A walk through Naracoorte's historic Rivoli Theatre

There's been a surge of public interest in Naracoorte's historic Rivoli Theatre since it was listed for sale last month.

The theatre building in Naracoorte's main street has been listed for sale through Ottoson Partners Real Estate for $500,000.

The huge complex has commercial potential which has been untapped since the theatre ceased operating more than 50 years ago.

Heyday: A busy street scene in front of the former Rivoli Theatre back in the 1930s-40s.

Heyday: A busy street scene in front of the former Rivoli Theatre back in the 1930s-40s.

The building includes a cinema room that at one time was able to seat 990 people, but ceased operating as a theatre in the mid-1960s. While the theatre room has remained virtually untouched in half a century, the ground floor has since been used for shops.

Sarah Ottoson said Ottoson Partners planned to have an open public inspection for the theatre building soon.

How the theatre evolved

The building has a long and fascinating history. Built from local limestone by Alexander (Sandy) Anderson and Dugald Caldwell in 1935, at a time when film was becoming more popular, it initially operated as the Austral Theatre along with two shops - the Austral Fashion House (later Savages) and a milk bar.

The facility was opened with much fanfare, with the Naracoorte Herald reporting at the time:

"Each successive step towards the completion of the theatre has been watched with keen interest by townspeople and visitors, and...there is no doubt it is a decided asset to Naracoorte."

Many dignitaries were among the huge crowd who turned out on opening night in December 1935. The Herald reported: "The new Austral Picture Theatre began its career very auspiciously...when a large audience of nearly 800 people attended."

In the 1940s, the theatre industry started to change and venues had to be part of a chain of theatres to be able to screen the top films.

Irving Cook and Alex Harrison, high up in the Star Theatres chain - later to become Greater Union - took over management of the theatre and changed the name to Rivoli.

The theatre at this time seated 990 people. Early managers were Arch Humphris, Frank Dawson and later Tim Rowe, projectionists were Jim Thomson, Harry Baker, Tim Rowe and Dick Henley, and ushers included Ernie and Gordon Jones, Beth Rowe and Elaine Bowman.

As drive-ins started to become popular, a Mr Murphy built the Cloudland drive-in on Penola Road and also took over the Rivoli lease. He kept the theatre running for a few months before closing it in the 1960s.

The theatre equipment was sold off in about 1970 and part of the building was converted to an arcade of shops, which was named Rivoli Arcade. While the arcade name remains to this day, the development met with only limited success. With the theatre remaining closed, most of the shops have been vacant for the best part of half a century.

In the early 2000s, Naracoorte Lucindale Council looked seriously at buying the complex - going as far as signing a contract to buy it for $300,000. The Naracoorte Herald at the time reported that the council wanted to shift the public library into the old theatre and convert the existing library on DeGaris Place into council offices.

However, the purchase failed to eventuate, and apart from Subway operating successfully for a number of years from one shop, and a beauty salon currently still operating from another, most of the shops have remained untenanted.

This story Take a walk through Naracoorte's historic theatre first appeared on Naracoorte Herald.