His­tory be­hind the Paragon Theatre

Gee’s Hall screened the district’s first silent movies

Isis Town and Country - - News -

IN 1906, Wil­liam Gee, a con­fec­tioner from Bund­aberg, re­lo­cated to Childers with his wife Minette and their two chil­dren.

The Gee fam­ily bought a sin­gle-storey shop where the Paragon Theatre now stands, in the main street of Childers, and opened it as “re­fresh­ment rooms”, com­plete with fruit shop, tea rooms and a cater­ing busi­ness.

By 1908 they had added a ball­room, which was used for var­i­ous func­tions, in­clud­ing Fri­day and Satur­day night dances, be­fore the floor was ru­ined by roller-skat­ing.

In 1912, the Gees in­stalled a light­ing plant run by an oil-fu­elled en­gine, and Gee’s Hall be­came the venue for the first silent movies screened in the district.

The first film shown was The Iron Claw, star­ring Pearl White.

The Gees also in­tro­duced a trav­el­ling pic­ture show ser­vice to other towns in the Isis district, in­clud­ing Dal­larnil and Booyal.

By 1923 a sec­ond pic­ture show, the Palace Theatre, had been opened in Childers by Harold Philpott in part­ner­ship with Mr A Archer.

In this same year, Wil­liam Gee had dis­posed of his in­ter­est of the busi­ness, hand­ing it over to his son Dud­ley and Harold Philpott.

By 1927, films had proved so pop­u­lar that Philpott and Gee planned to erect a mod­ern, pur­pose-built cin­ema in the town.

The scheme in­ter­ested Wil­liam Gee’s daugh­ter Margery, and a new firm, Gee, Philpott & Gee, was es­tab­lished to fa­cil­i­tate the con­struc­tion of the Paragon Theatre where Gee’s Hall once stood.

Some of the ma­te­rial from the orig­i­nal hall was used in the con­struc­tion of the new theatre.

Plans were pre­pared by Bris­bane ar­chi­tect Arthur Rob­son, who was re­ported in the lo­cal press of 1927 as hav­ing been re­spon­si­ble for the con­struc­tion of more than 20 cin­e­mas in Queens­land, in­clud­ing the­atres in east Bris­bane, Glad­stone and Ayr.

Rob­son de­signed the Paragon Theatre as a “trop­i­cal theatre”. This re­ferred to the use of tim­ber lat­tice and fret­work through­out the in­te­rior, on the ceil­ing and the prosce­nium, con­ceal­ing high-level win­dows pro­vid­ing ven­ti­la­tion not used in stan­dard cin­ema de­sign.

The trop­i­cal theatre style was pop­u­lar for Queens­land the­atres of the 1920s and 1930s, in­clud­ing the Al­ham­bra Theatre at Stones Cor­ner and the Padding­ton Theatre on Given Ter­race, Bris­bane.

The theatre was in­tended to ac­com­mo­date 1200 people, in a hall mea­sur­ing 60 by 120 feet, but this may have been op­ti­mistic as the Film Weekly Di­rec­tory of 1938–39 lists the theatre as seat­ing 600.

Dur­ing con­struc­tion, Gee, Philpott & Gee screened films at the Palace Theatre and at the Band Hall un­til a tem­po­rary screen could be erected in the semi-com­pleted Paragon Theatre.

When the new pic­ture theatre for­mally opened in 1928, the first film screened was Warner Broth­ers’ 1927 clas­sic, The Jazz Singer, which pi­o­neered syn­chro­nised-sound film pro­duc­tion.

Soon af­ter the open­ing of the new theatre, Harold Philpott sold his share of the busi­ness to Dud­ley and Margery Gee, who ex­hib­ited un­der the name Paragon Pic­tures Com­pany.

The Paragon Theatre was now the only pic­ture theatre in the Isis district and reg­u­larly screened films and car­toons on Wed­nes­day and Satur­day nights, for which seats could be re­served.

The theatre was sold in 1949 to Peter and Mary Sour­ris of Gayn­dah, who changed the sound sys­tem, re­placed the en­trance gates with glass doors, closed one of the in­ter­nal stair­cases to the dress cir­cle, and re­placed the forms with can­vas seats.

By 1960 the Sour­ris fam­ily had sold the theatre to Granville and Iris Knowles, who con­structed a ticket box and fit­ted a cine­mas­cope screen, which closed the stage for con­cert use. The theatre was later sold to the Ric­cia­rdi fam­ily.

DREAMS COME TRUE: Merissa Craft and her hus­band Nigel can see light at the end of the tun­nel in their restora­tion project.

SEN­TI­MEN­TAL: Merissa and Nigel Craft were mar­ried in the his­toric Paragon Theatre in 2012.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

1927: The build­ing re­ceiv­ing a makeover.

BE­HIND THE SCENES: Nigel Craft in­side the Paragon Theatre, re­flect­ing on work that’s still to be com­pleted.

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