Regent Theatre History
Prepared by John Broadley
The first mention of a new theatre in Mudgee in the 1930s occurred in February 1935. One of the directors, later Chairman, and a major shareholder was Vincent Dowling Cox, grazier of Burrundulla, a son of the late George Henry Cox, MLA and MLC. Mr. Cox was a leading citizen, being involved for many years in the Mudgee Show Society. His fellow director, local solicitor Robert Rowan Barton Hickson, was also his son-in-law, as Hickson had married Cox’s eldest daughter, Edna, in 1929.
Vincent Dowling Cox
REGENT THEATRE. NEW MUDGEE CINEMA PROPOSED. Company Formed
By advertisement in today’s ‘Guardian’ announcement is made that a company to be known as Regent Theatre (Mudgee) Ltd., is incorporated with an authorised capital of £10,000, divided into 10,000 shares of £1 each.
It is announced that the directors are V. D. Cox, grazier, Mudgee; R. R. B. Hickson, solicitor, Mudgee; R. S. White, motion picture publicity executive, Chatswood; J. M. Gibbes, motion picture production manager, North Sydney, and one other to be appointed. The secretary is I. V. Ransom, chartered accountant, Sydney, and the solicitors Geo. Davidson and Hickson, Mudgee.
The company, it is stated, is being formed to erect a picture theatre on an area of land in Church street opposite Marks and Co., on modern and comfortable lines, the plan being to exercise an option of purchase now held by the vendors over the area, which has a frontage of 66 feet by a depth of 198 feet. The proposed theatre will seat about 1,000 people. Two staircases to the dress circle will lead from the vestibule to the foyer or lounge room on the mezzanine floor. The circle will contain 300 chairs, it is further stated, and the main auditorium which, will be accessible from a spacious lobby, will contain about 700 seats.
The directors add that furnishings, sound recordings and vision will leave nothing to be desired, and special attention will be paid to cooling and ventilation.
The directors state that they hope to begin building operations in about a fortnight, that strong local support for the undertaking has already been obtained, and that it is expected the company will be fully subscribed this week. (Mudgee Guardian, Monday, 18th February 1935, p. 2)
It is not known what local materials were sourced, if any, s the contractor was not local:
REGENT THEATRE. THE directors of the new Regent Theatre, Mudgee, have informed us that at their first meeting yesterday afternoon they went to allotment. They also state that in the building of the theatre local materials will be used as far as possible. (Mudgee Guardian, Thursday, 21st February 1935, p. 4)
Plans had obviously been in the wings for some time, as the building was substantial and because of its very nature (as a theatre, acoustics etc) would have required extensive planning:
THE NEW THEATRE. THE directors of the new Regent Theatre, Mudgee, have asked us to state that building operations will commence on Monday next. Mr Eden, of Sydney, is the contractor. Persons seeking employment should apply on the job to the contractor. (Mudgee Guardian, Thursday, 7th March 1935, p. 6)
Contrary to documentation widely available on the internet, research has revealed that the architect was not Douglas Smith, but was in fact George Newton Kenworthy, a prominent Sydney architect who had done extensive theatre design. One of his better-known surviving works is the Cremorne Orpheum:
ARCHITECT’S WORK. TENDERS ACCEPTED. Mudgee – Erection of picture theatre –G. N. Kenworthy, architect; A. C. Eden, 100 Benaroon Road, Belmore, builder. (Construction and Real Estate Journal, NSW, Wednesday, 3rd April 1935, p. 10)
The opening in August 1935, which occurred only a few months after construction began, was reported in detail in the local press:
THE REGENT. ‘A Thing of Beauty’. WEDNESDAY last saw the long looked for opening of the most up-to-date picture theatre outside a radius of 30 miles from Sydney.
The architect, Mr. G. N. Kenworthy, under whose supervision some of Sydney’s largest theatres have been built, has spared no pains in the way of affording pleasure to the eye and ease of audition to the ear. Even in its state of incompletion on Wednesday night the hearing was wonderful. No doubt with the completion of the ceiling, which will be lined with Canec sound proof composition sheets, the occupants of every seat in the house will enjoy perfect hearing as well as uninterrupted sight. The rubber aircushioned seats throughout the dress circle and the whole of the auditorium are a marvel of comfort. The carpeting and furnishing throughout, is in the very best of taste. It was most interesting to see the working of the automatic ticket seller. By the simple process of pulling a lever one’s tickets are shot out to the right hand, and the change as though by magic appears in a bowl at the left. The usherettes, who are local girls, carried out their duties in really first-class style. Despite persistent rumors, even up to the eleventh hour, that the theatre could not possibly open, the large audience was seated and the overture began at 8.20 p.m. – only 20 minutes late, a good effort for any theatre. After the Gazette News had been screened Mr. V. D. Cox, chairman of Directors, introduced his Worship the Mayor (Mr. S. A. Bartlett) who declared the theatre open. It was a matter of regret that our local member, the Honorable Capt. W. F. Dunn, who had been invited to take part in the opening ceremony, was unable to be present. Roy Fox’s Band with its marvellous exposition of music, was well received. The star feature, ‘A Passport to Fame,’ though perhaps not appealing to everyone’s taste, was a marvellous piece of ‘dual’ acting on the part of Edward G. Robinson. All tastes, of course, are not alike but for the programme as a whole everyone has a good word to take to their friends. It was very hard to drag one’s self from the fireside under the arctic conditions of Saturday night, and the management are deeply grateful to the large band of heroes or heroines (or were they Esquimaux) who braved the inclement conditions and witnessed an excellent programme.
We hear the company had a most successful opening at Coolah. It will be seen from our advertising columns that ‘Evergreen’ will be again screened to-night. On Wednesday night patrons will have an opportunity of seeing George Arliss in the ‘House of Rothchild,’ a picture which had a long and successful run in Sydney and the suburbs. This feature will be supported by ‘With Williamson Beneath the Sea,’ – Nature’s own drama of beauty, tragedy and terror in the jungles of the deep. Next Saturday Ronald Colman comes to the Regent in ‘Cynara.’ (Mudgee Guardian, Monday, 5th August 1935, p. 7)
It is not known whether Mr. Brain, a prominent Mudgee businessman, was an addition to the board, or a replacement:
NEW DIRECTOR. THE Directors of the Regent Theatre, Mudgee, announce that Mr. N. B. Brain, of Mudgee, has become a substantial shareholder and has been appointed to the board of the company. The directors believe that the acquisition of Mr Brain on the board will be of material benefit to the company. (Mudgee Guardian, Thursday, 8th August 1935, p. 4)
This article suggests that the theatre was going to be listed on the stock exchange, but this never happened:
Mr. Byron Campbell, Sydney broker, is at present in Mudgee in connection with the flotation of the Regent Theatre, Mudgee, Ltd. (Mudgee Guardian, Thursday, 8th August 1935, p. 1)
The theatre company was soon in financial trouble:
THEATRE WORKER’S CLAIM. Liability Question. REGENT THEATRE’S AFFAIRS. Solicitor Tells of Loss. INTERESTING evidence regarding the affairs of the Regent Theatre was given before Mr. Pickup. P.M., at the Mudgee Small Debts Court on Monday, when John Daniel James Sibbald proceeded against Robert Rowan Hickson and George Budd. alleging failure to pay the full award wages for a biograph sound operator, and claiming £51/4/11, allegedly due to him.
Budd admitted liability, but Hickson denied it.
The plaintiff said that from March to June last he was sound operator at the Regent Theatre. He was engaged by the defendants on December 21, 1935. Hickson told him that they had entered into a partnership, and asked him if he would work for £3 a week. Plaintiff replied that he wouldn’t. Hickson then asked if he’d work at that wage for a few weeks till the theatre ‘gets on its feet.’ Plaintiff said he would, but at the end of that time nothing was said about the wage increase.
Plaintiff continued that the theatre was open six nights and one afternoon (and sometimes two afternoons) a week. He was paid £3 a week till March. From then till June he received £4 a week.
One night he told Budd that he wouldn’t enter the operating box without more money, and Budd gave him an extra £l. That was in March.
Plaintiff projected all films and slides, attended to electrical equipment, and did mechanical work, he said. He never signed a receipt for wages.
Hickson stated in evidence that he was the lessee of the Regent Theatre. On December 21 the theatre was carried on by a company. Mr. V. D. Cox was the second mortgagee of the theatre. Hickson was solicitor and a director for the company.
The company got into trouble, and Mr. Cox entered into possession, Hickson went on. The premises were leased to Budd on a weekly tenancy.
Mr. Cox, Hickson, and Budd went to the theatre where Mr. Cox addressed the staff, saying that Budd had been made manager. Hickson did not speak to any of the staff.
He never told plaintiff that he was a partner with Budd, he said. He had booked films by arrangement with Budd. He had told Budd that he would be prepared to give him financial aid if required.
Hickson later made arrangements for a bank overdraft, he continued. From then all theatre moneys were banked in that account. Hickson entered into some film contracts in his own name. Hickson’s status was that he was giving financial aid, and was to receive part of the profits, if any.
On June 10 he paid to get the lease.
Plaintiff had never complained to him about getting less than the award.
In answer to Mr. Purcell (for plaintiff), Hickson said that he had entered into a financial arrangement with Budd, which, he did not commit to paper. No definite amount was agreed on. He was to get half of any profits, but had to sustain all the loss.
‘LOST NEARLY £500.’
There had been correspondence in the name of Budd and Hickson, Hickson admitted. The only banking account was in defendant’s name. He lost nearly £500 up to June 1.
He regarded Budd as the proprietor, not himself. He had an interest in the business. It was apparent, at the end of January, that there could be no profit. Budd got £3 a week out of the takings. Hickson knew that plaintiff was not getting the award pay for a full operator, but he did not know that plaintiff was a full operator.
‘NEVER EMPLOYED PLAINTIFF.’
Hickson said that he had never employed plaintiff. He had had no money out of the theatre at all. He was not a partner for the purpose of employing anyone.
The P.M., in returning a verdict for the plaintiff against Budd for the amount claimed, said that the fact that Hickson had given financial aid did not make him an employer. He (the P.M.) only had Hickson’s word as against the plaintiff’s.
He ordered the payment of 7s. court costs, but would not allow professional costs.
Mr. B. P. Purcell (of Dare and Purcell. Sydney), appeared for the plaintiff. Hickson conducted his own case. (Mudgee Guardian, Thursday, 24th September 1936, p. 13)
Several months later the theatre was bought outright by Mudgee businessman, Ivan Adams, who already owned the Criterion Theatre in Church Street, Mudgee:
THE Regent Theatre, Mudgee, has been sold to Mr Ivan R. Adams, who is also proprietor of the Criterion Theatre. ‘Top Hat’ will be screened at the Regent on Shownights next week. (Mudgee Guardian, Thursday, 4th March 1937, p. 7)
In the late 1930s Ivan Adams bought the delicensed Imperial Hotel site near the Regent Theatre. The former hotel was operated as a boarding house after 1923 until its demolition for a garage. The hotel building on the corner was replaced by a garage, but the former service buildings were retained. All of this site has functioned as The Property Shop real estate agency since the early 2000s.
This article is also revealing about the extent of modifications made by Ivan Adams ie the tile frontage:
TOWN SITE SOLD For Service Station. MR. I. R. ADAMS’ ENTERPRISE. MR. I. R. ADAMS, of Mudgee, has bought the site at the corner of Church and Market streets, occupied by the Exchange boarding house. He will build there a service station which will probably be leased to the firm of Ewin and Robertson, now in Church Street North. Demolition of the boarding house will begin in about a month’s time.
Other works to be undertaken by Mr. Adams are the tiling of the whole of the front of the Regent Theatre and the adjoining shops, and the laying of a rubber floor in the vestibule of the theatre.
The tiling will be carried out by the Australian Tessalated Tile Co., Sydney, and the rubber flooring will be done by Jones & Joseph, Sydney. These works will be begun this month. (Mudgee Guardian, Thursday, 19th June 1937, p. 5)
Ivan Adams also spent a considerable amount of money installing an up-to-date sound system which would have rivalled many contemporary Sydney theatres:
Mirrophonic Opening at Regent Theatre. THE Regent Theatre was filled to capacity on Saturday last when this theatre was opened with Western Electric Mirrophonic (Living Sound). The opening programme selected was ‘Everybody Sing,’ starring Allan Jones and Judy Garland, supported by ‘Bar 20 Justice,’ featuring William Boyd. As a result of the overwhelmingly popular success of the Microphonic sound reproduction of Saturday’s showing, Mr. I. R. Adams, manager of the Regent Theatre, said that especially desirable bookings would shortly be made which would use to full advantage the dramatic sound effects of some of the recently produced films which depend for their effect on large scale sound effects. The new sound would bring about sweeping changes in the reproduction of films, as many new stories would be filmed which are based on sound values which previous sound reproduction systems could not adequately handle. All seemed to agree, Mr. Adams said, that Mirrophonic sound for the first time gave people the emotion that they were actually living through the experiences of the drama rather than merely looking at a film. (Mudgee Guardian, Monday, 5th September 1938, p. 4)
Further funds were expended for the benefit of the theatre’s clientele in 1939:
No More Cold Feet for Picture-Goers. PICTURE-GOERS will be interested to learn that Mr I. R. Adams has let a contract for the artificial heating of the Regent Theatre. Hitherto one of the drawbacks to attending picture theatres in the depth of winter has been the freezing temperatures, which caused much discomfort. This will be completely overcome by the new installation, which will be on the most modern lines; Mr. Adams is to be congratulated upon his enterprise, while picture patrons will welcome this attention to their comfort. (Mudgee Guardian, Monday, 27th March 1939, p. 4)
Ivan Adams would eventually close the Criterion Theatre, on the western side of Church Street, and concentrate on the Regent. The Criterion Theatre building survives, although with a modified street frontage. It was used as Loneragan’s furniture store and it was later the first venue in Mudgee for KFC.
Not long after he acquired the Regent, Ivan Adams also started to construct the Civic Theatre in Mortimer Street. Building was interrupted by WWII, due to a shortage of workers and materials which were diverted to the war effort. It was not completed until the 1950s and was ultimately acquired by the Soldiers’ Club. The theatre was converted to shop space, and was occupied by B and M Electrical, and later for use as Woolworth’s liquor outlet and shop space.
George Newton Kenworthy died in Sydney in 1954. His obituary summarises the considerable contribution he made to architecture in Australia:
Death of G. N. Kenworthy. Prominent Theatre Architect. George Newton Kenworthy died on 28th October, 1954, at the age of 69, at his home at Lindfield. He had been in poor health for some years.
Born in 1885 in Manchester, England, youngest son of a large family, his father, a doctor, having died when he was still at school, he successfully resisted the efforts of well-meaning relatives to make an electrical engineer of him, and eventually entered the Liverpool University, Faculty of Architecture, whence he emerged as a qualified architect in 1906. During the ensuing three years he worked as assistant to three of England’s leading architects, and then, in 1909, established his own practice at Southport, England.
Comes To Australia.
In 1911, now married, he decided to seek broader horizons, and came to Australia. Arriving in Sydney, he secured his first position two weeks later in the Government Architect’s Office, where he remained until 1923, eventually becoming Architect-in-Chief, Secretary’s Department, Theatres and Public Halls Section. He also became a part-time lecturer at the Sydney Technical College, from 1914 to 1922, at various times teaching all architectural diploma course subjects.
He resigned from the Public Service in 1923 to become a partner of the late H. E. White, architect, and in the ensuing six years the partnership was responsible for a long series of major projects in N.S.W., Victoria, Queensland and New Zealand, including fourteen theatres, among them the St. James and State Theatres, Sydney; Civic Theatre (and Town Hall), Newcastle; St. James Theatre, Auckland, N.Z. Other projects included extensions to Bunnerong Power Station and city building, Hengrove Hall, Macquarie Street; Chalfont Chambers, Phillip Street; Stanton House, Pitt Street; and State Shopping Block, Market Street.
Starts in Practice.
In 1930 he severed his association with H. E. White and established his own practice at 105 Pitt St., Sydney, where he has carried on his profession up to the time of his death. He weathered the “depression” successfully without having to close down, but the stress of this critical period caused a breakdown in health in 1935 which started the chain of consequences culminating in his death.
As he was a recognised authority on the design and construction of theatres and auditoria generally, these have always constituted a considerable proportion of his work, though he undertook every type and size of project, his policy being that nothing was too small or too large.
He always maintained an active interest in technical education, and until 1951 was an examiner for the Board of Architects and the Sydney Technical College.
He was a Fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, and took an active part in this body, being a member of the Institute Council for many years.
G. N. Kenworthy, or “Kennie”, as he was affectionately known to so many, will be long remembered by those who were ever associated in any way with him as a man of integrity, of strong mind and personality; a just man; a convivial man of good humour, who thoroughly enjoyed the daily social contacts of his profession; a man of brilliant brain and kind heart, and a staunch friend in time of trouble. He deeply loved Australia and never returned to England – not even for a holiday – and, to use his own words, has left his mark on the skyline of Sydney. (Construction, (Sydney), Wednesday, 8th December 1954, p. 36)
Some architectural briefs of George Newton Kenworthy:
1929 State Theatre, Sydney: as managing partner of firm of Henry White
Late 1920s/early 1930s Extensions and modifications to the Paragon Café at Katoomba
1934 State Theatre, Sydney: ballroom, milk bar and coffee lounge
Ca 1934 Parthenon, Robertson Road, Centennial Park: inter-war mansion
1935 Cremorne Orpheum
1935 Regent Theatre, Mudgee
1936 Ritz Theatre, Port Macquarie
1937 Savoy Theatre, Hurstville (demolished)
Ca 1938 Royal Hotel, Orange
1938 Hoyt’s Savoy Theatre, Enfield, Sydney: extensive remodelling
Late 1930s Art deco house at 12 Cliff Drive, Echo Point, Katoomba for owners of the Paragon Café at Katoomba. Sorenson garden
Ca 1940 Civic Theatre, Bankstown: extensive remodelling (demolished)
There are many other theatre works attributed to Kenworthy which, at this stage, cannot be verified, nor a date of design/construction sourced. He often worked on updating theatres in an Art Deco style. Sadly, some of his theatres have been demolished.
He also designed numerous residential briefs.
Prepared by John Broadley