Capitol Theatre

Gregory Terrace and Hartley Street,
Alice Springs, NT 0870

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Capitol Theatre

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The Capitol Theatre opened around 1935. It was an open-air theatre which was built by Ly Underdown and was located opposite the Alice Springs Hotel. The Capitol Theatre was damaged by fire in the projection box caused by an electrial fault on 10th June 1953. Repairs were carried out and the cinema re-opened. The Capitol Theatre was closed around 1963/1964 and the entire building was later destroyed by fire and the remains have been demolished(date unknown?). The site is now a car park.

Contributed by David Coppock

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film on April 4, 2018 at 11:52 pm

GREG LYNCH SAYS – THE CAPITOL OPEN AIR THEATRE – Leslie Joseph (Snow) Kenna (Picture Show Man) was born in Rockhampton , Queensland in 1897, before moving to Cloncurry, and eventually arriving together with Bill Burton in Alice Springs during 1934. William Cecil (Bill) Burton was born near Winton in Qld, and worked as a projectionist with a traveling picture show. Together they began showing silent movies in the old Welfare Hall. On Thurs, 24 Oct 1935 News Adelaide reported: “Alice Springs is now to have talking pictures. Silent films have been shown here for some months, and now the proprietor’s of the Welfare Hall have made arrangements for a sound installation”. Almost immediately the Underdown family began building “The Capitol Open Air Theatre” on a block of land opposite the already established Alice Springs Hotel, cnr of Hartley St and Gregory Tce, and then looked around for an experienced operator. Snow Kenna took up the challenge, and the lease, and then moved his projection equipment into “The Capitol”, while Bill Burton was to ultimately move on to Tennant Creek with the idea of opening a show there. Neither of them could have been aware of the contribution they were to make over the ensuing decades as they pioneered cinema in Alice Springs & Tennant Creek. Ly Underdown’s “Capitol Theatre” resembled a stockade with four walls. An elevated projection booth was mounted at the rear, along with a motor power generator located strategically on the outside theatre wall to muffle the sound. Rows of canvas seating were installed and poster boards erected at the front entrance. The theatre was finally ready and began screening to excellent crowds. Late 1939 Snow Kenna left the Capitol and decided to build his own theatre. He purchased a block in Parsons street and named it “The Pioneer Walk-In (Open- Air) Theatre & Cafe” with the debut screening in 1942. Now “The Pioneer” and Ly Underdown’s “Capitol Theatre” were facing off as competing cinemas. “The Capitol” became the action house with a predominance of western movies, and then expanded into live sporting events such as boxing and basketball. To quote The Centralian Advocate Fri, 14 Jan 1949 – WIN FOR KUNOTH by Box On – A crowded house watched the boxing at “The Capitol theatre” on Thursday night last. Apart from the cup finals the attraction of the evening was billed as a four two-minute round return bout between Norman George and Ted Kunoth …and then The Centralian Advocate: Fri May 30 1952 reported a riot occurrence at “The Capitol Theatre” of full-blood Aborigines from the Bungalow, under the heading ‘Separate Theatre For Aborigines’ – ‘In the interests of the Aborigines and of the towns people of Alice Springs, a picture theatre should be erected at “The Bungalow”, or some other suitable place specifically for the showing of films to the people from the Bungalow and full-blood Aborigines from other places,’ said Mr. Simon Reiff, well-known Territorian,– this week. He added that he realised that “The trouble was caused because a number of Aborigines had been supplied with liquor. Mr. Reiff says that he believes that films to be screened for the full blood Aborigines should be selected and suitable pictures shown, for example, cowboy pictures and the Walt Disney type of thing seems to be popular among the younger ones and are in no way harmful. The Bungalow” was mentioned in “The Bringing Them Home Report (1997)” as an institution in Alice Springs that housed Indigenous children removed from their families. – The Centralian Advocate Fri 12 Jun 1953, reports “£2,000 CAPITOL THEATRE FIRE” – The projection room at “The Capitol Theatre” was gutted by fire on Wednesday afternoon and the projector and other equipment was ruined. It is estimated that more than £2,000 worth of damage was done before the brigade had the fierce blaze under control. Recently Charlie Poole posted the following … “We went to the Capitol sometimes as they had more Western Movies than “The Pioneer.” It was a shilling for kids and 2 & 6 at “The Pioneer” Ester McGuirk (RIP) and long time barmaid at Underdowns sold the tickets on picture nights, while the late Walter Schnitzer was a projectionist at the Capitol right up to the end. Charlie went on, I can’t remember the exact year, but the final show at “The Capitol” was in 1963/64, after that the whole place was destroyed by fire. The Underdowns operated it to the end. – Fin – This writer is indebted to local Tennant Creek identity & historian, Pam Hodges for her contribution to the history of “The Capitol Theatre”. Acknowledgements:: Charlie Poole – The Centralian Advocate (Alice Springs, NT) – Pam Hodges – Go to Pam Hodges for Tennant Creekers. http://fortennantcreekers.com/places/buildings/picture-theatres/ –

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