21 April 2021

Heritage listing confirmed for Taglietti's Cinema Center building

| Ian Bushnell
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The Cinema Center

The Cinema Center building in Civic. Photos: ACT Heritage Council.

The Cinema Center building in Civic, designed by iconic Canberra architect Dr Enrico Taglietti, has officially been listed on the ACT heritage register.

The ACT Heritage Council provisionally listed the four-storey building on Bunda Street late last year, opening it up to public comment.

The listing – for Cinema Center, Block 21 and part of the surrounding road and footpath verge, Section 35, City – was confirmed on 7 April after the council had been satisfied that the building met three of the heritage significance criteria.

The 500-seat, basement Center Cinema officially opened on 5 October 1966 and played an important role in Canberra’s cultural life for 37 years until it closed on 1 June 2003.

The Institute of Architects had nominated the building in 2018, citing Taglietti as one of only two architects in Canberra to have won the Institute’s Gold Medallion, as wells as designing a number of important buildings across Canberra.

Taglietti designed the building at the behest of developer Dr Darrell Killen and it remains one of his culturally influential private, commercial commissions.

The constrained site and planning rules led Taglietti to opt for an underground cinema. His innovative design involved possibly the first example of the use of Vierendeel trusses in Australia, usually used in bridges or factory roofs to achieve a large free span basement.

The statement of historical significance says the independent cinema provided high quality and culturally diverse entertainment for the burgeoning Canberra population and has a strong association with the development of cinema entertainment and attendance in the ACT.

It was also influential in the establishment of an independent cinema industry and led directly to the development of the Boulevard Red and Blue Cinemas (later Electric Shadows) in 1973, an independent cinema that followed a similar business model with a focus on quality films.

Cinema seating

The cinema was wedge-shaped and did not have centre or cross aisles.

The American spelling ‘center’ was adopted, Killen said, to avoid imitating the many other ‘centres’ that opened around the same time in Canberra, such as Canberra Theatre Centre, Griffin Centre and Civic Centre.

The cinema auditorium, box office, showings signage and projection room are no longer, but the building name, ‘Cinema Center’ signage, recessed front entry, and deep ground floor awning characterise mid-20th century cinema buildings and serve as a visual reminder of the important role of the Cinema Center in the cultural life of the ACT.

The three criteria the listing met were importance to the course or pattern of the ACT’s cultural or natural history, potential to yield important information that will contribute to an understanding of the ACT’s cultural or natural history and importance in demonstrating a high degree of creative or technical achievement for a particular period.

ACT Heritage Council chair David Flannery chair said last year that there were no fears for the building despite the gathering pace of redevelopment in the city as the owners intended to keep it within the family. They are currently doing repairs and fitting out the upper floors with a view to converting the building into a boutique hotel.

The cinema opened with the Canberra premiere of Dr Zhivago to a full house and became a regular venue for premieres of Australian films.

In 1977, a fire destroyed much of the original cinema interior and it was refurbished.

Between 2004 and 2018, Academy Nightclub occupied the basement, followed in 2019 by Fiction Club (FCTN), a multi-purpose entertainment venue.

The Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) holds several items from the Center Cinema’s history in its collection, including programs, signage and a row of seating.

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