Regent Theatre

191 Collins Street,
Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Regent Theatre

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The Melbourne Regent Theatre opened on March 15, 1929 with Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky in “Two Lovers”. It was one of the largest theatres to be built in Australia by the Hoyts chain, seating 3,277 people in opulent splendour with the largest WurliTzer theater organ installed in Australia at that time. The 4 manual, 21 rank instrument was opened by Stanley Wallace.

At 1:00am on Sunday April 29, 1945 a fire was dicovered by the theatre’s nightwatchman (thought to have begun in the circle area), and the theatre auditorium and backstage area was completely destroyed by the fire. All that remained was the main entrance and foyer. Despite wartime building restrictions, the theatre was completely rebuilt, with a modified proscenium shape and a replacement hybrid WurliTzer 4 manual, 19 rank organ, made up from the Ambassadors Theatre, Perth and the Lyceum Theatre, Melbourne. It was opened by organist Len Davis. The Regent Theatre reopened for business as a movie palace on December 19, 1947 with Maureen O'Hara in “The Homestretch”.

After another long period of successful operation, the Regent Theatre closed once again on 1st July 1970 with Vince Edwards in “The Desperados” and Rachel Romen in “Desert Raven”. The organ had been removed after a final concert in 1969. The theatre was stripped of all its fittings. Plans to demolish the theatre for a multi-level office block were thwarted, thankfully, and the long saga to ‘Save the Regent’ began.

After 23 years of frustration, hope, and tears, a property developer, David Marriner instigated a plan in 1993 to fully restore the theatre. The Regent Theatre was faithfully restored to its original grandeur, even down to the smallest detail. To prepare it for its role as a ‘lyric’ theatre, necessary alterations were made, such as a new sloping floor to improve sightlines, additional height to the flytower, and more dressing rooms.

On Saturday August 17, 1996, Melbourne’s ‘Palace of Dreams’ finally re-opened in true Hollywood fashion with its third WurliTzer organ faithfully installed (this 4 manual, 36 rank instrument was originally installed in the Granada Theatre, San Francisco, California in 1921). The restoration work cost around $AU37 million. Since then the theatre has been the home to some great musical stage productions including, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Show Boat”, “Fiddler of the Roof” with Topol and “The Lion King”.

On 14th November 1997, movies returned to the Regent Theatre for the first time in 27 years, with a fully restored print of “My Fair Lady”, which ran for an extended season.

The Regent Theatre is listed on the National Trust Register.

Contributed by John Adey, Paul C. Lewis

Recent comments (view all 20 comments)

ian williams
ian williams on June 12, 2007 at 1:19 am

Well donald4564! Rather belatedly I am querying one ‘fact’ in your comments above, have been meaning to reply for ages!!! You say you were sitting in the Regent for Funny Thing / Forum? This movie was screened at the Athenaeum opposite the Regent. And for the projectionist to know that you were sitting in the auditorium, you would have to be in the second balcony where the box is located? I shall be interested if you are sure that it was Forum that you were to see, or maybe a different movie, but in the Regent???
Otherwise, if I was still managing, there would always be curtains before and at the end. AND we used to cut those dam titles of any movie that went over the top – South Pacific at the Esquire for one!

Limelight at the Rergent Limelight at the Regent also,

ian williams
ian williams on June 12, 2007 at 1:24 am

Woops, got cut off re Limelight!!!! For this one, people loved this Chaplin movie so much, they started applauding it, but were cut off as the organist came on with the national anthem. I changed this so that we reinstated the end titles which gave the applause time to die down before the anthem was played. At least the titles weren’t as long as every movie has them today. Best tea lady; assistant to the senior coach driver; the secretary who typed the script – BAH !!!

RKLT
RKLT on August 21, 2007 at 7:37 pm

Some links between the Regent Theatre & The Victory (now National) in St Kilda. Francis Thring (father of actor Frank Thring)was involved in both as was the architect. The Victory (c1921) was substantially altered in 1928 following the opening of both The Regent and The Palais (ST Kilda) in 1928. In 1970 Hoyts transferred the Regent projection equipment to the Victory where it still remains in perfect working order. Recent Heritage registration was granted to the Victory (National) as well as its contents including the Regent equipment and seating rescued from the now lost Tivoli Theatre.

ian williams
ian williams on March 8, 2008 at 4:29 am

Just in case you were wondering how this compared to the capacity prior to closure in 1970,

Lounge 388
Circle 807
Back Stalls 1648
Front Stalls 410

Total: 3253.

donald4564
donald4564 on May 1, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Here is a website with pages and pages of memorabilia and programmes at the Regent:

http://www.donaldbinks.com.au/regent.htm

MPol
MPol on March 4, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Looks like another handsome movie theatre!

JohnHolloway
JohnHolloway on March 19, 2009 at 11:25 am

Undoubtedly a magnificent cinema gem, but as a “live” theatre, leaves a lot to be desired. Designed for film, the circle/balcony is so far removed from the stage that audiences feel they are sitting in the foyer of The Athenaeum Theatre across the street. Since the renovation, the few film presentations (Gone With The Wind/The Wizard Of Oz/High Society/My Fair Lady) and a few “premieres” have been sadly ruined by lack of screen drapes (in situ) and effect lightings surrounding the proscenium. Now air-conditioned, paint work and murals that survived over many years are now peeling due to the effect of humidity control.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on August 8, 2012 at 7:29 am

Multi-page 1929 trade article with many photos starts here: archive

Warner
Warner on January 15, 2013 at 9:03 pm

A magnificent theatre.

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