For those who have yet to experience its pleasures and wonders, the Astor Theatre may seem like nothing more than an ancient single screen cinema located at the top of Chapel Street in St Kilda, a relic from the past that has inexplicably resisted cultural obsolescence in the face of modern multiplex cinemas. But for all those who call themselves regular visitors within its hallowed halls, the Astor Theatre is nothing less than a place, or perhaps even a temple, where adepts of the cinematic cult can congregate to celebrate their favourite classic movies of yesteryear.
Thus its survival should actually come as little surprise. After all, where else in Melbourne is it possible to catch a double feature most nights of the week for fifteen dollars or less? Add to that its cornucopia of well-preserved Art Deco design flourishes (which no doubt helped earn the building its inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register), a friendly resident cat named Marzipan that enjoys frolicking through the auditorium during screenings, plus some of the most delicious and generously sized choc tops around (which are made on-site), and it may become a little easier to understand why people adore the Astor so much.
However, not all is kittens and lollipops in the Astor camp of late. The reason for this is that the business that trades under the name The Astor Theatre does not actually own the premises that it operates out of. Instead, The Astor Theatre leases the building from its owner, St Michael’s Grammar School (located just down the road from the theatre). The lease is set to expire in 2015, with the landlords suggesting the possibility of its not even being renewed. In fact, proposals have been put forward by St Michael’s regarding a future development of the venue which would entail its renovation into a multipurpose performance venue. Naturally, this is a less than desirable prospect in the eyes of anyone wishing to see the current state of affairs continue. The idea of Melbourne losing its last picture palace ought to be of concern to Melbournians everywhere who are interested in supporting the ongoing vitality of our cultural landscape.
With this in mind, a group named The Friends of the Astor Association has been formed, whose aim is to ensure that 2015 doesn’t bring with it the closure of this local icon. Readers are encouraged to sign the association’s online petition over at change.org/astor to demonstrate support for the survival of the Astor in its current form.