The Woodville Town Hall was a much loved suburban picture theatre for many decades, in particular during the height of the golden age of cinema when attending the ‘flicks’ was an anticipated weekly event. It is one of the few relatively intact former picture theatres remaining in Adelaide from this era, and is a rare example of the work of Sydney-based architects Karberry and Chard.
The hall section began operating as a picture theatre in 1927 immediately following its construction. It was leased and operated by Mr Daniel Clifford, the owner of Adelaide’s ‘Star’ suburban picture theatre chain. The lease helped repay the loan taken out by Woodville Council to build the hall.
Construction of the hall represented a pivotal moment in the development of Woodville as a progressive suburb. The 1927 opening night booklet elaborately boasted about the quality and significance of the hall:
“Time had it when any old barn sufficed for a picture show. People were content to witness crude productions under primitive conditions, only the expensive ‘seats’ boasted the slightest comfort and ‘music’ from a time worn piano was consider a luxury.
Times have changed! for the Woodville Hall has all the embellishments of the modern Theatre.”
The hall was ornately decorated and furnished. It featured upstairs ‘Lounge De Luxe’ and ‘Dress Circle’ seating and extensive atmospheric, colour-changing lighting, including the five large crystal chandeliers that still grace the hall today. A beautiful painted scene adorned the background stage curtain. The total capacity of the hall was 1500.
The picture theatre impressively claimed to have the largest suburban orchestra in Australia with nine musicians. The projector equipment installed in the ‘Biograph Booth’ was said to be “the latest and most perfect machines in the Commonwealth” projecting a rock-steady picture with no trace of the flicker that occurred with “less up-to-date apparatus”.
Originally a silent movie theatre, the projection equipment was converted for sound within three years of the hall opening. The first ‘talkie’ was shown in April 1930. The final upgrading of the equipment occurred in mid-1955 with the installation of ‘CinemaScope’. This was done without the original proscenium surrounding the stage being widened or replaced and as a result, this 1927 feature survives to this day.
The early days of the picture theatre were profitable but, as Australia slid into Depression in the 1930s, this did not last. Soon attendances were so low that Mr Clifford was unable to pay the rent. After several difficult years prosperity returned to the Woodville district and the picture theatre once again became a thriving enterprise. Mr Clifford died in 1942 and in 1947 the ‘Star’ chain was sold to Greater Union and the theatre became known as the ‘Woodville Odeon Star Theatre’.
Despite the impact of television, mainstream commercial screenings at Woodville continued for longer than at many other suburban theatres. Eventually the end did come and the Woodville Town Hall closed its doors as a mainstream picture theatre on Saturday 9 November 1974.