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Anniversary of architectural crown jewels

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It’s been 90 years since Newcastle celebrated the completion of two of its architectural crown jewels.

In 1929, the City Hall and the Civic Theatre were officially opened as part of a twin £300,000 development dubbed “Civic Block”, with a week of festivities kicking off that December.

The council had by then outgrown a small Watt Street premises, which previously served as military offices during the days of the penal colony, and moved west in parallel with large-scale industrial expansion.

“As well as the two grand openings, bands played for the community in King Edward Park, other entertainment featured a soccer tournament, competitive woodchop, surf carnival and aerial pageant in District Park, while a new floating dock was launched on the harbour,” Newcastle Lord Mayor, Nuatali Nelmes, said.

“It’s hard to imagine those days of British pomp and pageantry, but the sense of civic pride associated with the two openings, and their city-making significance, leaps off the pages of news reports from that week.”

Memorial lights dedicated to the founder of the Civic Block, Alderman Morris Light, were unveiled outside Town Hall, as were portraits of the city’s first Mayor, James Hannell.

At the opening of the Civic Theatre, the great racehorse Phar Lap featured in a screening of that year’s Melbourne Cup, which was followed by a recorded oration from then-Prime Minister James Scrillin and the romantic drama Behind That Curtain.

Notable billings in the Civic Theatre’s long history include The Robe in 1954, the first film shot in widescreen Cinemascope; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats The Musical in 1989, legendary British rock band Oasis in 2002, and local rock gods Silverchair in 2003.

Civic Theatre Manager Leonie Wallace said she was hugely enthusiastic about the future for performing arts in the city.

“As Newcastle grows and becomes a leading lifestyle city, it is crucial the Civic Theatre continues its key role as a cultural focal point, showcasing the best of local talent and national and international touring product,” she said.

“The Civic Theatre, City Hall, Playhouse and Wheeler Place are owned by the City of Newcastle for the people of Newcastle.

“In 2020, we look forward to evolving the precinct as an even more integral component of the cultural fabric of the city, as we deliver a program ‘Beyond the Stage’ to further increase accessibility for all.”

Visit civictheatrenewcastle.com.au to view details about season 2020.

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