St. James Theatre

107-111 Elizabeth Street,
Sydney, NSW 2000

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St. James Theatre

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The St. James Theatre opened as a legitimate theatre on 1st April 1926 with the musical “No No Nanette”. It had a seating capacity for 1,773. “Rio Rita” was staged in 1928. Movies were shown from August 1929, however it returned to live theatre in August 1930 for twelve months. The Adamesque style theatre moved permanently to movies in August 1931.

The St. James Theatre was taken over by MGM in 1934 and screened many of the studio’s classic films. The capacity of the theatre was listed in 1955 as 1,609 seats. The grand cinema closed with “Gone With The Wind” on 20 March 1971 and was demolished to make way for a 26 storey office block.

Contributed by Graeme McBain

Recent comments (view all 8 comments)

PAULB
PAULB on January 4, 2004 at 10:52 pm

The St James was another of Sydney’s celebrated Henry White designs like the cherished State nearby and the lost lamented Wintergarden at Rose Bay. Apart from the 3 level auditorium, its cameo designs and nouveau 20s style, it was maintained to a perfect 20s degree and style by MGM as their premier house. Oddly though, in 1959 they hung huge swags of cream satin screen curtains covering half the side walls as well. This was to give the impression that there was this huge cinerama type screen behined. They did this to open BEN HUR and then screened the film in 35mm cinemascope. The St James never did have 70mm even with all the 70mm MGM films released. Just in the closing weeks, MGM sensibly ran a festival of classics and made them available to us 15 year olds at just 50c a ticket. you can imagine the stampede, and the cinema every time I attended was packed. I saw WIZ OF OZ. HUCK FINN, SINGIN IN THE RAIN etc in this period and for a short last time was able to run all over this elegant theatre with my friends. Above the theatre was the most beautiful 20s shopping block with the most exclusive shops and edesigners in Sydney. It was famous for being the nth degree in exclusive female shopping. It was truly like something from LOVELY TO LOOK AT or any MGM technicolour musical in real life. The sale of all MGM’s cinemas in 1971 by the new Kekorian admin in the USA was the reason for the closure and demolition. I went to the auction and saw the unveiled stage and walls for the first time in my life. So beautiful, side boxes, balconies and frescoes.
To add insult to injury, the c/s screen fitted within the old proscenium so all this dumb drapery from 1959 was just for before-the show effect and the awesome 20s decor was hidden all those years. Then a bulldozer ground the whole lot to dust in the name of progress and someone got richer from that.

mrt1924
mrt1924 on April 28, 2005 at 9:44 pm

Hi Paul

Have you seen the beautiful St James Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand?? That lovely theatre was built in 1912 and it was designed by Henry White. It’s still around today and it is home to the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company.
http://www.stjames.co.nz for more details

Cheers

Rex

rashby
rashby on December 16, 2005 at 4:11 am

A former Chief Projectionist from the 60’s to close of the St. James, Bob Allan (deceased) ,was a friend of mine. I have seen 16m/m home movies of the inner workings including the typical MGM 3 projectors, 3 manned projection room and shift electrician working the many rehostat dimmers for presentation etc. I have also sighted architect plans, commissioned by MGM to convert the St. James into a triple cinema complex(although never obviously undertaken) atleast 2 decades before the first one was commissioned in Sydney ( Village Cinema City).

Ta.
Ralph

paulsp
paulsp on April 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

I have only a very vague memory of the interior of this theatre and have never been able to locate any photographs.
If anyone has any I would be very grateful if they would post them on this site.
There must have been some in the MGM archives in Sydney but possibly lost by now.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm

A vintage photograph of the magnificent St. James Theatre:
View link

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 20, 2010 at 1:16 pm

A close-up of the entrance in June 1935:
View link
Auditorium in the 1930’s:
View link

paulsp
paulsp on April 21, 2010 at 11:39 am

Thanks very much for these photos KenRoe. The building was even finer than I remember, what a scandal that it was demolished for just another boring office block which would not be missed if it disappeared tomorrow!!
It’s unbelievable how much damage was done to so many cities in the 60’s, 70’s and to a slightly lesser extent in the 80’s.

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