MUCH like the famous faces that light up its screens inside, the Saraton Theatre is one of the few remaining stars of Grafton's architectural past. But if it wasn't for the quick actions of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke's right-hand lady Hazel, we might be parking our cars there, rather than our behinds.
Mrs Hawke, who was the chairwoman of the Heritage Council back in 1999, was in Grafton at the bequest of then Mayor Shirley Adams and Councillor Heather Roland.
"We invited Hazel up for Heritage Week and took her around to show her all our buildings like the jail and our other wonderful old buildings. She was a very charming person, nothing put-on about her," Mrs Adams said.
The tour included the Saraton, and when Hazel learned of its pending demise she went into action so quickly that by 1.30 that afternoon a permanent heritage order had been placed on the ailing Art Deco building.
Saraton Theatre co-owner Spiro Notaras remembers that day well.
"She's the reason we couldn't pull it down," Mr Notaras said.
"We cursed her for a while, but now we realise it was meant to be. I do get a kick out of seeing the building today," he said.
The Notaras family were planning to sell the old theatre as it was becoming too much to look after and had explored other options like selling it to McConaghy (Shoppingworld) so they could turn it into a car park as part of their new development.
The decision created much debate at the time and after seeing an article in The Daily Examiner and the cinema first-hand, Mrs Hawke used her clout to put a halt on proceedings during her timely visit.
So the Notaras family was stuck with the aging structure and after council rejected the family's offer to sell it to the city for $1 in the hope they would restore it for the people to enjoy, they went ahead with their ambitious and generous plan of pouring the family's money into the multi-million restoration. And while the Notaras family must be applauded for their hard work, we have to salute a determined Hazel Hawke for forcing their hand.
Vale Mrs H.
Sure the Saraton's great... but where are the bums on seats?
While Spiro Notaras is proud of his family's redevelopment of the cinema he said he does get the blues when he sees the empty seats during screenings.
"Some days there are one or two people in there watching films. It does get depressing to see."
But Mr Notaras said there were occasional moments that made it seem worth all the effort.
"We had about 100 in for The Hangover 3 this week which was great. And we have The Great Gatsby coming soon too which should also be popular. We just need to keep it up."