The Palais Theatre is a former cinema, now functioning exclusively as a concert venue, located in St Kilda, Victoria. With a capacity of 2,896 people, it is the largest seated theatre in Australia.
The building, which retains many of its original features, is considered one of the finest examples of Art deco architecture in Australia and is on the Victorian Heritage Register. In 2006, the City of Port Phillip, which owns the site, called for tenders by private operators to restore the theatre, as part of the proposed redevelopment of the Triangle Site. However, the redevelopment failed to go ahead and the planned $20 million restoration of the Palais was also abandoned.
There have been several theatres named "Palais" in St Kilda, the first of which opened in 1914. At the end of World War I, the Palais de Danse, already on the current site, became Palais Pictures. In 1919, a steel-framed, arched truss structure was built over the old dance-hall and the Palais de Danse was relocated next door, to the north. The Palais de Danse was later destroyed by fire.
In 1922, architect Walter Burley Griffin began designing a remodeled Palais Pictures. Construction of Griffin's plans began in 1925, but a fire engulfed the stage in February of the following year, just before completion, bringing work to a halt. When Griffin moved on to Sydney, the developers commissioned a new architect, Henry E. White, to build a larger, more grand theatre.
Built in 1927 to the design of White as a dual purpose cinema and live entertainment center which was capable of presenting major stage shows, the Palais is situated by Port Phillip Bay, facing the Lower Esplanade, and is part of a turn-of-the-century entertainment district. It was originally owned by the Phillips brothers, three American showmen from Washington (state).
Arriving in Australia prior to the First World War, Herman, the eldest brother, joined forces with fellow American J.D (James Dixon) Williams. After establishing a number of comparatively upmarket and highly successful cinemas in Melbourne and Sydney, the pair moved into the area of outdoor amusements with the construction of Luna Park at St. Kilda in 1912. Williams eventually returned to the US where he became a key figure in the film industry as co-founder of First National Pictures, a distribution and production company which was later acquired by Warner Bros. The Phillips also had a significant business interest in the Capitol Theatre, another former picture palace, which still stands in Swanston Street, Melbourne.
When the last of the Phillips died in 1957, the Palais, Palais de Danse and Luna Park were sold to local entrepreneurs in Melbourne. A brass plaque, still in place on the second level of the Palais, bears a tribute to Leon Phillips from members of the American community of Victoria. The theatre, which had operated primarily as a cinema until the 1950s, became increasingly popular as a live performance venue for top overseas stars such as Johnnie Ray, Bob Hope, the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones and many others.
In the 1970s, it regularly presented ballets including The Bolshoi, The Kirov, Stars of World Ballet and The Australian Ballet. The Australian Ballet also had some of their ballets premiered there including Anne Woolliams' production of Swan Lake on 19 October 1977, and its first commissioned Nutcracker choreographed by Leonid Kozlov and Valentina Kozlova on 8 October 1982.
Since 2007 the venue has been run by Palais Theatre Management Pty Ltd. It now hosts around one hundred events and performances a year and has an ongoing program of restoration and repairs. In 2010 Palais Theatre Management won the City of Port Phillip Business of the Year award.
FeaturesInteriors and exteriors are inspired by Moorish architecture with twin dome towers, a theme shared by many surrounding buildings in the suburb, including Luna Park, which is adjacent to the south, the St Kilda Pavilion, St Kilda Sea Baths and Walter Burley Griffin's Palais de Danse, which stood adjacent to the west before being destroyed by fire.
The exteriors also feature faux Egyptian elements, whilst the interiors also include Baroque inspired elements.
In Popular culture
- A digitally modified Palais makes a cameo in the movie Dead Silence as the abandoned and haunted "Theatre at Lost Lake", featuring the top of the building and its towers.
- The movie Stork featuring Jacki Weaver and Bruce Spence, premiered at the Palais Theatre in 1971.
- The Palais Theatre is featured in the 1976 Australian film Oz (a take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).
- The Palais Theatre is featured in the 1993 Australian comedy film Hercules Returns, directed by David Parker.
- Michael Nesmith, former member of the '60s super group the Monkees, recorded an album at the theatre titled "Live at the Palais" (released in 1978)