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It’s time to let go of the Starlight

By 12 August 2014 14

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Long-time residents of Canberra will remember the old Starlight drive-in cinema that used to be at Watson, near the end of the Federal Highway, with its bright neon sign proudly glowing for all who entered Canberra to see. Brand new residents of Canberra will have no idea what I’m talking about. The younger generation probably have no idea what a drive-in cinema is.

The Starlight closed in 1993 with the big neon sign standing (unlit) for almost 20 years until it was damaged in a 2012 storm and removed by authorities. It has since been lying in an ACT Government depot, basically rotting away until recently when a self-appointed ‘Rescue Committee’ called on the Government to fix up the sign and reinstate it, preferably in its original spot.

According to coverage by the Canberra Times, it will cost over $30,000 to restore the sign, a fee the ACT Government has agreed to cover. The sign will be put up, but not lit as the owners of the Starlight apartment complex, which now stands where the cinema once was, voiced their opposition to the sign.

The ‘Rescue Committee’ is fighting for the sign to be lit up once it’s restored and has denied this will create a false impression for tourists telling the Times that it sat for nearly 20 years without doing this. Perhaps this was not the case as the sign was not lit up for the 20 years that it sat on the side of the road. The owners of the Starlight Apartments have said in a statement that lighting the sign could, as well as confusing visitors to the Capital, ‘create an adverse glare for nearby residents’. If that sign is right near the windows of apartments, the residents will want to move out as quickly as possible – no one wants a neon sign shining through their windows at night.

The sign is heritage listed as it ‘remains as the only tangible reminder in the ACT of the iconic era of drive-ins’.

Even with the ‘heritage listing’, I can’t understand what the point of reinstating the sign is. $30,000 is a lot of money to be spending on something that will bring in no tourism or revenue to the ACT. No one is going to visit Canberra to get their photo taken in front of a sign for an old drive-in cinema. What is the justification of this? I understand that governments have different budgets for different areas and this $30,000 plus has obviously come out of the appropriate budget, but for what benefit? It will probably get graffiti all over it and then damaged again once another big storm hits. Why not clean the sign up and put it in the museum? This way it can be appreciated by many whilst being protected from graffiti and wild weather.

The ‘Rescue Committee’ driving this just seem like a bunch of people who used to frequent the drive-in and are really having trouble with the concept of letting go.

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14 Responses to It’s time to let go of the Starlight
#1
bigfeet8:50 am, 12 Aug 14

I will just cut and paste the majority of my response to the woman who wanted to put a ‘Canberra’ sign on the highway as my response to this SavetheSign committee is exactly the same:

“…..as long as you purchase the land, build your sign, connect and pay for the electricity and any roads required, and maintain it for perpetuity (including a clause that if it falls into disrepair you are responsible for removal) and do all of this with your own funds and don’t receive one cent of public money, grant or a tax write-off I really don’t care what font you use or what the sign says.

You want it? You build it and pay for it. Good luck to you.”

#2
John Moulis9:19 am, 12 Aug 14

There’s been too much saccharin nostalgia about this sign. Why do we have to have the exact sign restored and re-erected in the same place at great cost? When the Sundown Drive-In in Symonston was redeveloped, a new sign was erected containing the original Sundown Drive-In logo and the script Sundown Village. Surely this can be done with the Starlight Apartments. A sign can be put up with a reproduction of the Starlight logo with the script “Starlight Apartments. Original site of the Starlight Drive-In (1956-93)”.

#3
mountainman9:26 am, 12 Aug 14

I totally agree, its seems like the committee is more using this as a personal branding exercise than really anything else. It seems a pointless exercise, its not art its not going to attract tourists? and looks ridiculously out of place to majority of the community.

#4
XO_VSOP9:36 am, 12 Aug 14

bigfeet said :

I will just cut and paste the majority of my response to the woman who wanted to put a ‘Canberra’ sign on the highway as my response to this SavetheSign committee is exactly the same:

“…..as long as you purchase the land, build your sign, connect and pay for the electricity and any roads required, and maintain it for perpetuity (including a clause that if it falls into disrepair you are responsible for removal) and do all of this with your own funds and don’t receive one cent of public money, grant or a tax write-off I really don’t care what font you use or what the sign says.

You want it? You build it and pay for it. Good luck to you.”

Exactly. Acceptance is next and now time to move on

#5
Felix the Cat9:46 am, 12 Aug 14

John Moulis said :

There’s been too much saccharin nostalgia about this sign. Why do we have to have the exact sign restored and re-erected in the same place at great cost? When the Sundown Drive-In in Symonston was redeveloped, a new sign was erected containing the original Sundown Drive-In logo and the script Sundown Village. Surely this can be done with the Starlight Apartments. A sign can be put up with a reproduction of the Starlight logo with the script “Starlight Apartments. Original site of the Starlight Drive-In (1956-93)”.

At first I was all for restoring hte sign and putting it back where it once belonged but thinking about it more I think a painted tin facsimile would probably be better. The original sign will only get vandalised again (never heard about storm damage…). Maybe restore the original and keep it in a museum.

#6
Holden Caulfield10:00 am, 12 Aug 14

I support the restoration of the sign, probably because I have many happy memories of pretending to watch movies at the Starlight back in the day.

However, I don’t think it needs to be put back at its original site, but it would be great to have the sign on show somewhere.

#7
Queen_of_the_Bun11:40 am, 12 Aug 14

I agree with restoring the sign and putting it back up. Maybe not at the original site if it’s not going to be looked after by the local residents and if they don’t want it. What about near the Glassworks or Megalo at Kingston?

#8
astrojax1:56 pm, 12 Aug 14

Holden Caulfield said :

I support the restoration of the sign, probably because I have many happy memories of pretending to watch movies at the Starlight back in the day.

However, I don’t think it needs to be put back at its original site, but it would be great to have the sign on show somewhere.

maybe at a drive-in!

#9
mossrocket2:26 pm, 12 Aug 14

This is why Kickstarter is so good. They can get all the nostalgic people to pay for it instead of the majority of us who don’t feel the need to look at old junk to remember things…

#10
wildturkeycanoe1:58 pm, 17 Aug 14

Felix the Cat said :

John Moulis said :

There’s been too much saccharin nostalgia about this sign. Why do we have to have the exact sign restored and re-erected in the same place at great cost? When the Sundown Drive-In in Symonston was redeveloped, a new sign was erected containing the original Sundown Drive-In logo and the script Sundown Village. Surely this can be done with the Starlight Apartments. A sign can be put up with a reproduction of the Starlight logo with the script “Starlight Apartments. Original site of the Starlight Drive-In (1956-93)”.

At first I was all for restoring hte sign and putting it back where it once belonged but thinking about it more I think a painted tin facsimile would probably be better. The original sign will only get vandalised again (never heard about storm damage…). Maybe restore the original and keep it in a museum.

We have a museum on the shores of LBG, what better place for an iconic symbol of the past?

#11
Masquara5:03 pm, 17 Aug 14

Well it’s heritage listed so it has to be restored and looked after. It’s of local interest only, so it doesn’t belong in the NMA. And it’s too big for CMAG (do you have any idea how huge it is?). So outdoor display is the best option. Excellent public art, and yes, it should be lit, and it doesn’t need to be displayed where the old Starlight used to be.

#12
gooterz5:58 pm, 17 Aug 14

Why not give it to the Manuka cinema? or put it on the walls at academy, behind some protection?

#13
dungfungus6:32 pm, 17 Aug 14

I agree with that but to be displayed at the National Museum it will have to have some guilt attributed to it.

#14
drfelonious6:32 pm, 17 Aug 14

I agree Alexandra – time to let go.

I remember passing the sign, and possibly I might even have gone to the Starlight as a kid before it closed. It holds no special fascination for me, but I was too young to have ever got in on in the back seat in a drive-thru – but I reckon that must be a factor for the sign-lovers.

I don’t live in the apartments, but I reckon their right to no glare outweighs the nostalgia rights of the people who managed to get their hands on taxpayer money to restore the sign. I am reminded of (I think) Andrew Barr’s comment about the large number of older people in Canberra who seem to want to preserve the place in amber. Most of these people could not care less about how their desire to preserve everything just the way it was in 1975 might affect younger people looking to buy/renovate/live somewhere other than outer Gungahlin/Tuggeranong. It’s all about them and their wants.

Best compromise – put the sign up, but don’t light it, or maybe only light it on special occasions (maybe a once a year event when the ‘preserve it in amber’ committee all show up with their restored panel vans and some viagra).

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