Capitol Theatre, Melbourne
Opened in 1924, The Capitol Theatre is a spectacularly designed single screen cinema located in Melbourne, Australia (opposite the Melbourne Town Hall). On 20 May 1999, it was purchased by Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology ( RMIT University), and is currently used for both university lectures and cultural events such as film and comedy festivals. Until its reopening in 1999 after being closed after a period of inactivity in the early 1990s, it was one of the few cinemas capable of screening films in standard 35mm format as well as the more cumbersome yet visually superior 70mm format. Today it is still capable of showing 35mm films along with educational 16mm films and documentaries as well as the modern DVD format.

The Capitol Theatre was commissioned by a group of Melbourne businessmen, including the Greek Consul-General Anthony JJ Lucas, and was designed by the renowned US architect Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony and today is considered the finest interior design work by this talented couple. Lucas had worked previously with Burley Griffin on the development of both the Vienna Cafe as well as his own property Yamala in Frankston. The official plans for the Capitol were submitted for approval on 21 November 1921, and after being approved on 9 February 1923 construction began and was completed in 1924. It was officially opened on 7 November 1924. The theatre itself and ten storey office block above it, are registered with the Australian Heritage Commission, the National Trust and Heritage Victoria. The building belongs to the interwar period and the architectural style is Chicagoesque. It was described by the leading architect and academic Robin Boyd as "the best cinema that was ever built or is ever likely to be built". Originally seating 2137 (stalls 1306, balcony 633, loges and boxes 198). During the 1930s, the seating capacity was reduced to 2115 people. The theatre was considered an architectural masterpiece, and which has continued to receive critical acclaim ever since its first opening. The theatre is notable for a number of pioneering concepts such as early use of reinforced concrete, stained glass details and a highly complex three dimensional spatial arrangement. Its greatest feature is the geometric plaster ceiling. This was based on organic design principals of natural orders and are composed in a way which is both evocative and modern. The ceiling was indirectly lit and the lighting was used in conjunction with the original orchestral scores in the early silent film era to add drama for the spectator. Thousands of coloured lamps producing light that changed through all the various coloured hues in the spectral range were hidden amongst the plaster panels creating a crystalline cave effect. After the advent of television in the late 1950s, audience numbers dwindled dramatically and in the early 1960s Hoyts Theatres let their lease expire. The result was that the theatre had to close. Almost immediately there was a campaign waged to 'save the Capitol' by the National Trust and a group of prominent, yet committed architects including Robin Boyd. A compromise was soon reached: After closing for extensive renovations on 17 November 1963, the interior foyer was remodelled to make way for the Capitol Arcade, although the theatre and ceiling was rightly retained. The two-level auditorium was converted to a single-level cinema seating 600. The upper balcony became the existing auditorium with a new raised floor which was raked down to a newly inserted stage. The theatre reopened on 16 December 1965 under the control of Village Cinemas who held the lease until 1987. The opening film after the renovation was The Great Race which had a run of two years. Other long running engagements over the years included the films Ryan's Daughter (1970), The Towering Inferno (1974), A Star is Born (1976) and Superman the Movie in 1978. The present shopping arcade is where the stalls seating used to be. The old staircases leading to the dress circle foyer were blocked off and a new marble staircase from street level was built to a simplified new foyer upstairs. In 2005, RMIT announced that the theatre would get a A$190,000 upgrade, including major painting and some repairs to the Alhambra-inspired ornamental ceiling. Free public tours were held on the third Thursday of every month from March to November commencing in 2000. These ended in 2010 due to dwindling participants. At this stage RMIT Property Services says that spells the end of the tours for the foreseeable future.

Building Activity

  • Georgi Sokolov
    Georgi Sokolov activity.buildings_person.create_many
    about 6 years ago via