Historic Victoria Theatre in Perkins St for auction: $1 reserve

THE historic Victoria Theatre building in Newcastle’s Perkins Street has been put up for sale with an auction reserve price of just $1.

Currently owned by veteran hotelier Arthur Laundy, the theatre has been boarded up for more than a decade but remains the oldest theatre in the state still standing.

Built in 1890 opposite the old David Jones building, it has played host to not only theatre but live boxing, vaudeville and even silent-screen cinema. In its heyday, it rivalled the best theatres in Sydney and attracted huge crowds with seating for 1340 people.

It is the last major Newcastle asset held by Mr Laundy, who sold the neighbouring Crown and Anchor Hotel in August 2013 for $2.7million, having sold the Honeysuckle Hotel several years earlier. He has now instructed Colliers International to sell the historic theatre with a reserve price of just $1.

A Laundy family spokesperson, Robyn Gumbley, said the price was aimed at making sure someone could be found to refurbish the old building which was once described by the Newcastle Herald’s history scribe Mike Scanlon as ‘‘a theatrical tomb with a remarkable past’’.

‘‘We are passionate about Newcastle and excited to see the revitalisation of the city under way,’’ Ms Gumbley said.

‘‘The move to sell this asset is not one of timing in the market but recognition that the building deserves to be restored and this is no longer part of our overall business plan.

‘‘Our group’s founder [Arthur Laundy] sees the $1 auction reserve as a philanthropic move to ensure the building moves ownership to someone for a price that will allow them to restore the property.’’

While the building is state heritage listed, its refurbishment as a theatre would be unlikely, but agent Matt Kearney from Colliers said it wasn’t out of the question.

Mr Kearney said he was expecting a lot of interest in the old building, both locally and nationally. The theatre sits on a prime 898-square-metre block. Its mixed use zoning also allows for development up to 24metres, or about seven storeys, so apartments or shop-top housing are possible behind the current building’s heritage-listed facade.

‘‘I don’t think it will sell for $1, $100 or even $100,000 but there will be a lot of interest in it, and it will definitely sell,’’ he said.

Mr Laundy paid $1.1million for the building when he bought it in 2004. Then, he fought off competition from developer and former lord mayor Jeff McCloy who later bought the nearby Lucky Country Hotel and spent $8million refurbishing it.

The theatre itself was opened in 1890, although the theatre company had operated elsewhere in Newcastle since 1870. The final curtain came down in 1966 but not before the stage had been graced by some of the country’s biggest theatrical legends including June Bronhill, Joan Hammond and Lily Langtry.

The building has been permanently closed since 1999.

It will be auctioned on November 19.

 ANOTHER piece of Newcastle history will go under the auctioneer’s hammer next month when the iconic Star Hotel hits the market again.

This time it’s the building for sale and not the business which is continuing its revival under new licensees.

With its riotous days long behind it, the Star Hotel is now an upmarket, Italian-themed bar with the smoke and beer-stained bar mats replaced by Carrara marble and Peroni.

Selling agent Peter Dodds from Colliers International  expected strong interest in the King Street building.

 The current owners have secured approval for a 40-square-metre outdoor dining area along the building’s Devonshire Lane frontage. 

The site is leased to the hotel until 2024 with options to extend.

The two combined strata lots which now house the hotel will go under the hammer on November19