The Hayden Orpheum at Cremorne began life as The Orpheum on October 3, 1935.
It was, at the time, a much grander movie theatre than most suburban movie houses, and for many years made the clumsily-worded boast of being “Sydney’s only suburban city movie theatre”. The justification for this claim was that it was built as a theatre, and could screen films or live cast musicals for its 1735 seats, over two levels.
Backstage there were dressing rooms, an orchestra pit, and a functioning fly-tower to store and ‘fly’ scenery. It was a proper ‘legit’ stage and played host to the Australian ballet etc.
The theatre remained intact, albeit very run down, until it was bought by commercial property developers. Despite the protests of some theatre supporters, it was savagely ripped apart, and a second-rate shopping arcade and a health gymnasium installed. A concrete slab was installed horizontally, and the only part of the theatre that remained above it was the decaying art deco ceiling and parts of the proscenium. It was virtually inaccessible to all – apart from the pigeons who made it their home.
In December, 1986, Mike Walsh O.B.E bought The Orpheum for his Hayden Group of Companies.
Together with noted Theatre Historian and designer, John Love, he embarked on his plans to restore it. As the shops all had current leases, he was initially restricted to restoring the old dress circle area, and the gym – the former ballroom- into what are now The Orpheum and The Lounge cinemas.
Loving attention was paid to art deco restoration and creation, and a Mighty Wurlitzer organ from the Fresno Theatre in California was installed. The original Orpheum had been built with chambers for this, but one was never installed.
A spectacularly restored Hayden Orpheum opened on December 9, 1987.
Mike Walsh tirelessly pursued getting the arcade area back, as the leases expired, or shopkeepers quit. Determined to get more screens into the site to make it a viable complex, he sounded out the North Sydney Council about building up. This was not accepted, so he decided to go down and carve new cinemas into the sandstone upon which the original theatre was built.
Today The Hayden Orpheum has six screens, all state of the art equipment. But the looks of each cinema are a tribute to an individual Art Deco/Modern style. The main and largest auditorium is The Orpheum, and the others all bear names of popular cinemas from The Golden Age – such as The Arcadia and the Rex. For good measure, the one John Love designed in tribute to Mike’s favourite Art Modern cinema in Melbourne, The Century, proudly bears The Walsh as its name.
Digital projection and sound, plus the ability to show all film gauges, round out the technical aspects. There is also ‘stage lighting’ in two cinemas to cover the frequently staged concerts and cine/variety programmes that are a staple feature.
The Hayden Orpheum Cremorne is unique in the world and will now entertain many more generations.
START THE SIX CINEMA TOUR HERE FOR INDIVIDUAL HISTORY INFORMATION!