Garfield gets the picture

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A Garfield couple has spent almost two decades restoring the iconic Garfield Picture Theatre, expected to re-open later this year as a stage for all forms of artistic expression.

The 1924-built theatre not only provided entertainment to the town but was the source of the town’s first supply of electricity, according to a council heritage study.

Owner Fred Perez described himself and his wife Susie as “two romantic fools” when they purchased the historic building, not knowing the theatre would require an expensive 17-year long restoration process to return it to its former glory.

“It was just a shell,” Mr Perez said.

“Water used to come through the roof in the centre aisle when it rained and the floor was completely wrecked.

“We had no business plan as such, but day in day out we’ve been living and breathing this theatre.

“We both have a love for the arts and there’s a crying demand for local music venues in our region. There’s just nothing like it.”

The couple carefully selected block colours with the art deco period in mind, painting the exterior with green-ivory tones and installing burgundy curtains to frame the stage.

Mr Perez said he planned to host events at the theatre for all forms of artistic expression including orchestral ensembles, rock-and-roll bands, comedy shows, operatic performances, poetry readings, theatrical productions and even High Teas.

He also intends to retain the theatre’s original purpose, serving as a small cinema, and hopes to explore the possibility of hosting an outdoor cinema over summer.

Regardless of the art form, Mr Perez plans to uphold the tradition of serving afternoon tea during the interval to provide guests the full experience.

With the exception of a $3600 state grant, the project has been entirely self-funded by the Perez family.

Mr Perez was touched by a stranger’s generous donation of $1500 to the theatre on Sunday 3 July when about 200 residents enjoyed a day at the venue as part of Garfield Heritage Winterfest.

But the Perez family is awaiting a council planning permit before the theatre can be officially re-opened.

Cardinia Shire Council development and compliance services manager Debbie Tyson said planners were working with the Perezes to conduct an assessment of the site.

“The historic building is identified in the Garfield Township Strategy to encourage the re-establishment of the site. Council’s planning and economic development teams will be working closely with the owner at all times as we realise the potential of this proposal and the overall benefit to the community,” Ms Tyson said.

“The application process is only at the initial phase of assessment and therefore no expected timeframes have been defined for a decision at this early stage.”

Mr Perez said he was confident the theatre would re-open later this year.

“For a building in our region to be close to achieving a landmark of 100 years is a big achievement,” he said.

“Every town in our shire would have had a picture theatre and over time they’ve been allowed to deteriorate and be pulled down for development.

“As Garfield grows, it will encourage business on the shopping strip and I’m very optimistic for the future of the theatre.”

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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