Capitol Theatre

113 Swanston Street,
Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Capitol Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Capitol Theatre is a classic Art Deco style theatre. The first picture palace to be built in Australia, the theatre was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and opened on 7th November 1924 with Cecil B. De Mille’s “The Ten Commandments”, which ran for 19 weeks, accompanied by an ‘Atmospheric Egyptian Prologue’ live on stage. The cinema was leased to Paramount Pictures Inc. It was equipped with a WurliTzer 3Manual/15Ranks organ that was opened by Horace G. Weber. Seating was provided for 2,137 (1,306 in the stalls, 633 in the balcony and 198 in loges and boxes)

Recognized in Australia and described by Australian architect Robyn Boyd as one of the most beautiful cinemas ever built, the Capitol Theatre is world reknown for its famous ornate plaster ceiling which conceals 4,000 coloured light globes, creating a crystaline effect.

Classified by Australian National Trust as a treasure, the Capitol Theatre currently awaits registration on the world register for significant buildings.

Hoyt’s took over the theatre in December 1940 and the seating capacity had been slightly reduced to 2,115. It really came into its own when the nearby Hoyt’s Regent Theatre burnt down in April 1945.

The theater was reconfigured in 1965, reducing seating capacity from 2,115 to 791 in the former balcony area which had been extended forward. The former stalls area was converted into a shopping mall.

The 3/15 WurliTzer organ was the catalyst for formation of the Theatre Organ Society, as it was sold to them in lieu of it being broken up for ‘spare parts’ by an organ builder. The Capitol Theatre’s WurlTzer organ is now installed in the Dendy Theatre, Brighton, a suburb of Melbourne.

The Capitol Theatre re-opened with a 70mm presentation of “The Great Race” starring Tony Curtis on 18th December 1965. Later taken over by Village Cinemas and then by independent operator Mike Walsh who operated it as an art house from July 1987, but this didn’t last long. Chinese movies began to be screened from 1992 through to 1997 when the Capitol Theatre finally closed.

It was purchased by the RMIT University in 1999 and since then they have been busy restoring the building and using the former balcony space as a lecture hall, with occasional film use. The shopping mall below, continues to struggle along.

Contributed by Craig Cahill, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 26 comments)

ian williams
ian williams on March 27, 2007 at 11:18 pm

A better track record – certainly Mark. But RMIT aren’t doing anyhing much with the theatre despite all the plans the I have heard about over the last few years – they even lost a good manager through his frustration about ‘non theatre’ people who make decisions. Any further restoration should include computerising the ceiling lighting so that each row changes colour seperately as originally
designed, not each colour on one swith for the whole ceiling. The university have plans to develop the old Carlton and United Brewries site at Swanston and Victoria Sts. in a few years time. After that, they may not have a need for the theatre. One could ask the question – Quo Vadis?

bartman1
bartman1 on August 8, 2007 at 5:53 am

Over the last week, I have attended several sessions at the Capitol as part of the Melb Int'l Film Festival. It was great to see a world premiere of ‘September’, a new Aussie film.
The Capitol shows glimpses of its former glory. I had long wanted to see movies here and it was a pleasure to finally do so.
Regrettably, the Capitol is in a very poor way and needs a lot of TLC. Even the projectors and masking are in need of maintenance.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on November 2, 2009 at 10:57 am

Nice picture must have been remodeled out side looks too new to be so old.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on November 2, 2009 at 11:07 am

Not remodeled, all you see is authentic from 1924. The design of the Capitol Theatre was way ahead of its time.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on November 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Yes i like it.Thanks for the responce!!!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 13, 2009 at 12:19 am

Several early photos and a couple of drawings of the Capitol Theatre are on display at the web site of the Flaxman Library of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Use the name Capitol Theatre in the Keyword search box.

craigcahill
craigcahill on February 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm

RMIT University who own the Capitol are currently undertaking repair rewiring and relighting of the auditorium ceiling. Will be fully operational by end of March 2013.

T222UV77
T222UV77 on March 30, 2013 at 12:57 pm

What a day in 1946 when it was my privalidge to become a Page Boy at this great theatre. The days of great films such as ‘State Fair’ and many others.The days of flowers in the foyer and Organists that perfumed the theatre with their grand music.Iam now a Filmmaker and have completed a documentary on the Capitol,including footage of its construction.Available by contacting:Wintergarden Films,<

              Thomas Knight.Wintergarden Films.
                  
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