39 Langtree Avenue, Mildura
Also known as Capitol Theatre Beautiful
Showing films from: 1935
The Capital was the shortest-lived of Mildura’s cinemas lasting just three years between1935-38, but that didn’t mean it was not impressive ‘picture-palace’ while it lasted. The management of the cinema were keen to promote the impressiveness of its beauty by officially calling it ‘Capitol Theatre Beautiful’. The Sunraysia Daily, who ran an extensive four-page article on the opening of the cinema, supported the claim writing that the cinema was ‘a beauty to behold and a proud testimony to the progress of the Queen City of the North-West’.
The Capitol, an endeavour of the newly established ‘Murray Valley Theatres Ltd’, was designed by Cowper, Murphy and Appleford, a team of well-known cinema architects based in Melbourne. Cowper, Murphy and Appleford had also produced the plans for the refurbishment the Astor. They had also been responsible for building the Plaza and the Royal Princess cinemas in Bendigo, another of The Cinemas Project’s locations.
The building at 39 Langtree Avenue was converted in just six weeks from a ‘double-storied business house into an ultra-modern theatre’. The conversion was not an easy task and involved as much demolition as building, reducing the building to a skeleton of four walls and roof before the more detailed cinema conversion could take place – as the Sunraysia Daily put it ‘a task much more intricate than building an entirely new theatre’.
Between the architects and the builders the conversion successfully produced an attractive 800-seat cinema. The façade of the Capitol had a large veranda that extended some way across the pavement on Langtree Avenue; this both functioned to shade passers-by from the harsh Mildura sun during the day and in the evening it displayed neon lights advertising the films currently on show.
The entrance to the Capitol was flanked on one side by a milk bar, and on the other a confectionery stall. A plate-glass door led into the foyer where the ticket box was situated. From there a cinemagoer could either enter the auditorium on the ground level or walk up the stairs to the dress circle, depending on the ticket purchased. The cost of tickets ranged from front stalls 1/1; back stalls 2/2; circle 2/2 and for the lounge circle 2/8.
The auditorium featured a ‘reversed’ floor that provided an uninterrupted eye-level view of the cinema screen, this was possible because the design stipulated that the floor would be arch-shape where the front and back of the auditorium would be 18 inches higher than at the middle. Seating was provided via sprung tip-ups chairs that were upholstered in grey and maroon with gold trimmings. The seats at the front were further tipped back slightly to add more comfort for those sitting close to the screen.
The lighting in the auditorium added to the modern ambiance of the cinema, lights were sunk into wall channels displaying various colours that gradually faded into each another. Hidden lights were also fitted in the proscenium grille creating patterned light to illuminate the auditorium. Upstairs in the large dress circle, which covered half the auditorium, luxurious lounge chairs could be found upholstered in fawn and brown velvet with gold trimmings. The whole cinema was decked out in a thick luxurious carpet.
As well as aesthetic beauty, the Capitol aimed to provide the best quality in technical matters too. Consideration was given to the architectural structure of the building so it could provide as much acoustic perfection as possible. The Capitol was also one of the few cinemas in Australia to be fitted with ‘Wide Range Sound Reproduction’ equipment, such as that made by Western Electric. This equipment could reproduce a far greater frequency range than previously possible giving more depth and tonal quality to the sound. The bio box was equipped with two Adelaide-made ‘Benbow’ projectors. The Capitol had an elaborate air-conditioning system that involved a web of exhaust ducks honeycombed under the floor pumping fresh air into the auditorium every four minutes.
Originally planned to open on the 14th June 1935, the ‘grand premier performance’ had to be postponed until 18 June due to various circumstances, including ‘hold-ups in the work owing to certain indispensable technicians and craftsmen having contracted influenza and also the late delivery of necessary plant’. The opening programme started with ‘God Save the King’, followed by a series of newsreels and cartoons, before getting to the all important feature film: One Night of Love (1934, dir. Victor Schertzinger), a Columbia Pictures romantic musical set in the opera world, starring Grace Moore and Tullio Carminati. The Capitol’s fine acoustics would have added to the experience of the film that had won Academy Awards for ‘best music’ and ‘best sound recording’. The takings from the opening night were donated to the Mildura Base Hospital.
The Capital gave the other cinemas in the area a run for their money given they were able to obtain many of the top films from Fox and Warner Brothers directly after they had screened in Melbourne and before the films had general suburban release. As the Sunraysia Daily had promised when the Capitol opened, it did provide ‘excellent programmes in perfect conditions … amid surroundings that will be modern for the next 20 years’ – yet the Capitol was not to last 20 years, within three years an even more impressive cinema had been built in Mildura. By 1938 the Capital was under the management of the Waterman Brothers, who opened the Ozone cinema further down Langtree Avenue. With the Ozone even more beautiful, spacious and almost twice as much capacity there was no reason to keep the Capital going and it quickly closed disappearing without much attention.
Since then various retail shops have inhabited the former Capital, today it is home to an Ishka homewares store downstairs and artists studios on the second floor.