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Sydney's opulent State Theatre was built in 1929, at the height of the popularity of cinema going in Australia. It was one of the last theatres built in Sydney before the Great Depression of the 1930s, and before the prevalence of the more restrained Art Deco style in cinema design. In 1921, there were 18 movie theatres in the city centre, with a further 96 in the outer suburbs. At least 80 were owned and operated by Union Theatres Ltd, including the State Theatre.
The site of the State Theatre had earlier been the location of Daniel Cooper's Waterloo Stores, a Greenway-designed building probably constructed in the 1820s. This was replaced with offices for the Evening News, a daily Sydney newspaper, in the late nineteenth century.
[media]In 1926, Union Theatres purchased the former Evening News offices on Market Street, along with a building on George Street, to build a movie theatre. The buildings on the Market and George Street frontages were demolished soon after, and planning went ahead for a new building on the site, to be known as the State Shopping Block, which would incorporate a highly ornate picture palace at ground level.
The State Theatre and the tower building above it were designed by the New Zealand-born architect Henry Eli White in collaboration with the renowned American theatre designer John Eberson. Although intended to screen talking films, which had been introduced in 1927, the State Theatre incorporated orchestral facilities and a Wurlitzer organ. It was one of the largest cinemas in Sydney, able to accommodate almost 3000 patrons. A smaller, more modestly designed theatrette was opened in the eastern half of the basement level in late 1931. It was initially used to screen newsreels and later feature-length movies, and remained in operation until the 1980s.
The State Shopping Block, built above the State Theatre, was opened a year later, in 1930. This 11-storey tower building, built in the Gothic-revival style, was originally intended as a shopping arcade accessed by lifts to the west of the main entrance, but was later converted to offices. The State Theatre is now primarily used as a lyric theatre, although it hosts the Sydney Film Festival for two weeks every year.
Jill Julius Matthews, Dance Hall and Picture Palace: Sydney's Romance with Modernity, Currency Press, Strawberry Hills NSW, 2005
Ross Thorne, Picture Palace Architecture in Australia, Sun Books Pty Ltd, Melbourne, 1976