Through Adversity To The Astor

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By Mary McConville


The American air force uses the Latin expression ‘Per Ardua Ad Astra – Through adversity to the stars. St Kilda may need the expression ‘Per Ardua Ad Astor’ – Through adversity to the Astor.

The renowned picture palace on the corner of Chapel Street and Dandenong Road, the Astor Theatre, is again in the news due to continuing disputes between the landlord and the leaseholder.

The landlord is Mr Ralph Taranto, an 82 year old property investor and theatre enthusiast. The leaseholder is Mr George Florence, who took on the lease 32 years ago in 1982 and established the popular film screening business within the Astor building.

These gentlemen have been in dispute for a long time over the conditions of the lease, property access, renovations and which party is responsible for the insurance. They attended a mediation session at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in July 2014. There were 80 claims in dispute, which were not resolved, said Mr Florence.

With the rise of DVDs and the ease with which we can host our own screenings of all our favourite films, the Astor sessions have become less profitable. It is Mr Florence’s knowledge and industry contacts that supply the momentum within the business.

If negotiations do not improve, Mr Florence will probably move out of the Astor in May 2015, with the last screening scheduled for April 5th that year.

Mr Florence plans to return the building to the state it was in at the time he first took on the lease in 1982 and he plans to remove the fittings. These may include the projector, screen and carpet. This will be complicated by the fact that part of the theatre is heritage listed, having graced that corner since 1936. At least Mr Florence will not need to find a new home for the popular staff member Marzipan the cat who died last year.

It is likely that the Astor will continue to screen movies only they will be under a different management. Mr Dale Smith, a spokesman for the building’s owner said that Mr Taranto meant to continue using the building as a single screen cinema. There has already been $750,000 spent on the restorations to the cinema.

It hasn’t been resolved who might take over the new lease. Spokesman Mr Dale Smith said that the new leaseholder will have to have extensive experience. The chief executive of Palace Cinemas Mr Benjamin Zeccola has shown some interest.

Friends of the Astor (FOTA) have started an on-line petition to save the Astor Theatre and to support Mr Florence. There have been more than 630 supporters who have signed this petition to Mr Taranto.

With half a year to go, late negotiations may change the Astor’s circumstances. Those interested might like to check the Astor’s blog or the website run by the Friends of The Astor Association Inc. at

Ad Astra, Ad Astor – To The Stars, To The Astor

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