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09 - Cygnet Theatre Como

The Sad Decline

Nothing would ever be the same for the Como Theatre and not just because of the lack of tram services (regardless of replacement buses) and the Kwinana Freeway dividing the popular destinations.


Friday 16 October 1959 saw the introduction of television, with Perth’s first station TVW. Six years later, competition was created with STW-9 commencing their broadcast.

Patronage at the Theatre continued to decline to the point it was only opened once a week, with the exception of the summer periods during the Festival of Perth. Created in 1953 by UWA professor Fred Alexander, who at the time was Director of Adult Education, he was inspired to create the festival after attending the Edinburgh Festival two years prior.


As a result of the Como Theatre’s association with the Festival of Perth, they changed their name to Cygnet Theatre, as the festival’s logo was that of a swan. The original “Broadway" face type lettering with “The Como Theatre” around the bio box remains unchanged today.


Air conditioning was installed in the theatre during 1968, in an attempt to lure back patronage away from their television sets. Unfortunately, it appears to have failed to bring about a positive change as patronage continued its decline, resulting in the demolition of the theatre garden the following year.

Changes to the Theatre

The entrance and foyer were rearranged in 1964, so that the confectionary counter today, was where patrons once entered.


Seats in the front stalls of the auditorium were removed and the seating alignment for the remaining seats was changed in 1981.


Threats of Demolition

A popular protest ensured the Cygnet Theatre was not demolished but I haven’t yet been able to locate any further information. No doubt, development plans with good intentions to transform the vicinity in hope to return the former area to its once exciting and vibration go-to place.

American street artist Nils Westergaard painted a portrait
of Alfred Hitchcock on the western side’s external wall.

25 - Cygnet Theatre Como

Heritage and Grants

The Cygnet Theatre was permanently listed on the State Register of Heritage Places on 30 June 1995, after a Register Entry for Place was prepared by the State Heritage office in the year earlier for a number of important reasons. Places that become heritage-listed are generally not done so for the pure reasons of being ‘old’. Regardless of criteria that at times can be limited in scope (or sadly white washed to benefit the developers); the “cultural heritage significance” of the Cygnet is promoted by:

  • The innovative function of the cinema at the time, which was unique and far extended over and beyond a typical theatre of its time.

  • The invention of the one cinematic projection unit for both the inside and garden theatre (to the best of my knowledge, I am not aware of this being replicated to any other entertainment venues but it certainly warrants further research in the near future).

  • The fascinating Inter-War Functionalist art-deco style of the time (no doubt, very few people would interrupt their chaotic and busy lives to appreciate the unique and intricate designs of the past).

  • The Cygnet was the first purpose-built sound theatre south of the city

  • It is the least altered suburban cinema in operation

  • The theatre is a celebration of the entrepreneuring ventures of James Stiles and the cinematic architectural designs of William Leighton

  • The Cygnet’s landmark location and the nostalgic, yet historic experiences of the role the theatre played back in the day when the people of Perth were struggling with the effects of depression


In August 2004, the Cygnet Theatre received a grant from Heritage WA for $4,500 to prepare a conservation plan for the cinema.


Tentative plans for adaptive reuse and modification to regenerate the full potential of the theatre and its associated land at a cost of $20 million was created in 2010 but failed to fruition.


A further heritage grant was received from the State Government for $100,000 in 2013 to rewire and install fire prevention systems in the theatre. A digital projector was also purchased to replace the previously used 35mm film reels, which enabled the cinema to remain viable.

Prior to being sold in 2018, the theatre which was still owned by Colin Stiles, the son of James, was being leased to the Grand Cinemas franchise on a monthly basis.


With a sense of finality as a result of the continual declining patronage, The Cygnet Theatre was scheduled to permanently close its doors on 30 November 2019. To renovate the building would cost an estimated $2 million and as it was, the owners were financing the venue at their own expense in an attempt to keep it open and afloat. Part of the renovations would include multiple cinema screens to ensure its long term viability.

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