History Of The Panania Star Cinema

Panania Star Cinema , and St Christophers.

Hi Joe Simiana Here, The St Christopher’s Church used to be a Cinema, Panania star Cinema, Built as a pair to which nearby Padstow Star was its twin, both built back in 1952, the Cinema was closed in 1964 with its last Saturday matinee Disney’s “The Moonshiners’”

I Have Researched The Cinemas History Extensively throughout my years of Going To School at St Christopher’s During the Early 70′s and was Also fortunate to see and find a lot on this Iconic Building In Panania at first hand before Refurbishments lost its Memorabilia and Photos and Artefacts’ that were thrown out in 2006.

So I guess I beat them by getting inside under the bowels of the building at least 20 years before the refurbishes’.

Now a brief History of the Cinema trade In Panania and this Building itself.

PANANIA STAR CINEMA AND HOW IT ALL BEGAN

The Virgona Family had been involved with cinema in Sydney for 25 years before 1952, Tom Virgona and his wife commissioned building the Star Cinema Picture Theatre in Tower Street and Corner of Eddie Avenue Panania, The Theatre in its fine art deco based on the 1940′s contained a 1,076 Seat Auditorium, and was officially opened on Friday 30th April By Mr D.E Costa M.H.R

The Opening Attractions were Twentieth Century Fox’s 3D “Inferno” And “City Of Bad Men”

Mr Virgona’s Panania Theatre Pty Ltd had employed Mr V. Nyssen Of Brookvale to build the Stadium Art Deco Cinema at a cost of $50,000 Pounds, Each row was stepped in an incline and gained height as it reached the projection booth, The Main Auditorium Colours were pale Mushroom Pink, With Turquoise Blue And Dark Dove Pink Trim and Lines along the Wall Running to the Screen were painted Silver, Chocolate and Fawn Striped Dunlopillo Seats , and The Turquoise Blue Main Screen Curtain was supplied by Brakell and Co.

The Projectors consisted of two Gaumont Kallee 35 mm and two Glass Slide Projectors and a colour wheel Spotlight.

The Foyer was located to the right Front Side of the building Entering from Tower Street, The Candy Bar was to the Left Side along the Left Wall in the foyer, Behind this was the Managers Office and Film Den, which was the actual Rounded Corner Window of Eddie Avenue, From The Managers Office Turning right would Be the Storage Den, which was at least 12 feet high located under the Raised Seating in the auditorium and outstretched underneath the cinema toward the back of the screen with steps and a glass window at the rear of the Cinema.(Later was Church Vestibule and Robe Change area)

And an animated 3 Bar Neon “Star” Flickered Blue, Green and Yellow which was mounted where the St Christopher’s Church Crucifix remained for 40 years until its replaced location towards the centre of the facade in 2006.

Commenting on the construction and opening of Panania Star, The Film weekly (10th June 1954) Stated that “The Investment took courage and foresight and pioneering spirit to build in such a remote location,

On Thursday Nights during 1962 and 1963 Wrestling matches were staged in a specially arranged ring And Vacant area just below the front of the screen, Some of the Cinema Seats in the flat part of the Cinema Floor just under the screen were mounted on batons and could be easily moved and unhinged and stored outside for the duration of the event.

Mr William. (Bill) Collins was the Projectionist at the time and he well remembered setting up and taking down the ring.

The Cinema Strived until 1956 with the introduction of Television, still maintaining it’s patrons, The Panania Star, and Sister Padstow Star were at rival with Nearby Bankstown’s Civic Theatre

                                            Above : (Padstow Star Cinema)

In 1955 In Nearby Bankstown A Hoyts Civic was built and was rival to Panania Star in the dates around 1957 and 1960 locally, also too did the Padstow Star which took most of the patrons from Panania Star, as it was reached by visiting train patrons further up the train line than Panania,

So True in fact that Padstow Star would never screen new release movies as they were given to Panania Star to screen two weeks earlier than the Padstow theatre to make patrons locally travel the extra distance to Panania by train.

(Caption On Photo Reads
Cnr South Terrace ad Restwell Streets Bankstown April 3rd 1960)

Also too that the Bankstown Train Line was not connected to the East Hills Line and Panania and East Hills was at the end of the line here and was very remote, also Bass Hill and Chullora Drive-Ins were being built in 1955-56 enabling the USA Novelty of a Movie Night in your car was taking most of Panania Stars Short Lived Theatre patrons, not to mention the arrival of Television in 1956.

 

Above Pic: Chullora Drive-In Marquee Circa 1976

 Below Pic : Chullora drive -In Circa 1969 During a screening of “The Love Bug”

Resulting in the unfortunate early closure on Saturday 20th November 1965 With Disney’s “Moonspinners” and “The Ghost *& Mr Chicken, Prior to this a lot of the front seating under the screen were sold off and re installed into the Ascott Theatre in Pitt Street, and the Projection equipment sold off to The Penrith Drive-In.

 

 Panania Star Cinema Remained closed and for two years was used as a Warehouse for Inglis Electrix and was bought in 1967 By Fr Landers who was heading up the Catholic Schooling and Convent Nuns teaching in Sydney’s South West.

Back In 1952 Next Door To The Panania Star, Father P.Landers had purchased the old Maxwell Farmhouse cottage and farm built in 1896,

a shack like fibro farmhouse with a property that ran all the way back too Milford Avenue, This was to Be
St Christopher’s church and first schoolhouse,

The Farmhouse cottage on the property seated about 60 People, was used for church on Sundays and a School house during the week.

The actual Cottage remained in St Christopher’s School Grounds until 2005 and was torn down.

Though By Now the School was growing with Students and a classroom Section Was Erected in 1953

and after 12 years, and with dire need of more room, The Cottage Schoolhouse was to be extended at the rear, and a Parish Church was sought.

And so ….. an offer was made to purchase the Cinema and use it as the new Parish Church, it was converted very modestly,

Wood panels 4 inches wide and 25 feet high were erected in front of the screen and 10 meters in front of the projection booth as to keep a bit of storage space, the cinema sound system was used to amplify sermons by Father Landers and Father Hays.

(below: Picture showing wooden panes covering the original screen)

Church Seating was erected in the stalls on varnished wood and its seating arrangements were the same as the theatres’, an alter was placed to the right hand side of the Theatre so as to make use and not block off any exits which were located under the screen, under the screen were two exits both left and right of the theatre screen, the one on the left was filled in and only the right front and left rear exits are used on the external walls of the building to this day, the foyers candy bar was converted into a Church shop and bible store, the managers office remained untouched until 1977 and was used for a Ladies Auxiliary office, Now presently as Salvation Army.

Below (as the Cinema Stood for 30 years after the conversion into a church)

The Cinemas Conversion Was overseen By its parish priest the late
Fr P.Landers who I had a detailed conversation with in 1988 during a walk through the old church, he talked of how back in its heyday the cinema projectionist would sometimes untangle film laid out in the adjacent school grounds we use to call The Back Paddock.

The cinema back in 1967 was converted partially into a church and ready for mass, with the stalls and seating still remaining original toward the rear of the Cinema/Church including it’s projection booth, which was merely obscured by a wooden partition wall.

The following Picture shows Mass in 1967 Taken in Church from the screen area looking back down the Aisles towards the Projection booth which is covered by the Wooden Panelling wall, netting was used to cover the art deco ceiling and was painted black along with the projection booth as to hide the cinema features seen in the distance in this photo.

three Large window towers were fitted into the Left Wall Of The Building allowing sunlight in, and thus dictating the location of the alter, which remained this way until 2004 when total renovations were made to the building removing the projection booth.

I was privileged to obtain old junk on a spring cleanup in 1988 to which I helped Fr Landers open up the deep bowels of the building and clean it out, there were a lot of cinema treasures found there such as seating, films, glass slides, signs, candy bar, and the original marquee among projector parts and a spare housing, picture frames and a chest drawer containing unfolded film posters from the early 50′s, newsreels, and mgm cartoon films, serials such as the invisible man and the G-men, and superman. and two Disney Films on 35 mm Films “Pinicchio” and ” Lady And The Tramp”

Rare Photos In Black and White Of Panania Star Cinema Circa 1952 after Completion
This Is the only known interior Photos taken of This Cinema Given to Me By Parish Priest Rev Fr .P Landers a few years before his passing.

Reminisces of what the Original Panania Star Cinema looked like can be seen clearly at the Old Padstow star now a Video Shop, Padstow Star closed its doors as a cinema in 1984 Feb 12th with its final film on Friday Night being “The Pirate Movie” and has not had much removed from its interiors.

After a grant from the Sydney Archdiocese and many donations from parishioners, glad to know where our years of dropping money in the poor box I put in as a kid going to School There went, St. Christopher’s underwent renovations costing $165,000 from 2004-which were completed early Easter in 2006. below is a photo of the Cinema/Church after the 2006 renovation, the nettings are removed that used to cover the original ceiling, now painted white Most Of the Art Deco Interiors can still be seen today.

St Christopher’s Art Deco Church as It Stood From 1952 as an Art Deco Picture Theatre to 2004 as a Church Just as it looked as it did in It’s Heyday. Untouched for 40 years, The Panania Star Neon Was Situated right where the Crucifix is shown on the same mountings. In 2004 Refurbishments were undertaken which changed the face of the building dramatically. And ruined the Art Deco Facade completed in 2006

The Photo below Shows the Same Angle as It Stands Today after The Refurbishment.

 

Panania Star Theatre became St Christopher’s Parish Church Ownership
(as It Has Been owned By The School Since 1967) as it looks today after the refurbishment.
The Booth and Facade were Changed and Crucifix Recentred in the Facade

this next picture shows the Church interior as it stands today,

If you look closely at the following picture you can see the original screen arch at the top of the photo.

In Visiting the Church in 1988 I ventured behind the mysterious Door at the top of the rear of the church that remained locked for near 25 years, I just had to see what was behind there, I was amazed when I saw what was behind was a little kept secret, still in place and intact was the 3 or 4 rows of seats and projection booth for about 10 meters behind that varnished wall.
And this is what photos I took with my camera back then.

NOTE THESE PICTURES WERE TAKEN IN 1988 PRIOR TO ITS REFURBISHMENT, THE PROJECTION BOOTH AND REMAINING STALLS VISIBLE IN THESE FOLOWING PHOTOS HAVE NOW BEEN REMOVED AND THE CHURCH WALL NOW EXTENDED TO EMBRACE THE REAR OF THE BUILDING, THE VARNISHED WALL THAT ONCE COVERED THE PROJECTION BOOTH FOR MANY YEARS IS NOW GONE HOWEVER STILL REMAINS IN FRONT OF THE SCREEN WHICH IS NOW THE CENTRE PIECE ALTER IN 2010 AS THE ALTER TOO WAS REMOVED AND REPLACED CENTRAL UNDR THE SCREEN ARCH

The Panania Star has now been remembered and a part of Art Deco History , so I have done my part in resurrecting this Iconic building and it’s historic forgotten life.

Anyway..>!…This Is Joe Signing Off…Hope You Enjoyed Reading This and Brought Back Some Fond Memories…That’s It From Me…You’re Comments or Stories Would Be Appreciated…Leave a comment Below

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