Palais Theatre restored to former glory

The Palais Theatre is a world renowned concert venue located in St Kilda. With a capacity of 2896 people, it is the largest seated theatre in Australia. The former cinema, retaining many of its original features, is considered one of the finest examples of Art Deco Architecture in the nation and is included on the Victorian Heritage Register. Situated on Port Phillip Bay, it faces North on the Lower Esplanade.



Currently the Palais Theatre is considered one of the top twenty theatre concert venues worldwide hosting over 100 performances per year.


Walter Burley Griffin

It’s a little known fact that the Palais’ original owners and promoters also owned Luna Park across the road. Three American showmen, Leon, Herman and Harold Phillips, originally hailing from Spokane, Washington teamed up with fellow American Dixon Williams. The original building known as the Palais De Danse was remodelled at the end of World War I with a steel framed and arched truss structure being built over the original structure. The Palais De Danse was moved next door a block to the west. Palais Pictures opened in 1919. The Phillips brothers further expanded their movie house interests with a part purchase of the old Capitol Theatre on Swanston St in Melbourne’s CBD.

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Walter Burley Griffin, the famous architect responsible for the layout and design of Canberra, as well as many Incinerators and other curiosities, began designing a remodelled Palais Pictures theatre in 1922. A stage fire in 1925 brought Griffin’s work to a halt. Construction had begun in 1925, but with Griffin moving to Sydney, the Phillips’ engaged a new architect, Henry E White to build a much larger, grander, more ostentatious theatre.


A movie theatre until the 1950s, it gradually became better known as a venue for live performances. The Phillips family sold the Palais, the Palais De Danse and Luna Park to Melbourne entrepreneurs in 1957.

The theatre was always a popular venue for Ballet with famous productions and visiting Dance Troupes performing there. Swan Lake and The Nutcracker were performed there – the latter being the last major performance in 1982. The Bolshoi Ballet, The Kirov, Stars of World Ballet and The Australian Ballet all performed there.

A younger generation were introduced to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice with Jesus Christ Superstar first being performed at the theatre in 1972. Harry M Miller was the producer. The Rolling Stones played the Palais twice in 1965, as did many other well known rock bands.

In 2016, the Victorian Premier announced the restoration of the Palais Theatre at an estimated cost of $20 million. This put to bed some hideous plans for the ‘Triangle’, the land occupied by the Palais, the old Palace Dance Theatre and Luna Park. [Those plans saw a supermarket/retail multi-storey complex combined with apartments].

Here is the report on this ‘Major Project’ from the Major Projects Victoria website.

Client: City of Port Phillip, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning

Type: Creative Industries

Budget: Around $20 million, including $7.5 million from City of Port Phillip

Project partners: Built Pty Ltd

The Palais Theatre underwent a $20 million repair and restoration during 2016-17, securing its long term future as a live performance venue.

The iconic Palais Theatre was completed in 1927 and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

The repair and refurbishment works addressed the building’s critical maintenance and refurbishment issues, securing the long-term future of the Palais Theatre as a live performance venue. The works included:

  • upgrading the theatre’s electrical system to modern standards
  • upgrades to the building’s fire protection systems
  • upgrades to disabled access and facilities
  • upgrades to various hydraulic systems
  • refurbishment of and repairs to the theatre’s exterior

As part of the refurbishment, the Palais Theatre was repainted in its original colour – a sand tone consistent with the building’s c.1927 finish. The colour change was due to a requirement to paint the building in its original colour in Heritage Victoria’s permit for the restoration work.

The exteriors feature faux Egyptian elements, whilst the interiors also include Baroque inspired elements.

The Palais Theatre was originally given a copperas finish, where an iron sulphate wash is applied to an external masonry render. The iron sulphate reacts with lime in the render creating a sandy, orange colour as it sets.

Copperas finishes were often used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to save money, as they were cheaper than the paint finishes available at the time.

The Palais Theatre’s former ‘off white’ colour dated to the mid twentieth century, around the time  when the building was modified with a larger orchestra pit and additional dressing rooms to provide a venue for the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust.

By then the original copperas finish would have faded and become streaked leaving the building with a blotchy and uneven grey finish, most likely motivating the decision to repaint.

The original copperas finish colour was recreated in a paint medium. Heritage Victoria has a policy of encouraging repainting in original schemes, where there is evidence to determine the original colour tones. This can be seen in recent permits for Flinders Street Station, the Former Mail Exchange and Footscray Railway Station.

The Palais Theatre is expected to reopen in May. (It did.)


This is a demonstration on how beautiful old iconic buildings can be saved and included in the modern lexicon. Make sure you visit it. Take in a show, then stroll down the road to the Stokehouse (rebuilt) or the St Kilda Baths (also rebuilt) for a drink or a bite to eat. Or if the weather is really fine, take a walk to the end of the St Kilda Pier and sit down at the kiosk (rebuilt) for a nice coffee. All were destroyed by fire but faithfully restored. And this pretty much re-invigorates our faith in the ability we have to preserve the past yet foster the future. Till next week.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Victoria Market Update

The Victoria Market Development Plan does have some very serious opposition with stall holders expressing serious dissatisfaction with the City of Melbourne’s Plan as well as thousands of members of the public. Friends of Victoria Market Lobby Group, led by Phil Cleary have now released their alternative plan developed in concert with Melbourne Architect John McNabb. It claims their alternative plan is more respectful of the Market’s character and heritage than the Council’s current plan.



Alternative Victoria Markets plan by John McNabb

The Alternative plan from the Friends of the Victoria Market Lobby Group and designed by Mr John McNabb, Architect includes a rooftop park and a 1100 seat amphitheatre.

Mr Phil Cleary the spokesperson for the Friends of Queen Victoria Market’s plan has pointed out that the McNabb plan ‘had no destructive excavation, and no ripping up of the heritage sheds. Mr McNabb’s design for a new elevated space on top of the existing parking area would add both car parking and further parkland’ he said.


Alternative Victoria Markets plan by John McNabb

The group levels some pretty serious allegations towards the Melbourne City Council, Robert Doyle – the Lord Mayor and its current plan. The alternative ‘McNabb’ plan does not disturb the ground in a number of areas where burial plots still remain, but these would be totally obliterated under the current Council plan. The Friends group point out that the original Melbourne cemetery actually extends beneath sheds A + B as well as C + D contradicting the Council’s presentations. A major underground car park would see excavation under A + B certainly and probably under C + D according to the Friends group’s statement in opposing the Council’s plans.

More significantly, the Victorian era sheds would be totally removed during this process and current stallholders are anything but confident that there will be no significant interruptions to their businesses.


It should be noted that the Victorian Andrews Government signed off on a plan to allow Council’s selected developer PDG to build a 42 level tower on land owned by Council across the road from the Market’s Deli. Alongside this tower a further tower of 30 storeys will be built featuring community services and affordable housing.

(Source: The Age, August 10)


Mr Cleary believes if the Andrews Government accepts the Friends of the Victoria Market alternative plan ‘they will win the hearts and minds of the stallholders and the thousands of people across Victoria who are passionately opposed to the destructive strategy of the Melbourne City Council”.

Let’s see what happens. Time will tell.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Development of Victoria Market brings mixed reaction.

The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, is on record as saying the redevelopment of the Victoria Market site is the most exciting project he has seen in his time as Mayor.


“When you look at some of the improvements we are making, they’re so fundamental; hot and cold water, cold storage, power, things that councils have been talking about since the 1900s and bemoaning in 1953 that there should be chill facilities there, but there are not. Now there will be.” Lord Mayor Doyle said.


However he didn’t mention the 125m tower, the loss of income and massive inconvenience to stall holders or the approximately 9,000 deceased souls buried beneath sections of the market. Doyle used the market as a key election plank at last year’s Council elections.

Munro Urban Concext Page 81

Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, reduced the height of the tower from 200m to 125m, also putting planning controls around the controversial nearby Munro site, restricting heights there to 40m. Mr Wynne commented that strict heritage controls over the rest of the market would ensure it was protected for future generations.

“The historic sheds, the delicatessen area, the food hall and the meat and fish areas will be retained” he said.

The market has traded continually since 1878 and over 10 million visitors attend it each year.


A temporary pavilion is currently being built to house traders whilst the redevelopment takes place. It will open in March 2018. According to Doyle all market licenses will be locked in until 2022. As well he claims a fund is to be set up to compensate traders whose businesses are affected during the transfer and construction period.


Mayor Doyle again paints the optimistic and positive picture “ There will be a temporary pavilion – a very beautiful pavilion – that’s like a greenhouse in the sky. I think that will generate interest and attraction to the market in and of itself” he said.

Source: ABC News

For all the grand posturing it should be recognised that Victoria Market is a weekly destination for thousands of Melbourne’s citizens looking to purchase their weekly supplies of fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry and dairy products. And it has been that way for well over 130 years. Students, people from the housing projects in Carlton, Fitzroy, North Melbourne and Flemington make up a high proportion of the weekly throng. As do those people from the other end of the spectrum, high income empty nesters from Carlton, North Melbourne, Parkville, Brunswick, Flemington, Kensington, Fitzroy, Clifton Hill and East Melbourne, looking for and finding those specialist goats cheeses, quince jellies, choice cuts of aged beef, smallgoods and the odd goose or duck prepared and ready to roast.


It is an eclectic, living place where struggle city rubs shoulders with the elite. Not surprising when you actually realise who else may well be inhabiting the same space.

Between 1837 and 1854, a major proportion of the current site of the Victoria Market was Melbourne’s first cemetery. It is estimated that until 1917 over 10,000 people were interred there, with some estimates being as high as 19,000. In 1920 a mere 914 bodies were exhumed and removed to the Melbourne General Cemetery in Carlton and other cemeteries at St Kilda, Fawkner and Cheltenham. These were the graves with stone tombstones and formal stone graves. John Batman, Melbourne’s original founder was amongst those moved. Some were buried at Fawkner Cemetery in the ‘resting place’ known as ‘Old pioneers’. There are many, many graves still there at the market under the existing car park. No record of these denizens exist. Their headstones, often of redgum were removed, stolen for firewood. A fire at the Melbourne Town Hall saw the original cemetery records destroyed.


The Victoria Market was created with a Crown Land grant on March the 4th, 1867. With the expansion of the market in 1878, land in the cemetery assigned to Quakers (not many of them) and Aboriginals (sad) was usurped and acquired first. Two further grants of land were made in 1878 and 1880. In 1880 legislation requiring all bodies in the old cemetery be exhumed and removed to the new Melbourne General Cemetery.

The Wholesale market, with all its intrigues and corruption moved to Footscray Road in the 1960s. In 1979, the Sunday Market began trading with the addition of clothing, footwear, jewellery, etc and a further expansion on the already prolific food vans occurred.

In 1998, the famous Night Market opened during the summer months.

It was in 2010 when Mayor Robert Doyle first indicated he wanted to transform the ‘people’s’ market by introducing ‘upmarket’ stalls.

In 2015, the City of Melbourne allocated $80 million towards the revamp of the market in keeping with Robert Doyle’s future vision. This was further increased by $250 million for a total redevelopment of the market which as described previously included major transformations of some sections and the addition of at least two highrise towers.


The Victorian Heritage Register has issued and regularly updates a ‘Statement of Significance’ on the market and its environs.


You can read it here

In summary it says…

“The Queen Victoria Market is of historical significance as the site of Melbourne’s first official cemetery which was in use between 1837 and 1854, and intermittently from 1854 until its final closure in 1917.

The former cemetery site is of archeological significance because it contains an estimated 6500-9000 burials. The site has the potential to yield information about the early population of Melbourne including the Aboriginal and European communities, and their burial practices and customs.

The Queen Victoria Market is of social significance for its ongoing role and continued popularity as a fresh meat and vegetable market, shopping and meeting place for Victorians and visitors alike.

The Queen Victoria Market is of architectural significance for its remarkably intact collection of purpose built nineteenth and early twentieth century market buildings, which demonstrate the largely utilitarian style adopted for historic market places.


The Elizabeth Street and Victoria Street terraces are of aesthetic significance for their distinctive demonstration of an attempt to create a more appealing ‘public image’ street frontage and increase revenue by enclosing the market and concealing the stalls behind a row of nineteenth century shops.”

Through the ‘middle’ of the market with the sheds to either side runs a roadway, now disused. This used to be called ‘Fulton Street’ and marked the northern boundary of the cemetery.


Mayor Robert Doyle is facing significant difficulty in gaining trader and public support for his signature final ‘major project’. Opponents such as actress Sigrid Thornton who has publicly stated her opposition in the following terms.

“Under the guise of renewal is it (the market) about to be stolen, with diversity diminished, stallholders sidelined and prices set to skyrocket?” she said in a statement promoting ‘Save Victoria Market’ rally held in May this year.

“How did improved facilities, extra parking and open space for the market become a skyscraper deal?” she asked.


According to Council the remaining Graveyard space of the original cemetery beneath the car park will become open space. But the space under the sheds south of the old Fulton Street Roadway, still holding indigenous remains (along with the odd Quaker) won’t be included. Oh Robert, I fear you may have had ‘the bone’ pointed at you and your project.

For this, Robert, is sanctified ground and unless some real respect is shown for both the dead buried here, and the living, now trading, buying and selling, I fear your grand plan may well be doomed.

The Victoria Market is an icon Melbourne can ill afford to lose. So get on a tram, head to Victoria Street, Peel Street or Elizabeth Street and experience the buzz that is a genuine people’s market. It’s an enjoyable, sensuous, flavoursome experience, and may it be there for our children and their children, for many years to come into the future. The Victoria Market – Melbourne’s first, largest and most spectacular market – long may it reign.

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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.

Geelong Harbour Precinct – from Wasteland to Wonderland


When people think of Geelong, there are several instant memories – the Geelong Waterfront and Kardinia Park – or Simmonds Stadium as it is now known.

The Waterfront has undergone a massive transformation over the last 25 years. From what was effectively an industrial wasteland with oil wharves, extractive industries and port infrastructure no longer in use, the area has now been transformed. Now one can walk from the Eastern Beach Parklands, including the restored beachside and nearby Botanical Gardens right through to Rippleside Park in Geelong West, enjoying Corio Bay, whilst partaking of the many cafés, dining opportunities and recreational pursuits.

Of course it hasn’t always been this way. It had very humble beginnings as a wool shipping port. And that means a very unpleasant area with odours from wool scouring (washing the manure from the wool), tanneries and other livestock based industries. In 1840 the first regular steamer service was running between the Ports of Melbourne (Sandridge) and Geelong. The first wool shipments had been dispatched to England in 1841. With the Gold Rush of 1852 Geelong’s population increased twentyfold. Ships anchored in Corio Bay and thousands disembarked and made their way to ‘the diggings’.

The area was always somewhat dampened and stilled by the presence of the huge Wool Stores on the harbour’s edge – buildings full of wool, not people.

The Geelong Steampacket project, commenced in 1996, was to transform the precinct. The site chosen was one of these now ghostly largely unoccupied Dalgety Woolstores. The Woolstores spanned much of the waterfront area real estate.

As it stood the waterfront had a number of iconic and interesting features. The Eastern Beach Art Deco Bathing Complex was constructed between 1928 and 1939. Cunningham Pier, originally built in 1850 was and still is a central feature. It was originally called ‘Railway Pier’, and that was its main purpose – to transfer goods from rail to ship. It was eventually refurbished in 2006 after being purchased by local business identity Frank Costa. Then there was the Carousel Pavilion, with its 1892 steam driven carousel, The Royal Geelong Yacht Club and the very unique and identifiably ‘Geelong’ Bayside Bollards.

In 1995 the then Victorian Government and the City of Greater Geelong created an entity called the Steampacket Place Development Board. The aims of the partnership were to redevelop and beautify the area, stimulate the local economy and attract Tourism. The Steampacket Place Development Board was formed to guide the project. Keys Young were engaged as the Town Planners. Their resultant plan received an award in 1996 for Planning Excellence from the Royal Australian Planning Institute. A code was written and adopted with all adjoining areas required to integrate with the new coded area zoned a Special Use Zone (Waterfront Geelong). Keys Young developed a flexible masterplan for this selected area.

Landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean were selected to interpret and develop the ‘hard landscape’ aspects of the plan, and to design the hard and soft landscape for the project.

The key elements of the plan were:

  • Ideals of research and innovation in industry and education to be expressed in both the design and sire activities. The waterfront is to be a representation of the future aspirations of Geelong.
  • Reinforce the primary links to the waterfront connecting the Central Activities Area along Bellerine, Yarra, Moorabool and Gheringhap Streets.
  • Heighten the sense of Waterfront Geelong by activating pedestrian relationships with the water.
  • Protect the view-lines to the bay along the principle streets.
  • Create a high quality promenade link along the waterfront connecting Eastern Beach parklands through to Rippleside parklands.
  • Provide a range of eating, dining and recreational spaces whilst retaining a primarily urban parkland image.
  • Identify opportunities for a range of art components that enliven the waterfront, integrate into the landscape and speak of Geelong as a centre for technology, innovation and research.

The first stage saw the conversion of the Dennys Lascelles Woolstores on Western Beach Rd into a Deakin University campus in 1994-96. This project was budgeted at $30 million.

The Busport Transport Interchange was also developed at the same time servicing Greater Geelong and the Surf Coast with public buses. It also provides carparking for 200 vehicles.

The full restoration of Eastern Beach was completed in 1996 including the swimming enclosure, the children’s pool, established palm trees and the renovation of the Art Deco Beach House. A mineral spa centre is now planned for the precinct as well.

In 1998-99 the ‘Steampacket Quay’ was built by the local firm Geelong Civil Constructions at the base of Moorabool St. It provides an exciting vista on the edge of the city and a watersports activity centre for boating enthusiasts. It provides a Melbourne-Geelong ferry terminal and a place for anchorage of seaplanes.

Perhaps Geelong’s most recognisable foreshore features are its Baywalk Bollards. These were created by local artist Jan Mitchell and reflect local history and character in a whimsical and comical fashion. There are well over a hundred of these art pieces placed strategically throughout the entire precinct.


So we can see the transformation from an industrial wasteland, an embarrassing reminder of the past disrespect for this coastal shoreline into a modern thoroughly delightful liveable precinct. A place where no longer oil slicks, pollution and neglected rubbish strewn banks mar the vista. A place where a well designed, clever implementations of a truly living precinct now exists for today’s residents of Geelong; and its thousands of regular visitors from Melbourne and elsewhere. Relax, exercise or simply take in the view. Geelong – the Harbourside City.


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Balance Architecture recognises the importance of the preservation of Historical Architecture. We specialise in the renovation and restoration of Heritage Buildings.