March 16, 2018
Shop stories: Explore Elsternwick’s historic movie theatre, Classic Cinemas
Elsternwick’s much-loved Classic Cinemas is a local icon – one that’s steeped in history.
The building that houses the Classic Cinemas was erected in 1889.
During those early years, the venue served as a public hall and lodge rooms, where on occasion, films would be exhibited.
A rough canvas screen would be slung across the back of a stage, bookended by two gas lamps.
There was no fancy projection booth – the projectionist sat on scaffolding above the hall entrance.
In 1906, Australia’s first purpose-built hall for exhibiting motion picture opened and by 1911, permanent cinemas were popping up all over the country.
Suddenly residents could pay one to three shillings to watch the magic unfold, and it was an exciting time for motion picture in Australia.
It was then, in 1911, that a prominent theatre architect by the name of Frank Richardson applied to build a picture theatre on the site in Gordon Street, and so it was that The Elsternwick Theatre was born.
Over the years, the name changed (it became Classic Cinemas in 1971) and the venue faced many challenges, including the Great Depression and a fire.
However, today, the Classic Cinemas is still going strong, and is recognised as one of the few early cinemas in Victoria still operating.
The shared experience of cinema
In 1997, the Tamir family acquired the Classic Cinemas, with a vision to inject new life into the venue.
“The idea was to maintain all the historic elements of it and then bring in the modern, contemporary energy and combine it together,” owner Eddie Tamir said.
“What drives me and our family and our team is the shared experience.
“Cinema is like storytelling around a campfire, (and it’s about) connecting to that tradition, rather than watching a film on your mobile phone.
“We think there’s value in the shared experience.”
In March, four new cinemas will open at the Classic Cinemas, bringing the total number of screens to 10.
“To entertain and stimulate people is our very straight-forward ambition,” Mr Tamir said.
“We play big and small film, tent-pole, family films, kids’ films, as well as limited-release, single-screen, arthouse, documentary and foreign language films.
“We combine all of that under one hopefully interesting, compelling, surprising, upmarket, environment.”
Community at the core
At Classic Cinemas, community is a key focus.
In 2012, they hosted a series of short films, assisted by the local council, called 8km Radius, which were mini documentaries about the people who live and work in an 8km radius of the Classic.
“We try to appeal to as many people as possible in the local area and engage them,” Mr Tamir said.
“We have many charity groups, school groups and other special interest groups that hire the cinemas out for their functions and events, so we obviously are engaged in the community that way.”
Mr Tamir said he was excited about the future of Classic Cinemas.
“We’re expanding, increasing the range and variety of films and we hope that we can appeal to everybody in the community and have them continue the shared experience of cinema into the future,” he said.