The development of the Melbourne City Square project during the 1960s resulted in the demolition of a series of historically significant buildings. Further proposals to demolish the Regent and Plaza Theatres excited public outrage and community action enabled the theatres to e saved.

The City Square

In 1850 a pamphlet was circulated calling for an area that would ‘ventilate and purify the most crowded areas of the city’.

It wasn’t until 1961 that the Melbourne City Council initiated plans to build such a square. Intended to be a space for civic assembly and a lure for suburban shoppers, the site on the corner of Collins and Swanston Streets was chosen because of its proximity to the retail district and main civic buildings. Between 1966 and 1968 the MCC purchased and demolished a series of buildings, including the Victoria Building, the adjoining City Club Hotel, Green’s Building and the Cathedral Hotel.

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The Regent and Plaza

Saved once, the Theatres are again threatened.

Designed by Cedric H. Ballantyne and Associates for F. T. Thring’s Hoyts Theatres, the Regent Theatre was opened on 15 March 1929 as a 3,250 seat picture palace. The auditorium was destroyed by fire on 30 April 1945, but was so popular that it was restored and reopened on 19 December 1947. By the end of 1970, however, both theatres had ceased operations and faced demolition.

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Community Activism

The threat of losing this loved entertainment venue sparked spontaneous community and trade union action.

The Save the Regent Committee, formed in 1973 by Collins Street restaurateur Loris Webster and supported by prominent members of Melbourne’s theatre community, approached the Builders

Labourers Federation for help in their campaign. In 1974 the BLF imposed a green ban on the site,

preventing demolition work on the Theatres. Union members went so far as to keep watch over the theatre at night to prevent stealth demolition work.

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While work was stalled, community opposition to the demolition of the Regent grew.

In 1975 the Victorian Government reacted to community sentiment by appointing a Committee of Inquiry into the future of the Regent Theatre. Their recommendation was to maintain the theatre complex integrated into the City Square design. The square opened in 1980, albeit leaving the theatre empty. Closed for twenty-five years, the Regent Theatre was finally restored as a live theatre venue in 1996.

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