To many movie lovers, it was itself a tragedy worthy of a story told on the big screen: an immensely popular cinema, a rumoured bitter row over rent, a tumultuous break-up and then a building deserted for nearly 10 years.
But now an old Sydney picture palace originally opened in 1911 with the film The Power of Love and seating for 2500 on two levels is finally to embark on a fresh $100 million affair.
The vacant Academy Twin Cinema and the iconic former restaurant-nightclub the Grand Pacific Blue Room on the Darlinghurst-Paddington border is set to become a boutique hotel, a rooftop restaurant and bar, function centre and medical facility, in a move many hope will rejuvenate the area.
“I think everyone is very excited by this,” said Corey Cooney, managing director of investment firm Boston Global which is undertaking the conversion project as a joint venture with developers Central Element. “It will bring that corner of the city back to what it should be.
“We’ll be retaining the facade to pay homage to its past but everything else will be brand new. It’s set to be a beautiful building once more.”
The site is on the five-way intersection of Oxford Street, Victoria Street and South Dowling Street now called Three Saints Square – after the nearby St Vincent’s Hospital, Notre Dame University’s Darlinghurst campus and the St Sophia Greek Orthodox Church on South Dowling Street.
The cinema complex was first the West’s Olympia Theatre, then was modernised in the 1920s and 1930s and is claimed to have been one of the first suburban cinemas in Australia to have “talkies”.
It was renamed the Odeon in the 1950s, the Mandala Cinema in the late 1960s, and then became Sydney’s first twin-screen cinema in 1973, opening with Fritz the Cat and Roman Polanski’s Macbeth.
The Academy finally closed in 2010, with screenings moved to the Palace Verona further up the same road in Paddington.
Now the planning proposal to completely overhaul the site at 1-11 Oxford Street, with the redesign by architects Tonkin, Zulaikha Greer, and a silent movies artwork, has been passed by NSW Planning and a formal Development Application has been lodged with the City of Sydney.
“It will be a luxury boutique hotel with between 101 and 105 rooms on six levels,” said Mr Cooney of the venture under CE Boston Hotels. “It will also be a medical amenity with two levels of basement for commercial use since St Vincent’s is just across the road.
“There’ll be supporting services for the hospital, restaurants and cafes on the ground floor and multi-functional spaces for meeting rooms, conferences and events. It has a beautiful design that brings natural light into the B1 basement level, with a garden courtyard that’s quite beautiful.”
The old Grand Pacific Blue Room next to the cinema was once Sydney’s most fashionable place to be seen, with Kylie Minogue regularly photographed there.
Architect Tim Greet said a highlight of the new design would be a tiered garden where the cinema seating used to be.
“That goes from the ground floor to the basement and tries to echo that seating of the cinema,” he said. “We also want to project moving images of old silent movies on to the two end walls as an artwork.
“Before the site became a cinema, it used to be a brewery so we’ll have an interpretive water piece that draws attention to the underground bore which was the reason it was sited there.”
The rooftop will face north and be shielded from the homes to the back of the building to protect them from any noise, and some of the eccentric elements of the original design, such as the lantern-like portico off the top of the building, will be re-interpreted.
“A hotel is the perfect use for the site,” said Mr Greer. “The site has been vacant for 12 years and it’s been a pretty sad indictment that such a significant site has been unoccupied for so long.
“This will be fantastic and I think it will be one of the catalysts for the rejuvenation of Oxford Street, which is incredibly important not as a main arterial road to the eastern suburbs but also to the social equality of Australia. It will be great to see it coming back to life and we’ve had such a positive response from the local community.”