Ascending the steep stairs at Paddington’s Verona is part of the magic of going to the movies at the longstanding cinema. But the opportunity to see an offbeat foreign or art-house film here is drawing to a close, as owners Palace Cinemas have announced they’re closing the venue in February.
Benjamin Zeccola, Palace Cinemas CEO, penned a post to the cinema’s loyal patrons explaining its lease is due to end at the end of January, as the building’s current owners prepare to turn the property into a six-storey development for retail and entertainment, including a rooftop bar.
“It’s been a community, a gathering place, and a haven for film enthusiasts for over 27 years,” writes Zeccola, who goes on to express gratitude for the countless memories at Verona.
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The cinema opened in 1996 with Nicole Kidman as the star guest, reportedly keeping her BF Tom Cruise waiting in the car outside as she introduced the films. Speaking to Broadsheet, Zeccola, who was a junior in the company at the time, recalls the company’s excitement over their VIPs.
“Everyone was so impressed that Nicole was there, and with Tom Cruise circling in the street, waiting to take her to dinner,” he says.
Verona’s star visitors over the years have also included Cate Blanchett and French actor Catherine Deneuve for the French Film Festival. “We pride ourselves on treating them like anyone else. We don’t fawn,” says Zeccola.
The building Verona is housed in was owned by the founder of Sotherby’s Australia, Robert Bleakley, who sold the property in 2021. The building’s current owners accepted a bid from Palace Cinemas – a family-run business founded by Antonio Zeccola in 1965 – for a space within the forthcoming development, however Palace’s CEO tells us it “the economies of scale don’t add up”.
Instead, the group is reopening a historic Hoyts cinema space in Sydney’s Entertainment Quarter, which will be called Palace Moore Park. It'll get a $500,000 renovation.
Zeccola says it will take that sum to bring the four-screen cinema up to Palace standard, including installing new projectors and state-of-the-art sound equipment.
Palace Moore Park will be a dedicated cinema for art-house and international films, “continuing the legacy of Palace Verona,” states Zeccola. It’ll be home to screenings for events like the Sydney, Italian, French and British film festivals we’ve come to expect at Verona.
When it opens in February, Palace Moore Park will launch “spectacularly” with the French Film Festival, Zeccola confirms.
The art-house programming is a strategic vision, meaning it won’t compete with the mainstream films showing at nearby Hoyts EQ. But it’s also practical. It’ll have better parking access too – a criticism Palace Cinemas have heard countless times by visitors to its current Paddington venues, including the Chauvel.
“The sense we’re getting from our customers already is that they’re really happy we’re moving, it’s really rewarding … They’re commenting a lot on the parking,” he says, with a laugh.
Of course, the cinema’s not shuttered yet. It’s open until January 31, and that means you can ascend the staircase to see the latest Yorgos Lanthimos film Poor Things, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla and Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal in All of Us Strangers before the closing celebrations/commiserations begin.
“The thing that’s special about cinemas is you form special memories and there is sense of sadness and loss when a cinema closes, but we’re so lucky and relieved to have found the opportunity at Moore Park. It feels hopeful.”
Palace Moore Park is set to open from February 2024.