A new owner is being sought for the Theatre Royal, Castlemaine’s 160-year-old cinema and live entertainment venue.
Filmmaker and hotelier Maggie Fooke, who has owned a leasehold on the entertainment venue since 2014, is parting with the building to focus on other business ventures.
She assumed responsibility for the building’s business last August when its manager left unexpectedly.
She called her experience at the theatre “a whirlwind”.
“I have taken on too much and I have to make choices,” Ms Fooke said.
But she will take with her memories of the time spent working inside the historic building. Her highlights include weekly screenings of classic films and performances from accomplished artists like George frontwoman Katie Noonan.
“I love the Theatre Royal. The more I'm there, the more I love her,” she said.
"The Theatre Royal needs new custodians who will care for her and take her into another stage.”
The Hargreaves Street venue is purported to be the longest continually operating theatre on the Australian mainland.
It began life as a meeting hall and auction house in the early 1850s during the central Victorian gold rush, becoming a theatre and a hotel during a period of prohibition.
One of a few single screen cinemas still showing movies, it remains a venue for the biennial Castlemaine State Festival, to be held again in March next year.
Performance from Australian talent like Kasey Chambers and Tex Perkins have contributed to it twice being the recipient of The Age’s best regional live music venue award.
Previous sales of the Theatre Royal have not always been speedily resolved.
Former owners David Stretch and Saraha Burdekin announced they would part with the theatre in 2011, but a successful bidder was not found until Ms Fooke secured the venue in 2014.
But Ms Fooke said she expected a buyer to come forward quicker now Castlemaine had become a more popular destination, believing someone with hospitality experience would be best suited to the job.
The Theatre Royal needs new custodians who will care for her and take her into another stage.Maggie Fooke, owner
A dramatic history
Two fires, a series of renovations and a period of prohibition have not abolished the charm of the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine.
The building was destroyed by fire in November, 1857, when a blaze inside a neighbouring shoe store leaped an alleyway and spread to the theatre.
An article in the Bendigo Advertiser on the weekend after the event described the destruction.
“It has resulted in the total destruction of [the Theatre Royal], with all the scenery and properties of that establishment, and much other property,” the article read.
It was quickly rebuilt, housing performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and shows by renowned gold rush performer Lola Montez, before fire gutted it again in 1887.
When talking pictures arrived in the early 20th century, the theatre was renamed the People’s Popular Picture Palace, undergoing an extensive remodel that replaced its verandah and dress circle lost in the decades before.
It continues to screen films today.