The Capitol

The Capitol

The Capitol
Koroit Street, Warrnambool
Also known as: The New Warrnambool Theatre, Capitol Cinema Centre
Showing films from: 1930

The Capitol was first known as the New Warrnambool Theatre, which opened on the 12th April 1930. The New Warrnambool Theatre had been built on the site of the former Palais-De-Dance, a building along with the spectacular ‘Hotel Mansions’ and Mansions Theatre that had been destroyed by fire in 1929.

Following the fire the owners of Hotel Mansions and Palais-De-Dance decided to finance the building the New Warrnambool Theatre; this was designed by the Melbourne team of architects Bohringer, Taylor and Johnson. Most of the construction materials for the building were sourced locally, including bluestone from Rosebrook as well as sandstone from local quarries.

The New Warrnambool Theatre was built to accommodate both film screenings and live performances. There was a stage, orchestra pit and dressing room facilities; however, as the stage was quite narrow and there was not a lot of space in the wings, the theatre was not really suited for large productions. However, over the years, stars such as Max Bygraves, Cilla Black and Roy Orbison performed there.

The architects Bohringer, Taylor and Johnson’s design followed a Spanish/ Mediterranean style, typified by the arched windows, terracotta tiling and ornate parapet that decorated the outside of the building facing Kepler Street. Originally, flanking the entrance to the vestibule were two shops, a common occurrence in cinemas and theatres of the period. Once inside the vestibule, the walls were decorated in textured and painted plaster with a wooden dado that ran around the edge. There was a central ticket booth with a split staircase on either side that lead to the upstairs foyer. A striking feature found half way up the staircase was a large mural of Adam and Eve painted by the Melbourne artist Vaughan Murray Griffin (1903–1992), which was entitled appropriately, ‘The First Drama’.

The New Warrnambool Theatre could seat 750 in the stalls and a further 400 in the balcony area. At the back of the balcony was the projection booth, which included a separate area for the non-synchronous sound equipment (at this early stage sound was played from an accompanying sound-disc). Taking just nine months to build, The New Warrnambool Theatre opened on the 12th April 1930 with the MGM musical-comedy The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929, Charles Reisner, staring Conrad Nagel, Joan Crawford and Buster Keaton). It was one of MGM’s earliest sound films.

Initially leased to the ‘Civic Pictures’, who also ran the Town Hall picture show, The New Warrnambool Theatre changed its name a few years later to the ‘Capitol’. Whether that was due to a change in ownership or management at this point it is not known. The cinema continued to quietly run over the next few decades, Stan Stevens who was an usher at the Capitol in the 1950s later became its manager along with Norma Stevens in the 1970s. The Stevens are still Managing Directors of the cinema today. Another long-time employee of the Capitol is its projectionist Ivan Berndt, who has worked at the cinema for more than 50 years.

Over the subsequent years, improvements were made to the Capitol, however the biggest change took place in 1994 when the cinema was converted from single screen to triple screen. Today, Cinema 1 is situated in the former balcony, while Cinema 2 and 3 split the former stalls area in half. Many of the original features are still visible, such as the arch-shaped recesses, ornamental urns on the wall and chandeliers in Cinema 1 for example. While it is no longer visible to audiences today, the stage and the space for the original screen are still present in Cinema 2 and 3.

The Capitol is still going strong and more on its recent history can be found here.

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