Laurieton's Links with Hollywood
Laurietons first cinema was located in the local public hall in Bold Street. The hall having been licenced since 1911 and was allowed to show movies. P & G Hatsatouris being the last known exhibitor at the hall. The other cinema exhibitor in the area was Mrs McCormack, who was the proprietor of what is known in the film trade as a touring exhibitor. Pictures were shown in the towns and villages in the area that did not have ready access to a local cinema. Two of the places regularily serviced were Kendall and Johns River. The McCormack travelling cinema enterprise was amongst the last in existence and ceased trading in 1960.
Back in 1944, at Laurieton, the locals noticed that a seaplane was in trouble and saw the aircraft land in the Camden Haven inlet. A fisherman, a Mr Wallace, used his schnapper boat to take the stranded party ashore. Fortunately there were no serious injuries, but to the amazement of the local postmaster and others, the stranded group were entertainers from the U.S.A. Among the group was comedian Bob Hope and actress Francis Langford. Eternally gratefull for their rescue, an improptu was organised in the Laurieton Public Hall starring, Bob Hope live in person!
Bob Hope though had never forgotton the people who saved his life and when in Australia in June of 1955, invited a group of citizens from the town to one of his Sydney performances at the old Sydney stadium. The group later met with him at the airport and later presented him with a large framed photograph of Laurieton. Bob Hope wanted to go to Laurieton again, but his busy schedule prevented that from taking place.
The trade in movies in holiday periods in the 1950s was quite lucrative in Laurieton and led to the aquisition of land across the road from the old hall in which a new and larger cinema could be erected. A local builder Mr Bruce Longworth formed an equal partnership with Messrs. G and P Hatsatouris to run the cinema. The Hatsatouris family were long established exhibitors in Taree Civic and Savoy and the Ritz theatre at Port Macquarie.
The capacity was about 400. This was a substantial improvement compared with 230 in the old hall. The architect was G Kenworthy, Traill, Arena and associates.
The first screening taking place on 25th February 1959, when the film Peyton Place starring Lana Turner was screened.
The new Plaza Theatre incorporated many new features, a vast improvement when compared to the old School of Arts Hall. Built of brick, steel frame, the building is 50ft wide (approx 15 meters). Modern indirect lighting was originally used throughout the auditorium and a stadium design for seating was adopted. Entry to the auditorium is accessed from a small foyer alongside the building.
The Plaza Theatre remained part of the Hatsatouris circuit until 1970. A sale of the property took place in June 1971. The new owners were Mr Bruce Longworth and his sister Miss Sylvia Longworth. The Longworth family having been involved with the Plaza Theatre since its inception. Sadly, Mr Bruce Longworth passed away in September, 1972. Eventually the cinema passed through the hands of several people which resulted in several openings and closings. Television and video took its toll and by 1998 the Plaza Theatre was closed down permanently. The auditorium was totally stripped and the whole building was slated for demolition.
Former Queensland cinema exhibitor, David McGowan visited the region at this time with a view of establishing a cinema in the area. Laurieton and its surrounding villages had grown substantially througout the 1980s and 1990s. A large number of retiree's had moved to the area and the local beaches were swamped with tourists in the summer. This revitalisation making it possible for a future cinema in the town.
Finally, in 1999 the Plaza Theatre was spared from demolition and was extensively rebuilt, inside and out. The present owner obviously having invested a small fortune in the alterations. A new proscenium and screen was erected a few meters forward of the original. The whole cinema was fitted with new seating, the latest Kinoton projection equipment was installed as well as digital sound. Add to the list, air conditioning, emergency power generation equipment, new candy bar and many other speciality features, among which is the display of 70 year old three sheet posters! The new Plaza Theatre has become, since its reincarnation, a popular cinema for both locals and tourists alike. The personal approach by the proprietor and his programming skills have all contributed to the cinemas popularity.
Well, Bob Hope it seems is not alone in his admiration for Laurieton, a few years ago the theatre was visited by Baz Luhrmann, legend Hollywood director of such films as Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet. Needless to say the proprietor Mr McGowan being stunned by such a distinguished visitor. This visit of course was no surprise to the locals as Baz Luhrmann's parents operated the local motor garage at Herons Creek. Baz is both well acquainted with both the old School of Arts hall and saw many of his first movies on the screen of Laurieton's Plaza theatre.
Laurieton is just one example of a new investment in country and regional cinemas in recent years. An exercise where perserverance and imagination pay dividends!