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Art Deco Delight – The Empire Theatre, Toowoomba

Who doesn’t love a bit of Art Deco? I know I do and when I look back through holiday photos and snaps I’ve taken on the streets, many of them feature ageing Art Deco buildings. I’ve visited some great Art Deco cities such as Napier in NZ and Miami in the USA, both premiere Deco destinations. I also visited the city of Saenz Pena on the Chaco in Argentina, where there was obviously a boom in the 1920’s. Though it’s literally a day’s drive from anywhere, the centre of town comprises an enormous amount of now very faded Art Deco architecture. Not really a showcase for Art Deco fabulousness but a nod to the solid building techniques of the era. If there’s one structure that represents Art Deco more than any other building, it’s the cinema.

The late 20’s and early 30’s was the birth of cinema as we know it today. The introduction of talking pictures, the creation of the studio system and the emergence of Hollywood as a centre for film making meant an endless stream of swashbuckling adventures, dashing heroes and swooning heroines. What better way to showcase this wonderful world of escapism than in bold, modern design of Art Deco? Ziggurats, sunbursts, chevrons and sweeping curves. Nearly 100 years on, you can still spot a repurposed Deco cinema at 50 paces.

Empire Theatre, Toowoomba

A visit to the city of Toowoomba in country Queensland, gives you the opportunity to take in an old cinema that has been sympathetically restored to its Art Deco glory days. Located in the centre of the city, the facade hints at the glamour of the interior. The heritage listed Empire Theatre was originally built in 1911 and following a fire, rebuilt in 1933 in the Art Deco style. It was renovated in 1997 and is still a fully operating theatre for the community. The venue has been brought into the 21st Century with state of the art lighting and sound as well as plush seating and amenities. If you look closely, you’ll see plenty of Deco details in the lights, plasterwork and fittings.

Empire Plaster Details Empire Lighting Pair 2

One of the most spectacular features of the theatre is the ‘bomber light’, named in WWII because of its likeness to a bomber and the fears that shards of glass would fall on patrons if the theatre was bombed.

'The Bomber'

‘The Bomber’

You can take a whistle-stop tour of the theatre for a modest fee that gives you the opportunity to soak in the atmosphere as you hear something of its history. Larger groups can also take a back stage tour by prior arrangement.

Empire Theatre Interior Empire podium trio

This is a glorious building that many people in nearby Brisbane would have no idea even exists. Next time you’re in Toowoomba make sure you take a short detour to take in this magnificent tribute to the Art Deco era.

The Empire Theatre
56 Neil St
Toowoomba  Qld  4350

11 comments… add one
  • Tony O. February 13, 2015, 8:42 pm

    I remember seeing Gandhi there back in the 80s (the movie, not the man) and even as a gormless youth I was impressed by the design.

    • Fiona Ryan February 14, 2015, 11:12 am

      They were keen to let us know how ‘hip’ the place was with concerts from Paul Kelly and Jimmy Barnes in the calendar. Very sympathetically done.

  • Lizzy (Good Things) February 14, 2015, 1:19 pm

    How gorgeous!

    • Fiona Ryan February 14, 2015, 5:00 pm

      It is indeed a beautiful building and great to see it being used by the community.

  • Jan Rhoades February 14, 2015, 2:44 pm

    Ah, happy memories of the old Empire Theatre. When we were living in Toowoomba, the Empire was part of TAFE Queensland/Education Queensland. In those days – mid-late 80s – she was a very sad, decripit old girl way past her prime. The floors were timber and very uneven, you certainly had to watch your step. There was a distinct air of mustiness and decay. In fact, the building was closed down because of workplace health and safety issues. They were going to demolish the whole thing because of the cost of refurbishment. Thank heavens sanity prevailed. It is lovely to see her, each time I visit Toowoomba, sitting there in her former, splendid glory. One day I must find the time again to visit inside. Thanks for the nostalgic memories.

    • Fiona Ryan February 14, 2015, 5:01 pm

      Definitely worth poking your head in, if only in the foyer. Happy to oblige.

  • Sherry from sherryspickings February 14, 2015, 6:44 pm

    Yes I love Art Deco. Napier has so many great examples. It is so distinctive and beautiful. We stayed in a wonderful Art Deco place in launceston too. Lucky that the Empire hasn’t been knocked down.

    • Fiona Ryan February 16, 2015, 4:27 pm

      Ha – we stayed atthe youth hostel in Napier but went on a great walking tour there. Yes, we’re very lucky it wasn’t knocked down.

  • Maria February 15, 2015, 9:35 pm

    Oh my goodness, Iain is positively drooling. What gorgeous photos!!!

    • Fiona Ryan February 16, 2015, 4:27 pm

      Most of them were on the iphone because it was so dark. You have to organise a weekend up there and go and visit.

      • Maria February 16, 2015, 4:52 pm

        Iain was extremely impressed by the photos. Yep, it’s on the agenda!

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