs were issued and many dashed over the road to Lauriston’s shop. It was good business for him as Taringa cinema never sported a refreshment counter.

After the interval, when everybody was re-seated, the show would recommence, perhaps with a cartoon (Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck) or short travel talk (usually ending with a drawling voice saying “And as the sun sinks slowly in the west, and our ship pulls away from the shore, we will remember this land ….”) followed by the main feature.

To demonstrate a typical evening’s programme of this era, there was a break in Eric’s presentation to watch a number of short video clips. All sourced on YouTube, these included the Movietone News intro, extracts from both 42nd Street and one of James A Fitzpatrick’s Travel Talks, a cartoon, the trailer for Ben Hur and a commercial for face cleanser. To compare this particular product with its competitors, an attractive young model had dirt ‘containing just enough radioactive material to register on a Geiger counter’ rubbed onto her face. The independent testing proved that the Dorothy Gray cleanser was two and a half times more effective at removing this material than the other creams.

It was during the second half of the evening that odd noises started to interfere. There would be a rattle of lolly packets, crumpling of brown paper bags, and popping of soft drink bottles. Right towards the most serious part of the main feature somebody would drop their packet of Jaffas, or their empty soft drink bottle, to hear them roll down along the wooden floor all the way to the area in front of the screen.

Some of the films that come to mind starred John Wayne, one in particular, The Fighting Seabees about the Construction Battalions (CB’s) of the US Army in the Islands during the war. There were plenty of westerns and romantic films. One oddball film was The Body Disappears, about a couple who, with an injection, could become invisible. Another one was an aircraft film called Spinner Magee about a rogue operator who caused a few pilots’ deaths, but when a Stinson airliner got into trouble, he did the manly thing and crashed his plane into power lines in front of the Stinson as it crash landed. The movie that I saw the most people walk out of, was William Shakespeare’s Henry V, uneducated lot’.

Films were usually shown at Taringa six to twelve months after they were shown in city cinemas. Of course there are too many movies to mention all.

After the main feature finished, or even before, people would start moving towards the exit doors, sometimes several hundred people leaving ‘to get out before the rush’. Out on Moggill Road there were crowds everywhere – some walking, some waiting for a bus from town, some going to catch a train. The time would be past 11 o’clock, but it seemed safe in those days to walk home, even in the war years.

The ‘Taringa Pictures’ as we knew it, but actually the ‘Victory Theatre’, was owned by a chain called Liberty Theatres who also had cinemas at Graceville, Prospect Terrace, Kelvin Grove and Windsor. Lloyd Crank went to work for Liberty in 1944, first at Graceville, then swapping to Taringa as he lived just along Moggill Road. After the war Taringa was sold off to Arthur Chesterman – ‘Chesty’ as he was known who I think took out some of the canvas seating at the back and installed upright leather seats. Lloyd’s duties included sweeping out the theatre and putting up posters all over the place – travelling by bicycle with a bucket of paste, a brush, and rolls of posters. Lloyd worked for Mr Chesterman until 1948 when his father (local Taringa policeman) was transferred to Gladstone, Lloyd continuing his cinema work there at the Civic Theatre.

In 1956 television broadcasts commenced in Australia, at first down south, then in 1959, in Brisbane. Slowly the crowds to cinemas dwindled as people stayed at home to watch the small screen. Cinemas became uneconomic, and many closed permanently. Taringa’s closed down in the early 1960s and sadly was demolished putting an end to those pleasant nights out. Strangely the Regal at Graceville, and the El Dorado at Indooroopilly have managed to keep going against all odds – the El Dorado being upgraded several times. These two cinemas are still operating in 2013. Good luck and here’s hoping!

Eric Marggraf, Taringa History Group

[ Supplementary Comment ]

I&DHS member Fred Whitchurch recalls the demolition of the cinema quite vividly. At the time he was working for the Caltex Oil Company and several months before had negotiated the purchase of the theatre and adjacent house as a site for a service station.

Not directly involved with the site redevelopment, he was somewhat surprised to receive a telephone call from Head Office one day, directing him to take charge of a situation which had arisen.

The part demolished front facade was leaning precariously out over Moggill Road under the influence of strong winds from an approaching thunderstorm, and was threatening to collapse. The Police were in attendance and Moggill Road had been partly closed to ensure public safety.

After assessing the situation, the demolisher had unfortunately allowed open slather removal of materials from the theatre reducing its structural integrity, Fred arranged for the facade to be pulled back into position using what was to hand, ropes and a motor vehicle.

All went well until the front wall’s momentum pushed it just past its tipping point the other way. The arched trusses went down like a pack of cards threatening the house behind. Fortunately the only damage sustained was to gutter and downpipe which were hastily repaired before the owner returned from holiday.

 

 

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