Architecture Afloat: The Windsor, A New Hope

Windsor Theatre, 2017

“My family, like most of the regulars, went to the Windsor every Saturday night, no matter what was showing. While my mother caught the trolley bus up Stirling Highway, my father and I would walk to and from the Windsor, and all of us thought both the programs and venue superior to the nearer old Broadway theatre.” Ron Facius– Picture Palaces of the Golden West

Windsor Theatre, 1953, State Library of WA

The Windsor theatre is arguably the most iconic example of Art Deco architecture in Perth. Its romantic nautical curves and sculptural three-dimensional presence makes it a landmark not only on the Stirling Highway streetscape, but within Perth’s suburban community.

The Nedlands council, who saw the area as a progressive suburb, suggested only ‘the most modern structure,’ incorporating the ‘latest ideas from overseas would be tolerated’1. The designed commission resulted in a dynamic expressionist style similar to that of the Titania Palast cinema in Berlin. The horizontality of the base of the exterior is emphasized by its large cantilevered canopy over the entrance doors, and equalized by the vertical thrust of the tower, neon signs and projectionist’s biobox; ‘The appearance of the building from the highway relies on the judicious masses with due regard to balance’2.

Titania Palast, 1921

The influence from the design of luxury ocean liners was a styling cliché that found its way into modern architecture from the perception that ships were the epitome of the modern machine, with all their overtones of speed and power. Leighton exploited this fashionable influence in a largely ornamental way, yet still managing to employ the forms in a functional manner. For example, the cantilevered balcony at the curved end of the projecting biobox wing, with its marine-type metal railing, emphasized similarities with the flybridge of a large vessel. Yet the balcony enabled the projectionist to escape the oppressive heat of the biobox for a breath of cool night air while still supervising the running of the film, and connected it to an escape stair in the event of a fire.

Windsor Contemporary Exterior, 2017

The most eye catching and distinguishing feature of the Windsor is its dramatic semi-circular end to the projection room, with ticket box and manager’s office beneath. The feature is an essential element in Leighton’s design, growing from the concept of wheeling the projectors laterally from one screening area to the other. The notion of a pair of expensive projectors lying idle, one pair in summer and the other in winter, was not considered economically viable, and it is this concept of rapid movement of the device from one location to another that sets the Windsor (and Como Theatre, another of Leighton’s designs) apart from others in WA. Vyonne Geneve concluded that this design is unique and was not duplicated anywhere else in the world3.

Windsor’s Contemporary Exterior; Paint Job and Advertising, 2017

The press of the day described the ‘virgin’ land chosen for the theatre as ‘an admirable site’, on ‘a large block, in the center of a thickly populated area’4.  Similarly, today, Nedland’s locals admire the Council’s push for continued original use of the building. Since Luna Palace has acquired the cinema, it has been dubbed a ‘boutique arthouse theatre,’ as they have dedicated their business to preserving the glamour of the old-style cinemas; eccentric buildings, charming lounges and an entirely entertaining night out.

Looking Along Stirling Highway Past The Windsor, 1953, State Library of WA

‘People love having a glass of wine or a beer, and a cheese plate while watching their flick’— Windsor Manager

Upon interviewing the manager at the Windsor, he brags the cinema’s undoubted success since integrating with Luna Palace; ‘people love having a glass of wine or a beer, and a cheese plate while watching their flick’5. Not only has the theatre maintained viewers, they are turning enough profit that they added a third cinema, seating a quaint 27, and a lounge and bar area for functions, and several interior renovations. As the Luna Palace manager expressed upon the acquisition of the cinema, ‘the Windsor is in an area with the population and the range of people that have always looked for quality in their entertainment’6.

Windsor Contemporary Interior, 2017

Internally, the building repeats its nautical styling, with its entrance to the auditorium flanked by columns suggestive of the funnels of a ship, streamlined bands of green around the proscenium, and sympathetic contemporary attempts and Art Deco signage.

Interior of the Windsor, 1981, Roy Mudge

The success of the theatre is largely due to its unwavering efforts to maintain its Art Deco style, and, in the case of its external paint job, possibly in its accentuation of it. The tendency towards independent art-house cinema, it’s tempting liquor license, and its programs tailored perfectly to its varying clientele maintain the cultural icon’s social importance.

Colour Photo of the Original Windsor Paint Job, 1981, Roy Mudge

1 West Australian 3rd March 1937

2 West Australian 3 March 1937

3 Geneve, V. Picture Palaces of the Golden West

4 Daily News 7th Sept 1937

5 Windsor Theatre Manager, Interview 09/04

6 Western Suburbs Weekly 13th Dec 2005


State Heritage Library, Windsor Theatre Heritage Proposal, 2016

Jacoby. C, Windsor’s New Palace Home, Business News Australia, 2005


Master's of Architecture student.

Leave a Reply