The once thought to be doomed Town Hall Cinema building is set to get a new lease on life as part of Cobar Shire Council’s Town Hall Cinema Masterplan.
Built by Hugh Sutherland, the building has stood in Barton Street since 1893 and for many years it played a major role in the social fabric of the community.
The last tenant (the Western Studio of Performing Arts dance studio) moved out three years ago, and since then it has been unused.
At council’s March 2022 Ordinary Meeting, councillors were advised there were concerns with the structural integrity of the building as the roof appeared to be collapsing.
Council opted to seek advice from a structural engineer and the left side of the building was fenced off.
When The Masonic Hall was first built it was operated as a theatre and a cinema. The Empire Cinema was owned by the James family who also owned the Occidental Café.
Meetings of the Cobar Soldiers Red Cross Association, which first formed in 1915, were held at the hall. In 1916 it also hosted farewells for enlisted men before they departed for overseas to serve in World War 1.
A newspaper report in 1932 reports the hall was “full to overflowing” for a concert to raise funds for the unemployed.
For many years it was a meeting place for Freemasons until they moved to the Band Hall in 1971.
It’s also been home to Cobar’s Musical & Dramatic Society, it’s hosted countless weddings, balls, concerts, Eisteddfods, art exhibitions and a variety of fundraising events including movie premiers and comic debates.
In 1997, locals Peter and Mandy Prince converted the building to a modern 240 seat cinema which opened for its first showing in September on Father’s Day.
In September 2004, the cinema hosted the world premiere of ‘Bondi Tsunami’, a movie about Japanese surfers on a road trip who get lost in the desert. (A number of the scenes in the movie were filmed around Cobar which is how the cinema came to host the premiere.)
It continued to operate as a cinema for some years (with a few different owner/operators).
In more recent times it was a dance studio and also a venue for music lessons.
Council received grant funding to seal the adjacent carpark with the work carried out in 2022 and has recently obtained more grant funding from the Resources for Regions program to complete a masterplan that will guide the future use of the building.