When the Regent Theatre first opened in Rundle Street on June 29th 1928 it was described by The Advertiser writer of the day as a “Palace of Art”. It contained tapestries, paintings and other art works which made “going to the pictures as much a cultural uplifting experience as it was entertainment”.
Indeed it was a magnificent building and picture theatre and in those pre-television days, a Saturday night out at the pictures at the Regent was a very dressy affair. Ushers and usherettes wore military style uniforms, the grand organ played and the people came for a real night out. A wonderful icon sadly lost from another era!
Opening night featured “Flesh and the Devil” and Fox’s “The Gay Retreat”. There was an orchestra of 16 players. The famous Regent Wurlitzer pipe organ was not installed until about three months after the gala opening at a cost of £25,000. It premiered on September 22, 1928 with American organist Ray de Clemens, who took up a 3-month residency.
The Regent was also one of the first public buildings in Adelaide to be air-conditioned. It had a huge auditorium which seated 2,300 patrons. A highly arched proscenium was the focal point and was bathed in a range of subdued colors. From behind the intricate grille-work in and around the proscenium, emanated the distinctly rich sounds of the mighty Wurlitzer. Stage shows were also a part of the Regent Theatre presentations. A massive crystal chandelier hung above the lounge circle, and there were other smaller versions placed around the theatre.
Throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s the Regent Theatre was a focal point of Adelaide’s entertainment and night life.
When TV came to Adelaide in late 1959, theatre attendances began to dwindle. In 1961 it was decided to reduce the size of the theatre and six shops were built along one side of the stalls, facing out onto the laneway at the side of the theatre. At that stage 298 stalls seats were lost but still left the theatre with 1,964 seats.
Further plans were drawn up in 1967 to create an arcade in the stalls area which would accommodate 38 shops at ground level. At that stage the grand Wurlitzer organ was removed and installed in its new home at the Memorial Hall at St. Peters College. The newly revamped Regent Theatre re-opened on 30th May 1968 and whilst it still incorporated the former ceiling and side walls of the original dress circle, some of the white marble from the grand staircase which led from the foyer, and most of the original 1928 facade, it was in fact, a shadow of its former self.
The much smaller theatre now seated only 894 on a one raked level, using the former dress circle area. The latest projection equipment capable of most film formats was installed, including Cinerama on the 70 foot screen.
The Regent Theatre’s future was in doubt for quite some time before it closed on 28th January 2004. The building was further gutted internally to become part of the shopping centre.
Information from Cinema Treasures at http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1587