The Capital Theatre
View Street, Bendigo
Also know as Masonic, New Britannia, Capitol
Films shown from 1904
The Capital Theatre originally opened as the Masonic Hall in 1874 and was at the time the largest Masonic complex in Victoria. Concerts and plays had taken place at the Masonic Hall since 1890s and from 1904 film screenings also become part of the programme.
Initially the films displayed at the Capital were not projected in the manner that we know cinema today, but rather films which were displayed on the Kinetoscope, a pre-cinema device designed by Thomas Edison. The Kinetoscope was cabinet-like device that had a peephole at the top that enabled one person at a time to look in and watch a film. The filmstrip moved at high speed over a light source creating the illusion of movement. Some of the films shown at the Capital included ‘Wonders of the Deep’ and ‘The Great Train Robbery’.
In 1912 the Masonic Hall was refurbished and equipped with the latest cinema technology of time; when it reopened it did so with a new name: The New Britannia. The cinema was now under the management of Mr Le Breton. Le Breton had originally managed the Tivoli, an open-air cinema also in View Street, and at one point he had also managed The Star in Eaglehawk. When Le Breton opened the New Britannia he was determined the cinema would be the most update as possible. In addition to the quality picture show, audiences were treated to the sound of a live orchestra accompaniment to the silent pictures. Le Breton wasn’t keen on the idea of children attending evening screenings so he offered free admission to children on a Saturday afternoon for the matinee shows.
Over the years the Capital went between showing films and live performance, however between 1920-1952 it was used mainly as a cinema, during which time it was known as the Capitol (spelt with an ‘o’). It is open today as a theatre.