Fremantle Stuff > cinemas > Princess Theatre. See also: photos showing the interior c. 2009. See also: Princess Chambers. And see also: Dellers Cafe (between the former cinema entrance and the auditorium).

Princess Theatre

The Princess Theatre is at 32 Leake Street. Its entrance was in Market Street, through Princess Chambers. It was built in 1912 by C. Moore to the design of architect John McNeece for Frank Biddles, and closed in 1969. David Hutchison explains that the theatre building was an extension to Princess Chambers, which had been built for Biddles in 1897.

The entrance was where Kakulas Sister now trades, and some of the theatre masonry can still be seen in the shop. The auditorium is now used as a warehouse, so the building as such must still be in reasonable condition. It's on the Register of the National Estate, though I suspect that the part they're most interested in is the two-storey offices-and-shops building on the corner. The Leake Street auditorium is now completely separated from what was the Market St entrance. The walkway between is now a laneway, storage, and the Leake St Cafe.

The Race Horse Inn was on the site (lot 127, 29-33 Market Street, on the corner of Leake and Market Streets) from about 1850 until the two-storey building on the corner replaced it in 1912.

Princess Theatre

The Lady of the Harem (announced on the marquee) was released in the USA at the end of 1926, so this photograph would have been taken in 1927. Cook & Son was only so-called from 1919: before which Cook's partner was one Bayly. Image from the Fremantle History Centre, #4568.

Princess Theatre

Another photograph from the Fremantle City Library Local History Collection (#964) this one taken by Roy Mudge in the late 1960s, so not long before the cinema closed. He also shot the interior—perhaps the same day?

These three photographs from the Fremantle City Library Local History Collection (#965, 966, $967) were also taken by Roy Mudge. The first one, taken from the front of the auditorium, shows damaged seats in the front row, suggesting that the operator was losing interest in maintenance.

The proscenium is surprisingly plain.

The dress circle is in better repair than the front stalls, and shows some engaging plasterwork below the ceiling, and thicker pile carpet to the floors.

Princess Theatre

Kakulas Sister has moved their sign down a bit (thank you) to reveal the pre-1969 Princess Theatre painted sign.

Princess Theatre

Princess Theatre

In this one, you can see the metal the sign was painted on, at least forty years ago, and possibly sixty or more. Update: I notice that the old sign is fading and may need to be repainted as there appears to be an intention to retain it.

This one shows the relationship between the two buildings, the one on the left containing at its rear the former Princess Theatre cinema, and the one on the right called Princess Chambers containing a warren of offices and shops.

Inside Kakulas Sister, the impressive entry into the Princess Theatre is still to be seen, heading west towards the former cinema.

Also inside Kakulas Sister, on the south wall, someone has exposed some of the 1930s wallpaper: chinoiserie.

Detail from the wallpaper.

Princess Theatre

Here's the offices/shops part of the Princess Theatre building, from the side, in Leake St.

Princess Theatre

And here's the Leake St side of the cinema auditorium part of the building. Access may apparently be obtained through one of those doors—but you'd have to know the right person, I guess.

Princess Theatre

A photograph from a few years ago shows the KAKULAS SISTER name on the awning concealing the Princess Theatre sign. The Kakulas sign has now been moved down a bit to reveal the pre-1969 paint.

Princess Theatre

In the 1980s a new role was foreseen for the theatre building, as reported in the article which follows. I don't know if the markets actually took place, but the interior is now used merely for storage. Photograph above from the Fremantle City Library Local History Collection (#4568).

princess interior

princess article

Some shots of the interior stripped of furniture, date unknown, probably c. 1970.

Notes and acknowledgements

Many thanks to John Reed.

Images and newspaper article, as indicated, thanks to the Fremantle History Centre.

References and Links

Paul Weaver wrote a great blog entry in 2004 about working at the Princess Theatre as an assistant projectionist.

The Princess Theatre is mentioned briefly in:

Ron Davidson, Fremantle Impressions, Fremantle Press, 2007: 129. As it's less than one sentence, I may as well quote the mention in full: '... Princess Theatre in Leake Street (now an office-furniture warehouse but still with its dress circle, the large projection box, and some thirties theatre decoration intact ...'

David Hutchison, Fremantle Walks, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2006: 144.

WA CinemaWeb page

State Heritage Office entry

Max D. Bell, Perth: A Cinema History, Book Guild, Sussex: 41-2.

Organ Society of Western Australia

Wikipedia page


What follows is the whole entry, unedited, for this former cinema from the ammpt (Australian Museum Of Motion Picture & Television Inc.) site - not as an act of copyright theft but as a backup. Websites often disappear for various reasons.

On the corner of Market St – next to the Terminus Hotel on the corner of Pakenham St, and opposite the Olympia skating rink – an old warehouse was demolished, to make way for West’s Princess theatre, opened on 21 December 1912, the first purpose-built hardtop in the suburban area. Seating 1850 persons, the new theatre was managed by T. M. (later Sir Thomas) Coombe till August 1914, when West’s opened another cinema at Subiaco and transferred their suburban operations there. Fullers vaudeville then operated the Princess for some time, till in March 1917 Coombe took over the theatre in his own right and brought it with him into the Union Theatres chain. Sound was introduced to the theatre in August 1929, and in 1935 it was taken over by the Grand Theatre Co, which employed William Leighton to design extensive renovations, including reducing the seating to 1540. This had been further reduced to 1200 by the time the theatre closed on 26 June 1969, a victim of the television boom. Peter Thomson describes how the cinema was showing four times a day Monday to Saturday and once on Sunday night before television: then screenings were reduced to twice a day and eventually closed altogether. The building was sold to a car repairer and gutted for use as a workshop, retaining the basic structure, including the balcony, and the entrance into Market St. In 1985 it was used as a market, and in 1989 by an icecream manufacturing company.
Sources: Fremantle City Council ratebooks 1910/11 – 1913/14
Max Bell, Perth: a cinema history, The Book Guild, Lewes, 1986 p.41-2
Rodney I. Francis, ´The Coombe family of Perth’, Kino no.34, December 1990, pp.12-17
Rodney I.Francis, ‘Thomas Melrose Coombe: a pioneer from vaudeville to talkies in Western Australia’, Kino no.80, Winter 2002, pp.46-48
Vyonne Geneve, ‘William Leighton, architect’, Kino no.25, September 1988, p.7
Vyonne Geneve, Significant buildings of the 1930s in Western Australia, Vyonne Geneve, June 1994, National Trust of Australia (WA)/ National Estate Grants Programme, vol.1
Daily News, 27 July 1967; 2 July 1969
Everyone’s, 4 September 1929, p.32
Film Weekly Directory, 1943/4 – 1968/9
Grand Gazette, nos. 9-11 (3-17 Aug. 1918)
Post Office Directory, 1912 – 1949
West Australian, 10 Mar. 1961, 1912 – 1969
Interviews (Ina Bertrand): Ken Booth (1978), Lou Starr (1985), Arthur Stiles (1985)
Interview (Margaret Howroyd): Peter Thomson (1994)
Photos: 1 exterior, b&w, 1969 (Roy Mudge)
10 interior, b&w, 1969 (Roy Mudge)
1 b&w reproduction of cover of programme for gala re-opening 29 March 1941 (Arthur Stiles)
1 publicity stunt, b&w, Everyone’s 29 January 1930 p.18
Daily News took photos of Princess when it was opened as markets in 1983
Fremantle Library prints 964 – 967
1 exterior, b&w, Max Bell, Perth: a cinema history, The Book Guild, Lewes, 1986 p.41

Garry Gillard | New: 23 June, 2013 | Now: 18 June, 2020