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Cygnet Cinema


City of South Perth

Place Number

There no heritage location found in the Google fusion table.


16 Preston St Como

Location Details

2/11/2011 Address includes 16, 16A & 16B Preson St, Como. VFL.

Other Name(s)

Como Theatre
Cygnet Cinema

Local Government

South Perth



Construction Date

Constructed from 1938

Demolition Year


Statutory Heritage Listings

Type Status Date Documents More information
Heritage List Adopted 14 Nov 2000
State Register Registered 30 Jun 1995 Register Entry
Assessment Documentation
Heritage Council

Heritage Council Decisions and Deliberations

Type Status Date Documents
(no listings)

Other Heritage Listings and Surveys

Type Status Date Grading/Management More information
Category Description
Art Deco Significant Bldg Survey Completed

Heritage Council
Register of the National Estate Registered 27 Oct 1980

Heritage Council
Register of the National Estate Interim 24 Jun 1997

Heritage Council
Classified by the National Trust Classified 02 May 1988

Heritage Council

Statement of Significance

The following statement is taken from the Register Entry for Place 2404 Cygnet Cinema prepared by the State Heritage Office in 1994.

Cygnet Cinema has cultural heritage significance for the following reasons:
• the place is a demonstration of the new functional approach to cinema design in Perth in the late 1930s. The combination of one projection unit for both indoor auditorium and outdoor picture garden was an innovation of the period;
• the place is a fine example of the Inter-War Functionalist style;
• apart from being the first purpose-built sound cinema in the suburbs immediately south of the city, the place is rare as the least altered of the 1930s suburban cinemas of Perth that are in operation;
• the place is closely associated with Western Australian cinema pioneer James Stiles, and cinema architect William Leighton;
• the siting and distinctive form of the place has established Cygnet Cinema as a Como landmark; and
• the place is valued and continues to be used by the community as a place of cinema entertainment

Physical Description

Cygnet Theatre is a two storey structure, built originally with an adjoining outdoor picture garden. It is of load bearing brickwork with low pitched roof corrugated roof which is obscured from view. Much of the brickwork has been rendered which provided a contrast with the face brickwork and latterly, additional sections of face brickwork have also been painted. The distinctive tower remains unpainted contrasting with the decorative central fluted strip. Due to the lack of alteration to the building form, the central tower still remains a prominent feature of the building.

As was typical with buildings of the Inter-War Functionalist style, the Cygnet Theatre incorporates simple geometric shapes of stark angles and smooth curves. Windows to the façade are arranged as a horizontal band of metal framed openings, with three porthole openings in the rendered section above. The entrance to the theatre is by way of three sets of timber framed glass double doors.

The Cygnet Theatre is of asymmetric plan form to the façade with a range of projecting elements at first floor level and a single storey chamfered edge coffee shop to the south west corner of the façade, projecting out beyond the building line of the theatre. The tower marks the transition from sharp angles to the prominent curved wall, with steel railings around the external walkway to the upper level.

Generally the building still reflects its original design intent although changes have occurred. The building was originally named “Como Theatre” the name of which still remains around the top of the curved wall in bas relief art deco style lettering. Additional signage used to be mounted on top of the tower and down the length of the tower, the mounting holes can still be seen. Since being renamed the Cygnet Cinema, the name has been painted on the rendered surface below the porthole openings. There is evidence of a blocked up opening at ground level in the curved wall.


The following information is largely drawn from the Heritage Council of Western Australia Assessment document prepared in for the inclusion of Cygnet Cinema in the State Register of Heritage Places in 1994.

During the 1930s, South Perth and adjacent suburbs were residential areas surrounded by the Swan River, with stretches of river beaches. It was largely a family-orientated, 'respectable' area. Como Beach was very much a family area, with its shallow waters suitable for young families. A ferry service to the city left from the Como Jetty, at the bottom end of Preston Street.

The 1930s, was a boom period for entertainment. Throughout Australia a visit to the cinema was a popular pastime, an inexpensive escape from the economic depression. The novelty of the sound revolution in cinema attracted many more film-goers and this increased popularity was reflected in the number of cinemas either built or altered to specifically accommodate 'talkies'.

The expansion of cinema entertainment was not confined to the traditional city centres of Perth or Fremantle. Many cinemas were built in the suburbs. Suburban cinemas not only serviced local patrons, but brought patrons in from surrounding suburbs. The ferry service to Como Jetty ran between Perth, Coode Street, Como and Canning Bridge. The tram service ran from Canning Highway to Angelo Street, with an extension along Labouchere Road to Preston, Mary and Ednah Streets.

Como Theatre was not the first cinema in the South Perth area. In 1922, Swan Street Hall screened pictures twice weekly. Gaiety Picture Theatre, situated on the corner of Coode and Angelo Streets, was built for James Stiles and C. R. Clydesdale in 1926.

The Stiles family came to South Perth in the late 19th century. Arabella Stiles operated the Tea Gardens Hotel in Suburban Road, and her sons James and Arthur were involved in the early development of South Perth. James became an estate agent, and for five years was Assistant Town Clerk in the South Perth Road Board.

Hurlingham Picture Theatre on Canning Highway was an open-air theatre built for James Stiles in 1933. Both Gaiety Picture Theatre and Hurlingham Picture Theatre were in operation when in 1938, Stiles managed to secure a ten year lease on Piccadilly Theatre, modernised his existing cinemas and built Como Theatre.

Como Theatre was designed by architect, William Leighton of Baxter Cox and Leighton. In the late 1930sLeighton earned his reputation as a leading cinema designer for his work on several Perth cinemas, including Piccadilly Theatre and Arcade, Windsor Theatre, and Astor Theatre, as well as the refurbishment of Royal Theatre and Grand Theatre. Como Theatre was officially opened on 4 March 1938, by the chairman of the South Perth Road Board, G.V. Abjornson.

The emphasis of Leighton’s cinema architecture of the 1930s, was that of designing functional contemporary buildings, and his cinemas commonly featured streamlined symbols and motifs for decoration. Como Theatre reflects the architectural style popular in the inter-war period, using nautical motifs such as wavy lines, smooth flat curves and tubular handrails, with an architectural
emphasis on both the horizontal and the vertical aspects of the building. The plaster motifs used in Como Theatre were modelled by Edward Kohler, who worked for the Perth Modelling Works.

Como Theatre originally had both an indoor auditorium and an outdoor picture garden. The concept of servicing an indoor and outdoor cinema by the one mechanised 'bio box' was first introduced by Leighton in the design of the Windsor Theatre in Nedlands, completed six months before the Como Theatre.

James Stiles died of a heart attack in 1944. The Stiles family retained ownership interests in the South Perth and Perth movie scene, with James's nephew, Arthur, after World War II.

The cinemas continued to prosper in the 1940s and 50s. However, business declined in the 1960s. The Como Theatre opened once a week except during summer when, from 1964 to 1968, it ran Festival of Perth films. It was through the association with the Festival of Perth that in 1968 Como Theatre was renamed Cygnet Cinema, to associate the cinema with the Festival of Perth, the logo of which is a swan. Despite the name change, the original Broadway face type lettering stating 'The Como Theatre' around the 'bio box' still exists.

With strong and increasing competition posed by the popularity of home televisions, air conditioning was installed in the Theatre in October 1968, but patronage continued to drop and the picture garden was demolished the following year. In 1981, alterations were made to the auditorium.

In 2005, the Cygnet Theatre received a $4,500 heritage grant from the State Government.

In 2010, $20 million plans for the adaptive reuse and modification of the existing Cygnet Theatre were investigated but did not proceed. In 2013, the Cygnet Theatre received a $100,000 heritage grant from the State Government. This allowed the upgrading of wiring and fire prevention systems and the installation of a digital projector to replace the use of 35mm film reels, enabling the Theatre to remain viable. In 2018, the place still operates as a cinema as one of the venues for a large national cinema chains.






Name Type Year From Year To
William Leighton Architect - -


Ref ID No Ref Name Ref Source Ref Date
Assessment documentation for Place 2396 Cygnet Cinema

State Heritage Office library entries

Library Id Title Medium Year Of Publication
7921 Cygnet cinema (former Como theatre) : conservation plan. Heritage Study {Cons'n Plan} 2006
11459 Picture Palaces of the Golden West Book 2016
11668 Cygnet Cinema (formerly The Como Theatre) Heritage Study {Cons'n Plan} 2018

Place Type

Individual Building or Group


Epoch General Specific
Present Use SOCIAL\RECREATIONAL Theatre or Cinema
Original Use SOCIAL\RECREATIONAL Theatre or Cinema

Architectural Styles

Inter-War Functionalist

Construction Materials

Type General Specific
Wall BRICK Rendered Brick
Roof ASBESTOS Fibrous Cement, corrugated

Historic Themes

General Specific
SOCIAL & CIVIC ACTIVITIES Sport, recreation & entertainment

Creation Date

30 May 1989

Publish place record online (inHerit):


Last Update

25 Sep 2020


This information is provided voluntarily as a public service. The information provided is made available in good faith and is derived from sources believed to be reliable and accurate. However, the information is provided solely on the basis that readers will be responsible for making their own assessment of the matters discussed herein and are advised to verify all relevant representations, statements and information.