History of The Paragon

The Paragon Theatre in Childers was constructed in 1927 for local film exhibitors Gee, Philpott and Gee. It was designed by Brisbane architect Arthur Robson and replaced a smaller refreshment rooms and entertainment hall/picture show on the site.

Childers in 1927 was a prosperous sugar town established in the late 1880s at the head of the rail extension from Isis Junction into the surrounding scrub. The line, which opened on 31 October 1887, was intended to facilitate the transport of timber from the Isis Scrub, but also proved to be the catalyst for the establishment of a sugar industry in the district. By 1895, Childers had emerged as the flourishing centre of a substantial sugar-growing and sugar-milling district, and in the years between 1891 and 1900 the population grew from 91 to 4000. In 1903 the old Isis Divisional Board (1886) was abolished and Isis Shire proclaimed, with the new seat of municipal government moving from Howard to Childers.

Mr William Gee, a confectioner from Bundaberg, moved to Childers with his wife Minette and their two children about 1906. The Gees bought a single-storeyed shop where the Paragon Theatre now stands, in the main street of Childers, and opened it as a refreshment rooms (fruit shop, tea rooms and catering business). By 1908 they had added a ballroom in the form of a second floor to the building, and this was used for various functions, including Friday and Saturday night dances before the floor was ruined by roller skating. In 1912, the Gees installed a lighting plant run by an oil fuelled engine, and Gee's Hall became the venue for the first silent movies screened in the district. The first film shown was The Iron Claw, starring Pearl White. The Gees also introduced a travelling picture show service to other towns in the Isis district, including Dallarnil and Booyal.

By 1923 a second picture show, the Palace Theatre, had been opened in Childers. It was run by Harold Philpott in partnership with Mr A Archer, and was located in a hall behind the Palace Hotel in Churchill Street. Also by 1923, William Gee had disposed of his interest in Gee's Hall to his son Dudley and to Harold Philpott. He later retired with his wife and daughter to Sydney, where he died in 1926. By 1927, film-going had proved so popular that Philpott & Gee had determined to erect a modern, purpose-designed cinema in Childers. The scheme interested William Gee's daughter Margery, and a new firm, Gee, Philpott and Gee was established to facilitate the construction of the Paragon Theatre where Gee's Hall once stood. Some of the material from the original hall was used in the construction of the new theatre.

Plans were prepared by architect Arthur Robson of Brisbane, who was reported in the local press of 1927 as having been responsible for the construction of over twenty cinemas in Queensland, including theatres at East Brisbane, Gladstone and Ayr. Robson designed the Paragon Theatre as a tropical theatre. This may refer to the use of timber lattice and fretwork throughout the interior, on the ceiling and the proscenium, concealing high level windows providing ventilation not used in standard cinema design. The tropical theatre style was popular for Queensland theatres of the 1920s and 1930s, including the Alhambra Theatre at Stones Corner and the Paddington Theatre on Given Terrace, Brisbane. The writer of an article on the Paragon Theatre in the Bundaberg Times Isis District Souvenir of 1927, commented:

In all centres it has been recognised that the old style theatres are not suitable, hence modern ideas have been brought to bear in the planning of structures suitable for the climatic conditions, and a new type of theatre evolved, one of which will rise on the site of the present Gee's Hall.

The theatre was intended to accommodate 1200 people, in a hall measuring 60 by 120 feet, but this may have been optimistic - the Film Weekly Directory of 1938-39 lists the Paragon Theatre at Childers with a seating capacity of 600. A large stage for both traditional drama and musical shows as well as the cinema screen, with adjoining dressing rooms, was provided, with an orchestra pit below the stage. The proscenium was decorated with timber fretwork incorporating transparent lining which concealed electric lighting. The ceiling and walls were lined with timber lattice. The theatre contained a dress circle and several private boxes with upholstered seating, and canvas seats and forms, or long benches, were provided in the stalls. The auditorium was constructed of timber with a galvanised iron roof, but the Mediterranean-styled decorative fa├žade was of brick and stucco. The entrance was flagged by brick columns clad with glazed tiles and opened to a lobby 18 feet wide by 15 feet deep (5.49 x 4.57 metres respectively). The design also incorporated two small shops fronting the street, either side of the entrance, and employed the first cantilevered awning in the district. The contractor on the project was P Mellefont, junr.

During construction, Gee, Philpott & Gee screened films at the Palace Theatre and at the Band Hall at Childers until a temporary screen could be erected in the semi-completed Paragon Theatre. Reputedly, when the new picture theatre formally opened in 1928, the first film screened was Warner Brothers' 1927 classic The Jazz Singer, which pioneered synchronised-sound film production. If this were so, then the Paragon opened as a 'talkie' theatre.

Soon after the opening of the new theatre Harold Philpott sold his share of the business to Dudley and Margery Gee, who exhibited under the name Paragon Pictures Company. The Paragon Theatre was now the only picture theatre in the Isis and regularly screened films and cartoons on Wednesday and Saturday nights, from 8 pm, for which seats could be reserved. The theatre was sold in 1949 to Peter and Mary Sourris of Gayndah, who changed the sound system, replaced the entrance gates with glass doors, closed one of the internal staircases to the dress circle, and replaced the forms with canvas seats. At this period the store run by Paul Cominos at the front of the theatre was closed. By 1960 the Sourris family had sold the theatre to Granville and Iris Knowles who constructed a ticket box and fitted a cinemascope screen, which closed the stage for concert use. The theatre was later sold to the Ricciardi family.

In 2007 Thomas Griffiths and Merissa Ricciardi purchased the theatre and worked to repair and restore its failing elements. As of October 2011, Ms Ricciardi and new co-owner Nigel Craft have continued the restoration of the building with the hopes to eventually reopen it to the public as an entertainment venue. The business name Paragon Theatre (1962) is still registered.

Approximately 130 rural picture theatres/shows were listed in the Queensland Post Office Directory for 1930-31, and this list was not exhaustive. A recent survey of rural theatres conducted by Griffith University revealed that few 1920s cinemas were still operating in regional Queensland. Surviving theatres included the Majestic at Pomona (QHR 602696, erected 1921 - seats 300); the Astor at Surat (QHR 602352, 1925 - seats 150); the Majestic at Malanda (QHR 601743, 1926 -seats 300); the Radio at Barcaldine (1926 - seats 550) and the Airdome at Innisfail (1928 - seats 760).