Como’s Grand Cygnet Cinema prepares for 80th birthday


Film poster for Three Came Home (1950).
Film poster for Three Came Home (1950).

FROM its small beginnings before World War II to its recent move into the digital age, Grand Cygnet Cinema has stood a heritage icon in South Perth for 80 years.

Designed by William Leighton for cinema pioneer James Stiles, the Grand Cygnet, formerly the Como Theatre, opened March 4, 1938 with early sell out films including Three Came Home, The Sullivans and The Story of Dr. Wassell.

Ninety-five-year-old Lesley Stiles said she still vividly remembered working behind the ticket counter in the 1940s.

“My husband was at war when I worked (at the theatre),” Ms Stiles said.

“I lived just opposite and started out as an usher but we only showed Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

“Wednesday was cheap night for sixpence, Friday and Saturday was one and tuppence or two and four pence for seats upstairs.

“At the time it was blackout so we had to switch the power to what we called a donk (an auxiliary power unit) to run anything and it used to be so crowded because there was nothing else to do for entertainment but dancing.

“Most times there was only a single film reel for each movie, so we had young boys who sometimes had to ride their bicycles quite quickly between (the three theatres in the area); The Hurlingham, The Gaiety and The Como (to distribute it for sessions).

“It was happy days; happy times.”

Today, the cinema remains in the Stiles family.

Manager Alan Stiles said the 500-person capacity had not changed over the theatre’s 80 years, only the furnishings had.

In 2013 the cinema received a $100,000 State Government heritage grant which was used to upgrade electrical and fire prevention systems and install digital projectors.

“The way progress goes there is a possibly change may happen but the younger parts of the family want to keep going; keep the cinema running,” Mr Stiles said.

“We are hoping to get a few more screens to expand the range of films we are able to show, however nothing is set in stone as yet.”

MORE: Firefighters busy around Perth

MORE: Fremantle’s Queensgate carpark set to shut for renewal works

MORE: Kwinana Industries Council president David Honey to contest Cottesloe for Liberals