After two attempts to sell the Liberty Theatre in Yass, owners of 16 years, Touie and Denise Smith are returning the historic building to the market.
The local couple has hired heritage cinema consultant of 30 years, Paul Brennan, until August to capture the imaginations of potential buyers by showcasing the old theatre’s future if restored to its former glory as a popular community theatre.
“Yass is ready for a series of renovation rescues to boost tourism dollars in town. I think there are several major opportunities in Yass and the Liberty Theatre is the easiest and quickest to renovate, and the one that would stand out and put a spotlight on the others,” Mr Brennan told Yass Valley Times.
“There has been interest from Melbourne, Brisbane and a cinema owner from Nowra, so far, Mr Brennan said.
Mr Brennan said he also approached the Friends of the Liberty Theatre (FOLT) group about the sale. FOLT member Ian McClung said the group couldn’t afford to buy the theatre but wanted to work with the new owner to apply for restoration grants to ensure the building was maintained as a community space.
“We’re about engaging with the owner to make sure it stays the Art Deco theatre it needs to be and the cultural hub it should be,” Mr McClung said.
Bimbi Turner is another FOLT member who hopes to see the theatre used by the community for the arts, education and music.
“It’s got so much potential to be a pop-up food and beverage space; to be used for the release of new songs, poetry recitals, conferences, repertory performances and fashion parades. I think it has a very broad scope of what it could be used for because it can be a small or big space and the acoustics are great,” Mrs Turner said.
The Smiths said “The consultant’s role is to sell the concept of a working Art-Deco theatre and what it can bring to Yass. Should offers come from this, we will look at them, otherwise, it will go to auction.”
Mrs Turner said once the Liberty Theatre was restored, it could be handed to Yass Valley Council and rented to community groups for a peppercorn rent.
Mr Brennan, who is authorised to speak on behalf of the Smiths about the Liberty Theatre, said he supported FOLT’s ideas and that the sale was subject to a covenant to keep the theatre as a heritage building. He has even facilitated a complete historical archive that would assist a buyer to apply for a heritage listing and grants.
“It’s an entertainment venue for half the price of an apartment in Sydney,” he said. “It’s already had $150,000 invested in it, which is archived. About $50,000 has been spent on the mezzanine foyer, paint, new light fittings and other renovations.”
The theatre may need a new roof in five years while fire and disability access could easily be upgraded to meet current regulations sooner, Mr Brennan said. He estimated the theatre would need a $600,000 grant for the necessary restoration works.
“The Roxy Community Theatre at Leeton got a $2.1 million grant and is open; the Malachi Gilmore Hall in Oberon got a $600,000 grant and is half the building this is, and Brunswick Picture House is a shed with a patio and got $290,000,” Mr Brennan said.
“In doing it up, we’d be employing tradespeople from the town, management skills to get it up to speed and then there would be furnishings, floors and air conditioning units that could all come from Yass. This could be a major tourist destination; Canberra does not have an Art Deco theatre.”
The Liberty Theatre isn’t Mr Brennan’s first rodeo. He has revamped, renovated and restored several cinemas in regional and metro NSW in his 30 years as a consultant.
“Since 2000, Heritage NSW and the ACT Government have been actively searching for buildings from the 20th century that are still valid in the 21st century for heritage, tourism and function purposes,” Mr Brennan said.
“Around 2004, the government put a call out for buildings operating as their original intent and several cinemas stepped forward.”
Mr Brennan owned the theatres at Avoca Beach and Scone, which is similar to the theatre in Yass.
He and others applied for grants for renovations to bring those theatres into the 21st century and were successful under the agreement they remained as theatres and provided employment.
The biggest winner was the Roxy Theatre at Leeton, according to Mr Brennan.
“The council there was very much behind any progress to keep the theatre going. Now it’s a community theatre that offers employment and a performing arts space,” he said.
“A lot of these theatres are seen as heritage streetscapes. Many are what they call inter-war architecture, built post-1920 but pre-1940. The government and Heritage NSW are interested in this theme because it was the first decade of mass marking, radio, talking films and colour films, so it’s seen as the first decade of the modern era. Therefore, these buildings can be an intergenerational inheritance for a community and town and a tourist destination.”
The Liberty Theatre reveals a 1939 Art Deco, ocean liner design by Australian cinema designers Guy Crick and Bruce Furse.
“In regional towns, they deliberately made them more ocean liner with portholes, chimneys and handrails; it made it look like you were going to board the Queen Mary. The idea for rural people was that it was unlike any other building in town and it was a modern building because colour films were out. Regional people wanted to be modern like their city cousins and people went to the theatre from a rural lifestyle, but when they got on board the ship they went on a journey, to a destination that was wherever the film was going. They had a holiday,” Mr Brennan said.
Most of those theatres were lost in the 60s and 70s when televisions were introduced to homes in Australia. However, the Liberty Theatre was closed by a couple who didn’t want to run R rated films.
“This theatre should never have closed. It closed at a time when there were huge colour films such as Jaws and Star Wars. There were other films they could have run if they were upset by R rated films,” Mr Brennan said.
He said it was important Yass had a theatre again, for people to have somewhere to go or to take the family to and for performing artists to visit.
“The people of Yass deserve a theatre,” Mr Brennan said.
Click on the image below to visit the Liberty Theatre dreamscape video