Manly Cinema’s curtains have sat still since the venue’s closure in October 2013. Will they ever open again? Not anytime soon, and not in its former location, laments cinema business owner Roy Mustaca.
Mustaca, who also owns cinemas in Avalon, Collaroy and Warriewood, told Manly Observer he did all he could to negotiate with the owner of the property, who lives in Hong Kong, to enable the reopening of the cinema, with no success.
“Just before Covid I flew over [to Hong Kong], because there was an outcry from our community wanting it opened, but sadly, they didn’t want to do anything with the property,” Mustaca said.
The celebrated local said he bought the cinema six years ago knowing it was unlikely to make money. “I knew it wouldn’t make money, but I did it cause the community would like that,” he claimed.
“I love being able to talk to people after they’ve seen a movie,” Mustaca said.
Why the cinema was shut down is still unclear, even to Mustaca. “The owners from Hong Kong closed us up, but I don’t know why… We’ve got lawyers, of course, but we can’t do anything. We tried contacting them again, but we’re told to leave them alone. It got a bit ugly.”
Long before it was the Manly Cinema, the location originally housed The Embassy Theatre, opening in August of 1933 and operated by the Smythe family. Greater Union Theatres bought it in 1948, renovating it to become the Odeon Theatre in 1960, though their screenings would only last until March of 1984, when the theatre was closed and approved to be demolished by the Manly Council and replaced with the apartment block you see today.
While the size of the original theatre was dramatically reduced, there was still room left below the apartment block for a two screen cinema that was opened by Greater Union and operated by Graeme Edwards as The Manly Twin Cinemas in January of 1988.
Readers tell us a David Lloyd also operated the theatre for quite some time.
Revealed in a message on the Save Manly Cinemas Facebook page, Edwards had to close the cinema in 2013 due to a dispute with the property owners from Hong Kong.
“The cinema is closed because we have been unable to negotiable a favourable occupancy deal with our landlord,” Edwards said.
“When we declined the owner locked us out to try and force us to sign what was a bad deal.”
Former Council chambers a possible new site
While there are sadly no plans to reopen the cinema, some hope remains for movie lovers in the area.
One possible location is Manly Town Hall, with Deputy Mayor Candy Bingham one campaigner pushing for its conversion into a multi-purpose performing arts space that could feature a cinema.
“There’s a lot of support for it,” Cr Bingham said. “It would totally transform Manly and what’s on offer in the area.”
Though there are plenty of film fans and movie buffs eager to see the latest releases in Manly soon, this project, if approved, would take some time to materialise.
“The process will take at least five years; we’ll have to do feasibility studies, get funding, which won’t happen tomorrow, but the process has started,” said Cr Bingham.
Just last week Northern Beaches Council put out a formal call for expressions of interest from the community to sit on a working group which will consider and investigate potential future uses of the Manly Town Hall.
“Manly’s Town Hall is such an iconic part of Manly which has incredible potential for community use,” Northern Beaches Mayor Michael Regan said.
“We asked the community for ideas and received almost 300 suggestions including a music or theatre venue, arts space, museum and environment or community centre.
“We are keen for a working group to narrow these down and consider what is feasible before we invite the community to input further.
“This is a great opportunity to reimagine and revitalise the Town Hall and help shape it’s future.
“Of course nothing will be considered that does not respect and celebrate the heritage of the building which dates back to the early 1900s.”
The working group will have 12 representatives including residents, businesses, workers, visitors, and other special interest groups. We are looking for local residents, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representative and community members with experience in tourism, theatre and performing arts, galleries and museums or environment and heritage.
Expressions of interest close Monday 1 August. Register: https://yoursay.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/manly-town-hall