John Levy puts Richmond Regent Twin Cinema up for sale after 30 years of ownership

After 30 years as the owner of the Hawkesbury's iconic Richmond Regent Twin Cinema, 81-year-old Kurrajong resident John Levy is planning to retire.

It won't be easy to hand over the keys to the historic building, he said, as he's poured many of his twilight years into operating the heritage-listed theatre, maintaining the business through the dips and peaks endemic of cinema trade.

Selling: John Levy outside the Richmond Regent Twin Cinema on Windsor Street, Richmond. He has put the building and business on the market and is planning to retire. Picture: Geoff Jones

Selling: John Levy outside the Richmond Regent Twin Cinema on Windsor Street, Richmond. He has put the building and business on the market and is planning to retire. Picture: Geoff Jones

But it's finally time for Mr Levy to close the curtains one last time - not only on the evening's entertainment, but on his three-decade-long role as 'Mr Movies'.

Family business

Mr Levy and his wife Joanna bought the Richmond Regent building (site area 1,173 square metres) and the business in 1989.

It had only had two owners since it was erected as a live music venue in 1935, making Mr Levy the third.

"It was one theatre only back when I started," he told the Gazette.

"In 1992 we converted it into a twin cinema then bought the shops next door and planned to build another two cinemas there."

After a battle with cancer, Mr Levy's beloved wife passed away 11 years ago. Eight years later, he decided to finally put their business on the market.

Last week, he signed-up with a new real estate agent, and the marketing campaign for the cinema sale is ramping up.

He admitted it would be "very sad" when the Regent finally sold.

"Everyone says 'what are you going to do?'" he said.

"I'm a member of the Kurrajong North Richmond Rotary so hopefully I'll be able to spend a bit more time doing that."

He said cinema life had changed "dramatically" over the past 30 years. The projection room had gone digital, and less people were required per shift to run the place.

"It's different to what it was back in 1989, but the theatre is still a good business," he said.

He hoped to find a buyer who was passionate about operating one of the only few original art deco cinemas in the Sydney basin.

"I hope it goes to a youngish person, around 25 to 40 years old - somebody of that age group doesn't have to be the buyer but I hope someone like that ends up running it, anyway, because they'd be keen to do something with the place," Mr Levy said.

"I'm running out of steam these days."

He said the heritage listing did not limit the business or its operations.

"The only limitations would be if you wanted to turn around and reconstruct the building. But there are a number of other old theatres around with no problems being governed by heritage title, like the Randwick Ritz, the Capitol Theatre and the State Theatre," he said.

Might the new owner be able to utilise the stage areas for live events?

People smile and nod when I walk down the street because they know me from the theatre.

John Levy

"Anything's possible," Mr Levy said. "You might even find a situation whereby you could demolish the interior and keep the frontage - though you'd have to negotiate with Council of course. But I'd like to see it continue as a theatre - it has a great reputation."

He has fielded numerous offers for the building, but he is holding out for the right buyer.

"We had a young bloke set to buy it but he couldn't get the finance," he said, adding that a well-known cinema chain owner had also put it an offer for the Regent, but wanted to pay too low a price.

'Mr Movies'

Mr Levy is hoping Hawkesbury's only cinema will find itself in good hands. But will he miss being known as 'Mr Movies'?

"Too right!" he declared. "I've been interested in old cinemas and movies my whole life. You should see my collection of old movies at home; I've got my own cinema set-up, with video projectors, a big cinemascope screen, and I sit there and watch old movies."

Back in the day, he used to entertain his friends at home playing movies in his projector room, back when they still used film. But he was never interested in playing projectionist at the Regent.

"I always preferred to be down at the ticket box where I could talk to people - that's why I always hired projectionists," he said.

"But these days you don't use projectionists - you just need an IT person, and the movies are set-up on a Tuesday or Wednesday, programmed in, and they're ready to start on a Thursday.

Historic building: The heritage-listed building was erected in 1935 as a live theatre venue. John Levy is only its third owner, and has put the building and the business on the market after 30 years of continuous operation as the Hawkesbury's only twin cinema. Picture: Geoff Jones

Historic building: The heritage-listed building was erected in 1935 as a live theatre venue. John Levy is only its third owner, and has put the building and the business on the market after 30 years of continuous operation as the Hawkesbury's only twin cinema. Picture: Geoff Jones

"All the staff have to do when they come in for a morning shift is turn the switches on in the projector room and come down and open up the ticket box and candy bar. One person could control the whole thing."

He said he would retire in the Hawkesbury. "I'm pretty well-known in the area; people smile and nod when I walk down the street because they know me from the theatre. I guess I am a bit of an identity, having done it for 30 years," he said.

When asked if he had ever had a run-in with the Richmond Regent 'ghost', he said alas, no - but he had heard stories.

"One time, when [heritage listed building] Toxana next door was being renovated, there was a customer one night sitting in the foyer upstairs here and he noticed an old lady with an old-style hat sitting opposite him, and then he realised he could see through her. He came downstairs like a shot out of a gun!" he said.

"But none of [my family] ever had the occasion to meet the ghost. But we do think that particular lady ghost had moved out of Toxana for the renovations, and that's why she was here."

During his time at the helm of the Regent, he said the most memorable opening weekend was that of the Australian movie Babe back in 1995 - because the cinema was so packed.

He said recently, Bohemian Rhapsody drew huge crowds, session after session.

"We also find event nights are very popular for us," Mr Levy said.

"People in the Hawkesbury love to go out and dress up - especially the older audiences."

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