Garfield theatre green-light

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Plans are underway for the iconic Garfield Picture Theatre’s re-opening night, after the council granted a blanket permit to secure the venue’s continued operation.

Fred and Susie Perez have given the shire’s last-standing historical theatre a new life after almost two decades of tireless maintenance and restoration.

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

“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,“ Mr Perez said.

“My wife and I really appreciate all of the support from the community and the council that has made this possible.

“There have been highs and lows over the past 17 years and, I’ve got to confess, I didn’t go to the council meeting because I’m so emotionally invested in the theatre that I didn’t think I could have handled it if the application was rejected.

“But all my fears were unfounded.”

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 intended to retain the theatre’s original purpose, serving as a small boutique-style cinema, and hoped to explore the possibility of hosting an outdoor cinema over summer.

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

Garfield Picture Theatre had been one of the many movie-viewing venues constructed during the Australia-wide boom in cinema building in the 1920s.

Garfield was the shire’s first cinema in 1924, followed by Kooweerup’s Wattle Theatre and Pakenham’s King’s Picture Theatre which opened in mid to late 1927.

The Garfield theatre was not only an entertainment hub, but the town’s first source of electricity.

The theatre became ‘the place to be’ on a Saturday night shortly after its grand ball opening night, according to local historian Heather Arnold.

“Of the three purpose-built theatres, the Garfield Theatre was by far the most substantial building being constructed of brick,” Ms Arnold told the Gazette.

“Kooweerup’s theatre has external walls of corrugated iron and Pakenham’s theatre – roughly located opposite the Uniting Church – was made of asbestos cement sheet and demolished in the ’90s.

“My father, Frank Rouse, remembered that at its peak, the Garfield Picture Theatre had shows on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday nights.

“Simcock’s Bedford bus used to travel out to Murray Road, Cora Lynn and surrounding areas on a Saturday night to pick up theatre goers and return them after the show. There was always a rush to get served at Simcock’s milk bar during the intermission.”

It is envisioned that a coffee shop will open at the site for breakfast and lunch, with events held in the evening.

Mr Perez said he would also host community events such as Garfield Winterfest and Christmas events.

Long-term plans include providing additional accommodation cabins at their bed and breakfast business on the property.

Councillor David Young congratulated the Perezes on their years of dedication to revitalising the theatre.

“Garfield’s township was built in the 1920s era and most buildings in the town centre are, sadly to say, in their original state today and in desperate need of a facelift,” he said.

“Garfield is a real gem within this shire but a town that a lot of people tend to drive through.

“If the theatre can get up to 200 patrons there on a regular basis I think that would be excellent and many of the other businesses would get more patronage.”

Cr Young said he hoped the restored theatre would encourage other Garfield businesses to revitalise their own shopfront facades.

“We need more music in our shire and a place of artistic expression,“ Mr Perez said.

“There’s a lot of negativity in our lives and we need a community meeting place for some respite.

“We’ve got a fantastic football club, a swimming pool and we’re lucky to have a train station at the town centre. Now we have a theatre as well.

“Garfield’s off the Princes Highway and – my favourite part – there’s no traffic lights.“

Mr Perez said the theatre would hold a launch night “extravaganza“ later this year.

A cinema screen has been donated to the Perezes, but they are yet to secure the funds needed to purchase a projector.

For more information or to offer a donation, contact Fred Perez on 0408 584 633.

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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