Penrith’s proud cinema history

The Hayden Theatres. Photo: Penrith City Library
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For most of Penrith’s cinema history, there has always been a complex ready and waiting for the next patron to walk through the doors.

However, it hasn’t always been rosy when it comes to cinema in Penrith.

Hoyts Cinemas in Westfield Penrith currently dominates the local movie scene, but in the 1990s it faced stiff competition from Hayden Theatres and a proposed Reading Cinemas in the Panthers Leagues Club.

Below are some of the cinemas that Penrith was home to, dating way back to 1911.

The Hayden Twin

The Hayden Twin Cinemas cost Mike Walsh a massive $2.5 million and opened in December 1981.

Cinema one seated 643 people and cinema two seated 561 people and they were side by side.

Lasting almost 20 years, the site of the theatres sat on the corner of Lawson and Henry Streets in Penrith and was dubbed ‘Australia’s largest twin theatre with the latest equipment’.

The cinema had its name changed to Hayden Theatres later on.

Hoyts eventually bought Hayden Theatres in 1998, selling the complex in 2000.
It brought the curtain down on a fantastic complex that Penrith residents still remember today.

Nepean Theatre

The original Nepean Theatre was financed and built by a group of Penrith businessmen in 1911, and was built as an open-air cinema.

It was opened three times a week.

The cinema was given a partial roof in 1912 by using a tarpaulin, only for it to be blown away soon after being put up due to a storm.

The cinema was shut during winter and in 1920, these months were used to demolish it and build an enclosed cinema, opening in November that year.

In 1948 the premises was remodelled and decorated to give Penrith an up-to-date picture palace.

It seated 1172 people.

It ran for the next 19 years but surrendered to the age of TV and closed in 1967. The building was demolished in 1977 to make way for a new bank building.
Dungowan and the Avon Theatre

The Temperance Hall was home to the Dungowan Theatre and became a permanent picture theatre in 1918, operating bi-weekly.

The theatre was destroyed by fire in 1923 but was reopened just three years later which is when it was given its name Dungowan by townsman Cecil Horstmann who ran it as a Saturday cinema until 1933.

Just like today, Mr Horstmann had a lack of audience at the cinema and was forced to close down due to the Depression.

Businessman Jim Scott reopened the theatre as the ‘Avon’ in 1956, seating 457 people and after a life of 13 years screening films, it closed on November 3, 1969 to make way for a Walton’s store.

Penrith's drive-in movie theatre. Photo: Penrith City Library
Penrith’s drive-in movie theatre. Photo: Penrith City Library

The Starline Drive-in complex

The Starline Drive-in theatre was proposed to Council by a Queensland company who wanted to build the establishment on 15 acres of land in O’Connell Street in Kingswood, with the proposal gaining the support of Council. The theatre would have room for 250 cars and would employ 16 people when it opened.

The sound equipment was imported from the United States and was to be among the most modern in Australia.

The screen was 108 feet long and 56 feet deep.

The theatre also had a restaurant serving both snacks and meals.

It is said to have cost around $200,000 to build.

It was opened in 1965. In 1970, upgrades meant there was more than 700 car spaces.

It closed in 1984, ending a tremendous era of the drive-ins in Penrith.

– Jade Aliprandi

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