History behind the Paragon Theatre
Gee’s Hall screened the district’s first silent movies
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.
1927: The building receiving a makeover.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Nigel Craft inside the Paragon Theatre, reflecting on work that’s still to be completed.