Casablanca, Sunset Boulevard, Breakfast at Tiffany’s: it might be hard to believe, but The Piccadilly predates all of them.

Opening its doors in 1940, the historic Adelaide cinema has operated through World War II, the golden age of Hollywood, and the advent of the smartphone – and now, it’s competing with streaming services. But there’s nothing quite like the magic of sitting in a dark room full of strangers, experiencing a great film for the first time. At least, Deanna Wallis, whose family company, Wallis Cinemas, has been around for four generations and has been custodian of the Piccadilly since 1983 – hopes people see it that way.

“We had been seeing a decline over a decade, and then dramatically [during Covid-19] … so we made the difficult decision to close the Piccadilly,” Wallis tells Broadsheet. Like many cinemas across the globe, The Piccadilly was closed for over a year. “It was during that time that we decided that we had to look at how we could reimagine it. We knew that we had to do something to save it … [and] bring that charm back to the building.”

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Wallis and the team have been busy. Extensive renovations have focused on making the building more accessible (with the capacity to participate in large-scale events like the Adelaide Film Festival), while still embracing the building’s original design features. There’s also a new food and beverage area that can be hired for private events, that offers South Australian wine, spirits and craft beer, plus charcuterie boards and sandwiches.

The process of revitalising an iconic venue means rediscovering its lesser-known features - and The Piccadilly has a few gems. Perhaps most notable is an entire, very large, cinema screen, hidden across multiple floors. “It used to all be one big screen,” Wallis explains. “So, Cinema One was two storeys, but when my family purchased it in the 1980s and renovated it, we converted it to three screens. But the original screen is still hiding behind Cinema One –
it can’t be seen by the public, but it is still there.” The renovations were the first time Wallis had seen the secret screen, which was covered up before she was born.

The refreshed interior comes from IA Design, and it’s something that Wallis, who moonlights as an interior designer, feels close to. “I am very passionate about architectural detailing. And of course, a lot of architectural features from the 1940s are in the building,” she says. “The vision was to rejuvenate some of the original art deco features … [such as] the original terrazzo flooring in the foyer, the terrazzo on the grand staircases … and the chandelier at the mezzanine level.”

An restored mural of Piccadilly Circus in London is another highlight, having been a feature of the cinema at its time of opening (it was covered up by the previous owners, Greater Union). The fully-restored mural was unveiled on March 31, 2023. The size of a small cinema screen, the mural is visible from the grand spiral staircase or from the entrance to cinema one.

The Piccadilly
181 O’Connell Street, North Adelaide

This article was originally published on March 7, 2023 but was updated on May 18, 2023 to include new details about the mural.