Arts & Entertainment

Surry Hills revives a golden age

Golden Age Cinema and Bar in Surry Hills vows to shake off the mid-week doldrums and take audiences back in time, with classic films of yesteryear, at yesteryear’s prices. For Tuesday night screenings, Golden Age is adjusting ticket prices to match the year of the film’s release.

Since opening last year in the former headquarters of Paramount Pictures, Golden Age is now celebrating a solid 12 months of leading a vibrant renaissance of the area’s rich cultural heritage.

Managing director and designer Bob Barton says, “There is definitely something happening around here, with lots of great new restaurants, bars and galleries – and, of course, there is the Hollywood Hotel, which has been a linchpin of the neighbourhood for a while. The precinct is also home to some of Sydney’s most creative businesses which all drive the atmosphere of the suburb.”

Now known for its thriving bar and café culture, Surry Hills was once the beating heart of the local film industry. During WWII, with the golden age of Hollywood in full swing, industry giants 20th Century Fox and Paramount Pictures rolled into town and established headquarters, earning the area its ‘Hollywood Quarter’ reputation.

To reflect the changing face of the neighbourhood, the local pub was even renamed – and so, from the Art Deco remains of the Nevada Hotel, the illustrious Hollywood Hotel was born.

When publican Doris Goddard took over the Hollywood Hotel in 1977 she added another layer to the Quarter’s Hollywood veneer. Before settling in Surry Hills, the former silver screen starlet and cabaret performer had enjoyed a successful career working alongside Peter Sellers, Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope. Ms Goddard remains something of a local legend for Surry Hills’ stalwarts.

But the Hollywood Hotel is no longer the last standing remnant of that bygone era. In a throwback to the former glory and glamour of the area, Golden Age recaptures the old-world charm of a night at the cinema.

Programming Director Kate Jinx says, “The cinema we use is the original Paramount Theatrette, so as soon as the doors shut behind you it feels like stepping into another era. We have 56 seats, all of which had a past life in a theatre in Zurich [saved just before it was torn down], which adds to the sense of history.

“Golden Age is a different kind of cinema experience because it harks back to slightly more romantic times, when going to the movies was a bit of an event – something to look forward to. I grew up being able to visit a lot of independent cinemas that each had their own charm and it’s been quite devastating to see some of my favourites pull down their shutters.”

Mr Barton adds, “Everyone feels like the magic had gone out of cinema, and it has been so enjoyable to bring that magic back to a community.”

Built in 1940, the Paramount Pictures site served as a distribution hub for Australia and Oceania until Paramount moved out in the seventies. To create Golden Age Cinema, Mr Barton restored the original private screening room in the lower ground floor of the heritage-listed building, keeping the original 35mm film projectors in the projection room.

The adjacent cocktail bar is a Lynchian visual feast of plush velvet, brass and American walnut. Mr Barton explains his creative inspiration for the Golden Age bar, “The concept was ‘a hotel in space, where you never knew if you were going forwards or backwards in time’, and I’m really happy with how surreal it all feels. It’s great to see the surprise on peoples’ faces when the curtain wall in the bar opens up to reveal a secret stage.”

An impressive feat in both restoration and design, the Golden Age fit-out won Barton a national architecture commendation for best creative reuse of a heritage building.

Like the iconic Hollywood Hotel around the corner, Golden Age pays homage to the history of the area. Ms Jinx says, “I always despair when I see beautiful old buildings that are unused and crumbling. I’d much rather see old spaces with a bit of life breathed back into them, in a respectful way. The Paramount Building has a lot of history to it and we’ve had lots of people get in touch with their stories about what they remember of it.”

Despite an obvious nostalgia for another era, Golden Age Cinema and Bar operates by the maxim that the good old days are, in fact, now. Ms Jinx explains, “Not all the best times are in the past – they’re happening right now, all the time.”

Mr Barton adds, “We see this era that we live in as a golden age, where we have the capacity to use technology to reawaken past beauty and create new experiences. People have responded really well to the venue, the bar and the progressive programming that mixes classics, new releases and cult fun.” (CC)

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