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Civic / Athenaeum, Lilydale

Venue Summary
Name Civic / Athenaeum, Lilydale
Address Castella Street, Lilydale, Victoria 3140
Operation Dates 1888-01-01 - 1974-11-09
Capacity 200
Suburban/Country Country
Purpose Cinema
Screens 1
1920-01-01 - 1963-01-01 : Exhibitor : Ford, G.W. (George)
1963-01-01 - 1965-10-01 : Exhibitor : Stewart, R. W.
1971-04-01 - 1971-08-01 : Exhibitor : Yeomans, Ernest
Venue Comments

On October 18, 1888 the Athenaeum and Mechanics' Institute and Free Library of Lilydale was officially opened. From the start an important component of the building was its 'Free Lending Library' and 'Reading Room'. The Athenaeum Hall was also an essential reference point and entertainment venue for the Lilydale community. The hall offered a variety of musical and dramatic entertainment as well as hosting a large number of social events for the community. The first exhibition of cinematograph in the hall was May 24 and 25, 1897 (showed short images of nature hunters, horses cantering, street scenes, streamers and comical scenes). The Lilydale Express advertised some film screenings in the hall from 1906-1919, however this was not on a regular basis.

In 1920 the 'Lilydale Progress Association' saw the potential for screening of films as a means of raising funds that could be channeled into improvements in the town. Mr George Ford was commissioned to screen two star films every Saturday night at 8pm. Louis Herry was hired to play the piano during the screenings and throughout the silent era Miss Roberts, Miss Morris, Miss N Black and W Boyd would also play at sessions in the hall. The shows became known as 'The Lilyday Progress Pictures'.

In 1921 the Progress Association made arrangements with the 'Fox Film Corporation Australasia' to screen their pictures. In 1923 the association reported that some 17,000 had attended their 46 shows that year giving them an average nightly profit of 2/13/3. By this time the Association had decided to screen Wednesday evening shows as well.

In 1927 Progress Pictures signed a contract with Hoyts to participate in the screening of 'first-class' British films.

The falling economy of the late 1920s had an effect on the local picture shows. By 1927 Progress Pictures had to cancel its mid-week shows due to lack of patronage, and by 1929 the Association only recorded a net profit of 22/2/3/. In February 1930 there was a handover in management of the films from the Association to Mr Ford who from then on would run the pictures on their behalf and pay them an annual royalty of 25 pounds.

Balls, dances, parties, meetings etc were all held in the hall throughout this period.

Started screening sound films in 1931.

In 1950 the Lilydale Express began advertising under the name 'Civic Pictures'. The success of the picture theatre meant that George Ford branched out and opened cinemas in Warburton and Euroa as well. He advertised the same films at both Lilydale and Warburton to be screened on the same night at the same time. At interval a change over of films would take place. Also in this period George Ford took on a partner in business, Mrs Beatrice Godfrey.

In Melbourne suburbia began to spread out further and further towards the Dandenongs and in 1955 Lilydale was classified as part of the metropolitan area.

In 1963 ended his association with the Civic Theatre due to a lack of patronage. The
Lilydale Express wrote: 'History took a regrettable turn in Lilydale last weekend when Mr George Ford, proprietor of the Civic Theatre, announced that the regular Saturday night shows were to be discontinued. Mr Ford's decision to close down 'for the time being' was not made hastily; it followed months of perserverance to recapture public interest in theatre going and many long hours of worry over deteriorating financial position. However later that same year Mr R Stewart took over as the manager of the cinema and began running not only Saturday night double features but Saturday matinees and, on special occasions, Friday and Monday night sessions as well. He even catered to the growing Italian community by running, at different times, Italian language films. In 1965 Mr Stewart began canceling sessions and eventually he too finished up as the local cinema proprietor.

Three months later though, in October 1965 the cinema was opened again under new management changing it name to the 'Civic Theatre'. By May 1968 this management group had also fallen victim to the slump in cinema patronage. In November a new proprietor took over but lasted no more than three weeks. In august a new cinema group took over running for 15 months. The Yeomans and Harvey group decided to open the cinema once again in the hall in April 1971 with a direct emphasis on attracting a teenage audience. Four months later they too closed down and a regular cinema would not open again in the hall for another 3 years.

In May 1974 the last management group, Aura Promotions, decided to hire the hall for regular film exhibitions, in turn renaming it the 'Athenaeum Cinema'. On November 9, 1974 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula', the last film was shown in the hall, returning to operate as a venue for live performances. (Extracts sourced from: Lilydale icon: a history of Lilydale's Athenaeum building, volumes 1-3.)

Film Weekly records the following changes in capacity:
1946/47-1953/54 = 500
1954/55-1955/56 = 360
1956/57-1961/62 = 286
1962/63-1969/70 = 350
-1971 = 200

Cinema & Theatre Historical Society 1997, Cinema index : Melbourne cinemas, suburban cinemas, Victorian drive-ins. CATHS, Victoria.

Film Weekly, Film Weekly: motion picture directory, Film Weekly, Sydney. 1946/7-1971

Sauders, G & Johnson, R 1995, 'Athenaeum Theatre Lilydale' CinemaRecord, no. 6, p. 11

Mc Aleer, A J 2005, Lilydale icon : a history of Lilydale's Athenaeum building Athenaeum Theatre Company, Vic.

Venue Events
Event Date Name of Venue Address Latitude /
Capacity Suburban Purpose Screens
1888-10-18 Athenaeum Castella Street
Victoria 3140
454 Country Hall 1
1920-09-04 Progress Pictures

1950-01-01 Civic Pictures



1967-10-01 Civic Theatre


1974-01-01 Athenaeum Cinema