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Capitol Theatre

113 Swanston Street, Melbourne

 

Designed by Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin together with local architects Peck and Kempster, Capitol House stands opposite the Town Hall in Swanston Street. It adheres to the (then) height limit of the street and its 'Chicago style' looks somewhat austere compared with its more ornate neighbours. However, it handsomely repays closer examination.

It was designed to house shops, offices, cafes and the centrepiece of the theatre. This now-familiar design concept of an entertainment centre was unusual for the 1920s. Less obvious to the eye is its thoroughly modern construction - the whole of Capitol House is constructed entirely from steel and concrete.

The Architect Robin Boyd described the Capitol Theatre as "The best cinema that was ever built or is ever likely to be built". The Griffins chose to call the building The Capitol after the landmark building they had designed for Canberra. That building, along with most of the Griffins' plans for Canberra, was never allowed to happen - thwarted by self-important bureaucrats. The crowning glory of the Capitol Theatre is its ceiling of coloured lights reflecting off intricate mouldings as designed by Marion.

Like many cinemas of that era, the changing technology of movies led to many changes over time to the original building. The addition of sound to accommodate the 'talkies', the widening of the proscenium to accommodate Cinemascope, additions for surround sound, and additions of carpet and modern seating have all altered the fabric of the cinema. But the largest changes came with the falling audiences following the advent of television in Australia. The stalls and entry foyer were demolished and converted into the current shopping arcade.

The Capitol Theatre is now owned by the RMIT who are in the process of restoring as much as possible of it to its former glory. Access is currently limited to special events and some tours.

The Burley Griffins are best known for their design of Australia's capital - Canberra.

Please note that the tours of the Capitol Theatre which used to run every Friday no longer operate.

Some forthcoming events at Capitol Theatre


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