Red Hill is my hood. I was very excited to be able to walk up the road to meet Peter Sourris and to hear about his project for the Red Hill Theatre and Skate Arena on the corner of Enoggera Terrace.
The building goes back to the 1920s, when it was a State theatre and cinema, operating until 1964. It was briefly a live music venue before being converted into a skate arena in 1965. A fire destroyed it on Boxing Day 2002. It is a Heritage listed building.
Since then, it has been lying there, a burnt-out forlorn shell, until some very excellent street artists came along in February of 2016 and did a brilliant job of brightening up its one side. The street art is elaborate and beautiful, but my favourite part is the image of a woman, spray can in hand, letting her passion take her. It is passion that I note in Peter's voice as he explains how he and his brother Stephen are hoping to convert this heritage building into a hub for cinema-goers and art house films.
I knew the Sourris brothers have been involved in purchasing and renovating both the New Farm Cinemas in Brunswick St and the Cinemas in Elizabeth St. What I didn't know is that this is very much in their blood. They go about their project with passion and enthusiasm, which stems from a long family line of involvement in the theatre and cinemas in Queensland.
I don't think this story would be complete without some of that historical background which I always find one of the most exciting aspects, and Peter was only too happy to share this with me.
"My grandfather Peter Sourris came over to Australia from the small island of Kythera, in Greece when he was 11 years old. The family settled in Gayndah in Northern Queensland. When he was a young man together with his brother Chris, he toured the area with a Bedford Truck, hired local halls and projected silent movies. They did that for about 15 years till the late 30's. Then my grandfather bought the Paragon Theatre in Childers, near Bundaberg.
He had recently married and before too long my dad Jim was born. He ran the theatre for about 5 years. Someone told him that a picture theatre was up for sale in Nundah so he immediately went to have a look and bought it. In the 1940s, the hard-topped theatres were giving way to the very popular drive-ins and my grandfather actually went to America to see how they were run. He returned and built his first drive-in in Aspley in 1957, which he worked with his brother. It was just the right time for this sort of entertainment and the venues were very popular.
My grandfather died in 1981 but his two sons had by the time of his death acquired 7 drive-ins in Brisbane. With the 80s came, the VCRs and of course, television, both of which affected the drive- in business. So the brothers sold all of them except the one in Yatala, Beenleigh that is still in operation today.
My father still owns the Strand Theatre in Toowoomba. My father and uncle have a close working relationship, which is something that I enjoy with my brother Stephen. We make a good team, he is more into the artistic and design side of the project and I manage the business side."
For Red Hill, the street art, inside and out, stays in place. In fact Travis Vinson, the street artist, has returned to complete the artwork this time in anticipation of the project being completed with images of Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Mickey Mouse now on the front entrance. The terrazzo flooring, the lovely arches in the front and all other features will be preserved and restored. We love heritage buildings and put a lot of effort and money into preserving those parts of the building that can show it off to maximum effect.
Brisbane City Council gave us Development Approval in November of 2017, but of, course we are now distracted by the objection filed recently by Reading Cinemas, a big US corporate entity which owns the Newmarket complex of cinemas.
This, inevitably, will take time and money to process. We shall rely on our experts to produce answers to all the points raised and hopefully, their objection will be overruled. We are also heartened by the considerable support from Red Hill residents who have even started a petition in favour of the development.
In the meantime, we have just put up the new roof and we are hoping to close off the building in the not too distant future. At that point, we hope to host an open day when people can come and see what we are doing. The renovated building will house 5 screens; four will be Gold Class with reclining seats, with food and drink, with a bigger screen at the far end of the building. We are looking forward to getting to know Red Hill residents and hope that they will embrace it warmly as the venue they can walk to and enjoy good cinema.
Keeping those reels going, albeit with new technology and comfort, is a passion and a family tradition and something that we are so happy to offer to Brisbane."