Local history

The unluckiest cinema in Balwyn

Picture theatres were once a much more common sight around the middle suburbs of Melbourne.

Suburbs that were in development throughout the 1920s and 1940s could have several different venues in close proximity, all vying for customers.

Balwyn was no exception. Despite today being best-known for the Balwyn Cinema located on Whitehorse Road at Austin Street, Balwyn also had a second picture theatre at the other end of the shopping precinct on Whitehorse Road next to Iramoo Street – the Time Theatre.

Black and white image of the Time Theatre in Balwyn, showing a sign saying 'Hoyts' looking across Whitehorse Road with tram tracks in the foregounrd.
(Image source: http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/297744, public domain)

It was officially opened by the Mayor of Camberwell, Cr Arthur Vine, on 13 June 1941. The proceeds made from its premiere, a preview of the musical film Down Argentine Way, went towards the Red Cross and Comforts Fund to aid the war effort for the Second World War.

The Time Theatre was only open for 23 years but had a very eventful history.

Only four years after opening, it suffered its first disaster. During a late night screening on 3 May 1945, a fire started behind the theatre’s curtain. Everyone was safely evacuated by the building was forced to close until it could repair the damage.

(Source: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article249172343, public domain)

Barely two years after in 1947, the Theatre was burgled overnight. It was quite a common crime at the time, and several people were later arrested on suspicion of executing other robberies in cinemas across the eastern and south-eastern suburbs (including the Balwyn Theatre).

In 1953, the Theatre was robbed again. This time three masked gunmen held up staff with pistols and forced the theatre attendant to hand over 36 pounds from that night’s takings. This was also part of a string of similar robberies in cinemas, and the perpetrators do not ever appear to have been caught.

The final piece of bad luck came on 29 February 1964 when the Time Theatre closed its doors. Many others also closed around this time as they declined in popularity due to the popularisation of televisions inside people’s homes.

Today, the site of the Time Theatre is a petrol station, opposite the Balwyn Library.

Read more about the Time Theatre at the BoroondaraWiki article here.

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