In August of this year the future of The Astor Theatre was looking grim. It emerged that proprietor and owner of The Astor trademark George Florence, and building owner Ralph Taranto, were in an irreconcilable dispute over the terms of the lease.
It was announced that the final curtain would fall in April 2015, to the despair of Windsor locals and loyal fans. But in true cinematic fashion, a deus ex machina has appeared with the potential to save the 1936 heritage-listed building.
Palace Cinemas CEO Benjamin Zeccola has announced that his company is in discussions with Florence and Taranto to take custodianship of the single-screen, Art Deco theatre.
“The Astor Theatre is iconic of a glorious period in cinematic history. Under George Florence’s control it is doing very well. For it to be rendered inoperable because of the falling out would really be a great pity,” says Zeccola.
If Palace takes over The Astor will continue to operate as a single-screen, 1150-seat auditorium programming new release and classic films. Florence will give up his position as tenant but Palace will offer him a position as a contractor to continue programming films. The current staff will be kept on if this takeover goes ahead. Zeccola plans to keep the cinema in as close to its current condition as possible, albeit with necessary repairs and a lick of paint to freshen it up.
As we recently witnessed with The Palace Theatre on Bourke Street (now reportedly destroyed beyond saving), now and again we are faced with the threat of losing something from our past that strikes a chord. Most buildings will make way for technology and progress, but it’s heartening to see that enough people are not ready to let this one go just yet.
“I feel it’s an obligation. It took us a long time to reach this decision. If no one else is going to step forward – I owe it to Melbourne and to cinema in general to do it and to ensure what happened at The Palace Theatre does not happen to Astor,” says Zeccola.