The Rialto Picture Theatre in Hardgrave Road, West End was built in 1926 for Garricks Entertainment Ltd. Grander in scale than most Brisbane suburban theatres, it was purpose built as a cinema although the auditorium has been used for live theatrical productions. During the 1960s, television caused a decline in Brisbane cinema audience numbers. The Rialto survived this trend by screening Greek language films to meet the specific needs of the West End migrant community.
Local Heritage Place Since —
Date of Citation —
Greek community of West End (Association)
Criterion for listing
(A) Historical;(B) Rarity;(C) Scientific;(D) Representative;(E) Aesthetic;(F) Technical;(G) Social
as the second shopping precinct in West End, after Boundary Street, in the late 1890s. Shops were built to provide goods and services to residence sin the nearby streets, as the Boundary Street shops would have been too far away for these people. The growth of Hardgrave Road was consolidated by improvements in transport. The tramways system was electrified in 1897, and the tramline in West End was extended. The earlier terminus at the intersection of Boundary and Vulture Streets was replaced. The line was extended westwards along Vulture Street, and then south along Hardgrave Road to Ganges Street, by 1901. This increase in potential custom provided an impetus for growth. Business premises developed along Hardgrave Road in the early part of the twentieth century, with grocers, butchers, fruiterers and the like in evidence. Apart from these establishments providing basic commodities, other premises were built which enhanced the quality of suburban living. Places of civic amenity providing recreational and leisure activities were constructed as the suburb consolidated. One such place of civic amenity was the picture theatre. The Lyric Picture Palace in Boundary Street was built in 1914, and in 1926, the Rialto Picture Theatre was built.
The site on which this theatre was built used to contain a grocery shop. George Valentine acquired a portion of land, containing 1 rood and 1.75 perches, in 1884 and constructed a grocery shop in 1887. This shop remained here until the late 1910s, and the land was subdivided in the 1920s. A company called Garricks Entertainment Ltd. Purchased 25.6 perches of this land and built the Rialto.
The 1920s was a boom period for the motion picture industry, with many cinemas being constructed in this decade. The art form of film proved to be more than a temporary phenomenon, and the improvements in technology saw a concomitant establishment of the cinema as an architectural form. The makeshift accommodation for the displaying of films like halls and tents gave way to permanent structures, ranging from modest buildings in the suburbs to grand picture palaces in the city. Suburban picture theatres tended to be more utilitarian and less glamorous than those in the city. A visit to the former was a more commonplace activity; a visit to a city cinema was a special event. This differentiation tended to be reflected in the comparative architecture of the buildings. While the Rialto followed the simple structure of the suburban picture theatre, it was a much grander example of this type. The existence of the Rialto, and of the Lyric Picture Palace in Boundary Street, testifies to the importance of West End as an inner suburb in Brisbane in the 1920s.
The arrival of television in the 1950s and its immense popularity in the 1960s had a great impact on the motion picture industry. The decline in patronage due to television meant the closure of many cinemas in cities around Australia, but particularly those in the suburbs. The Lyric Picture Palace in Boundary Street did not survive these lean years but the Rialto did. The 1960s saw the growth of “ethnic” cinemas. Suburban cinemas that might have been forced to close due to television were often located in areas of high migrant populations. These theatres were taken over by Greeks or Italians and used to screen films of their home country. As West End had a significance migrant population at the times the Rialto was ideally situated to take advantage of this move. The Rialto screened at Greek films at various times in the 1960s. The Greek Society bought the theatre in the early 1970s and used it to exclusively screen Greek films.
The Rialto has had a number of ‘regenerations’ in recent years, as owners and managers have attempted to relaunch the theatre in various cultural directions. The Rialto has been the venue for vaudeville shows, pantomimes, music concerts, and film screenings. Currently its primary use is theatrical.
Statement of significance
Relevant assessment criteria
This is a place of local heritage significance and meets one or more of the local heritage criteria under the Heritage planning scheme policy of the Brisbane City Plan 2014. It is significant because:
The place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of the city's or local area’s history
for its contribution to the streetscape of Hardgrave Road.
The place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of the city’s or local area’s cultural heritage
as one of the oldest cinemas in Brisbane.
The place has the potential to yield information that will contribute to the knowledge and understanding of the city’s or local area’s history
for its continuous use as a cinema/theatre for more than 60 years.
The place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class or classes of cultural places
as representative of a time when most suburbs had a local cinema.
The place is important because of its aesthetic significance
as a fine example of the 'streamlined' style of architecture of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
The place is important in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technological achievement at a particular period
as the innovative use of low cost materials in its design has provided it with considerable presence within a modest budget.
The place has a strong or special association with the life or work of a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons
for its important association with the Greek community of West End.
Lawson, Ronald Brisbane in the 1890s: A Study of an Australian Urban Society. St Lucia U of Q Press, 1973
Brand, S 1983 Picture Palaces and Flea-Pits, Dreamweaver Books, Sydney. 1991, The Southside Weekender, Vol 1 No 3
Citation prepared by — Brisbane City Council (page revised September 2020)