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.

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

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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.)

Source: majorprojects.vic.gov.au

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.

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