By ALLISON HORE
After “impassioned pleas” from the Kings Cross community, the NSW Government has announced their decision to grant state heritage listing to the Metro Minerva theatre building in Potts Point.
The much-loved Art Deco building, which opened in 1939 as The Minerva Theatre, received state heritage recognition in December. Built in Hollywood’s golden age, the theatre is recognised architecturally for being a rare example of the Interwar Functionalist style and Streamline Moderne features.
Minister for the Arts Don Harwin said the building not only makes a “powerful visual impression,” but is also a key piece of the city’s stage and screen history.
“The Metro forms an important part of the history of theatre and cinema in NSW, bracketing the boom of theatre development in the 1930s and television and film until the early 2000s,” Mr. Harwin said.
The theatre was converted into the Metro Cinema in 1950 before reverting back to live shows just a decade later.
In the 1970s the building was transformed into a film studio for George Miller’s film and television production company. During its time at the Metro, the company produced more than twenty-five movies and TV series. A number of films produced from the building, including Babe, Happy Feet and Mad Max, received international acclaim.
When the company moved its activities to Fox Studios in 2017, the building was put up for sale. After more than a year on the market, Abacus Property Group purchased the property.
Protected but not restored
City of Sydney Mayor Clover Moore applauded the NSW Government’s decision to give the building heritage listing and called the move an “early Christmas present for Kings Cross”. She said heritage recognition would ensure the art deco icon is “protected for future generations”.
But the fight for the Metro’s future is not yet over.
The heritage listing guarantees the building will not be subject to unsympathetic renovations, but it does not necessarily mean the building will be restored to use as a theatre.
In 2019, member for Sydney Alex Greenwich questioned the NSW Government about the theatre’s future and whether it was possible the stage would return to the building.
In response the NSW Government said Create NSW met with the building owners to talk about potential uses for the building. Abacus Property Group said they had “sought professional advice from theatre operators” on how the building could be restored.
However, given the number of internal alterations, “substantial restoration work” would be required to transform the Metro into a theatre once again. Work would include the mammoth task of rebuilding the original sloped gradient of the current floor level for appropriate audience seating and viewing.
At the time, Abacus Property Group determined reconstruction and recommissioning of the building to be used as a theatre to be “not viable”.
Despite the property owner’s cynicism towards the possibility of live shows being returned to the venue, Mayor Moore is hopeful it may one day happen.
“I am hopeful that the space will be revived as a theatre or cultural facility, which would complement our vision for Kings Cross as a safe and lively area with a diverse economy including fabulous bars, restaurants, theatres and shops,” she said.
Ms. Moore said the City of Sydney has contributed to a NSW Government feasibility study to provide a “realistic estimate” of what it would take to make these hopes possible.