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The Regent Theatre in Melbourne has had four phases in its existence. It was initially built as a grand picture palace for Frank Thring Senior's Hoyts cinema chain. The design by Cedric H. Ballantyne was not intended as high art but as a place to evoke fantastic faraway times and places to which anyone could escape for the price of a ticket. As such it has endeared itself to several generations of Melburnians.
The Regent opened on 15 March 1929 and in the manner of grand picture palaces of the time was designed for a mixture of film and live entertainment including a Wurlitzer organ. The Plaza Ballroom underneath had been redesigned to cater for the new talking pictures and opened later the same year.
The Regent Mark I ended abruptly with a disastrous fire on 28 April 1945 which completely destroyed the auditorium. Remarkably, the Plaza was hardly damaged and with some sealing work was able to reopen soon afterwards.
The decision was made to rebuild the Regent. Some designs were changed but the spirit of the original building was maintained and despite the austerity of the times the Regent Mark !! was reopened on 16 December 1947. The organ was replaced and again the regent could be marketed as 'The Palace of Dreams'. However the advent of television and changing public tastes during the 1960s were inevitably tolling the death knell of the great picture palaces around Australia. Numbers of adaptations were made - the Plaza briefly became a Cinerama cinema but by 1970 both the Regent and the Plaza were closed and all the furniture and fittings auctioned off.
Then began a period when the deserted Regent became the centre of public debate. it had been bought by the Melbourne City Council who had intended to demolish it to create (or enlarge) a city square. However many Melbournians wanted this piece of Melbourne's heritage to be maintained. Numbers of groups became involved including building unions who placed a 'green ban' on its demolition. Various uses for the building were mooted but in 1993 the State Government and Melbourne City Council announced it would be rebuilt as a theatre.
The newly refurbished theatre suitable for major theatre productions was reopened on 19 August 1996 with the Plaza refurbished as a ballroom. It is the Regent Mark III which now stands in Collins Street. It retains much of its original character, and appropriately enough also has a Wurlitzer organ Mark III.
Detailed information on the organ at the Regent Theatre can be found at http://theatreorgans.com/southerncross/Victoria/RegentMelb.htm