A few weeks ago I walked past the exterior of the old Grand Theatre in Paisley Street and wondered what it looked like inside. Thanks to a reader, Cr Nam Quach, I was introduced to the owner, Footscray businessman Peter Ki, who kindly allowed me inside for a look around and to take some photographs.
The Grand was the first picture theatre in Footscray, opening in 1911, but it finally closed in 1987. It then operated as a bingo hall for a while, and still has the (remains of) ‘Fiesta Bingo’ signage on the front, but that too closed before long and for the last several years the Grand has been inaccessible to the public.
These days, the upper area that once housed the auditorium is used as a storage place for furniture, for one of the shops on the ground floor. All the original seats have been removed. The presence of those sofas, beds and mirrors gives the place a slightly surreal feeling. It wouldn’t be bad to lounge back in them and watch a movie.
There’s some damage to the interior, but overall the space is in pretty good shape as far as I can tell (unlike other old cinemas around Footscray such as the Barkley). It’s possible to imagine it could be revived in some form, if not as a cinema – who knows? I imagine that artists, performers or craftspeople might be able to make use of the space as a gallery, rehearsal or performance area. It would be nice to imagine that it could have some kind of new life beyond furniture storage. The building apparently has some kind of heritage protection, but parts of it may still be developed one day. I’d prefer to see it as an arts space myself.
The interior of the Grand does not seem to have been particularly elaborate or lavish but it features some pleasant decoration. I’d love to get hold of some interior photos of the Grand in its heyday, but I haven’t found any yet.
The projectionist’s box still contains just a few bits of equipment. It would be great to hear from anyone who has a particular interest in old cinemas and can explain how it worked, or anyone who remembers seeing a film at The Grand and has memories of it.
Here’s my previous post on the history of The Grand and other Footscray cinemas, of which there were several. (“The lost theatres of Footscray“).
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