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Palace Theatre, Melbourne

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Palace Theatre
Palace Theatre logo.png
Palace Theatre, Melbourne.jpg
Former names Metro Nightclub
Palace Theatre
Metro Theatre
St James Theatre
Apollo Theatre
Brennan's Amphitheatre
Location 20-30 Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia
Capacity 1855
Opened April 1912
Closed May 2014

The Palace Theatre (also known as The Palace) was an entertainment venue located in Melbourne, Australia. First built in 1912, it underwent various alterations and renovations throughout its life. Originally used for theatre, it was also used as a cinema and for live music. Since late 2012 when it was sold, it has been subject to proposals for demolition and replacement, generating much opposition.[1]


The Palace has a rich history, and the building and its site has been utilised in many different carnations over the decades. Although a lack of continuity with regards to structure and decor contributed to its lack of heritage listing, its superabundance of contribution to Melburnian society makes it a worthy listing.

Excelsior Hotel

A view of the Excelsior Hotel on Bourke Street in 1861

The plot of land on 20-30 Bourke Street was occupied from the late 1850s Excelsior Hotel. The association between hotels and theatres at the time was close, and the hotel incorporated a hall (known as the Queen’s Hall) used for vaudeville performances and other entertainment including boxing and wrestling. The hotel later became known as Stutt's Hotel circa 1875, and then the Hotel Douglas in 1900. The last listing for the Hotel Douglas in the Sands Directory was in 1911, after this the hotel burned to the ground. The land was sold for 32,000.


Brennan's Amphitheatre in 1912

In 1911 the Queensland based architects Eaton & Bates, in association with the Melbourne architect Nahum Barnet, were commissioned to design a new theatre for the site. The design had seating on three levels and a large proscenium with curtains of gold. On the first floor there were bedrooms, and the new building incorporated the Pastoral Hotel.[2] The Palace Theatre opened in April 1912.

In 1916 the Sydney architect Henry E White designed alterations, which involved a complete refitting of the auditorium and lobby with the addition of ornate plaster decoration in a Louis Seize style. Between 1919 and c1922 the front room on the upper level was let for use as a studio to the prominent artists Arthur Streeton and Max Meldrum.[3]

In 1923 the auditorium was extensively remodelled, though retaining the Louis Seize style, overlaid with Adamesque decoration, and it was re-opened as The New Palace.[4]


In 1934 further alterations were carried out and from then on it was known as the Apollo Theatre. The life of the Apollo was short lived, as 6 years later in 1940 the building was renamed the St James . In 1951 it became an MGM cinema and was renamed the 'St James Theatre & Metro', featuring films exclusively from its owners. The facade was substantially remodelled in an Art Deco style designed by H Vivian Taylor, a design which still remains today. Internally the proscenium was replaced and the side boxes and the balcony ends were removed to allow installation of a CinemaScope screen.[5] The last film to be shown at the MGM cinema was Kelly's Heroes, starring Clint Eastwood in October 1970. After this it was sold.


The cinema was reopened as a theatre in 1971. It featured a 39-week season of the musical Hair from 1971-1972. The life of the theatre was short-lived, as in 1974 it was converted back into a cinema and renamed the Palace Theatre for the first time since 1916.


In 1980 the cinema was sold to the Melbourne Revival Centre, a Pentecostal church headquartered in Melbourne. It became a major venue for their services, which involved theatre productions.[6]

Night Club

The Metro Nightclub in 2004

The next sale resulted in a major refurbishment by the Melbourne architectural firm Biltmoderne. In 1987 the building was transformed into the Metro Nightclub.[7] The Metro was described in 2006 as having a "classy, intimate VIP lounge in Gods Bar along with the funky Fish Bowl on the mezzanine level providing electrifying views of the Main Room below, all available for your partying pleasure."[8]

Music Venue

The old Palace in St Kilda, shortly before closure in 2007.

In 2007 the Metro nightclub was sold. The new owners, who operated the former Palace, St Kilda, lost an acrimonious 2 year battle with the State Government over the lease of the old building and moved their business to the Metro. They undertook works to convert the Metro into a live music venue, and changed its name to The Palace. The old Palace in St Kilda mysteriously burned down only a few months later under suspicious circumstances.[9]

Over the next 7 years it became a very well established venue, hosting acts such as George Clinton, The Black Keys, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys and The Killers, to name a few.[10] It had a capacity of 1850.

Proposed demolition

An artist's impression of what the new site will look like

In late 2012 it was sold to a Chinese developer Jinshan Investment Group for $11.2 million. The new owners revealed plans for a major 30-storey W Hotel development replacing the theatre in mid 2013, worth $180 million.[11] These plans generated considerable opposition, especially from Melbourne's music community.[12] The surprise opposition met by the developers from the council for the new plans led to the original plans to be downgraded to a smaller 7-storey hotel. The Palace was closed in April 2014.

The fight to save the Palace went to VCAT in early 2016. However, after many months of deliberation, the decision was made to allow demolition and redevelopment works to go ahead. The decision was passionately appealed but this too was unsuccessful.[13] As of December 2016, no works have taken place yet.

In popular culture

In 1956, the Palace Theatre helped to inspire an enduring Olympic tradition, when a teenager named John Ian Wing wrote a letter to the organisers of the Melbourne Olympics, suggesting that the Closing Ceremony feature the athletes of all nations entering the stadium as an intermingled group. The idea was adopted, and helped to redeem the Melbourne Games' reputation as the 'Friendly Games'.[14] Wing has since written that his idea was inspired by his observation of the jumbled and spirited crowds exiting the Palace Theatre, visible from his home above a Bourke Street restaurant.[15][16]

In 1976, cover band The Blue Echoes used a photograph of Bourke Street for the album cover for their album 'Dancing in the Street'. The Palace can clearly been seen on the photograph.


Save the Palace campaigners outside the former theatre

In late 2014, while the City of Melbourne was considering heritage protection of the interior, a skip in a rear lane was discovered full of broken pieces of the interior decorative plaster and tiles, and jackhammering sounds coming from inside. Activists claimed that owners Jinshan Investments were deliberately destroying the interior features to prevent any heritage listing.[17][18]

However, Jinshan Representatives claimed that "over the past 100 years [The Palace] has been dramatically altered, with much of its original features and history stripped by previous owners, including the Metro Nightclub which added steel staircases and galleries that dramatically transformed the interior in the 1980s."[19]


  1. ^ Palace devotees step up campaign to save venue, The Age, 11 October 2013
  2. ^ Assessment of Cultural Heritage Significance, Heritage Victoria, November 2013
  3. ^ Assessment of Cultural Heritage Significance, Heritage Victoria, November 2013
  4. ^ Heritage Appraisal, Palace Theatre, Lovell Chen, June 2013
  5. ^ Heritage Appraisal, Palace Theatre, Lovell Chen, June 2013
  6. ^ Heritage Appraisal, Palace Theatre, Lovell Chen, June 2013
  7. ^ Assessment of Cultural Heritage Significance, Heritage Victoria, November 2013
  8. ^ "Metro Nightclub Melbourne". Retrieved 19 Oct 2015.
  9. ^ Palace sold for $13mill, Australian Financial Review,30 August 2012
  10. ^ "Melbourne's Palace Theatre falls silent for the last time". Retrieved 20 Oct 2015.
  11. ^ "Palace Theatre Enters Last Chance Saloon As The Bulldozers Warm Up". Retrieved 19 Oct 2015.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Palace Theatre to Be Demolished". Retrieved 15 November 2016.
  14. ^ Button, James (11 November 2006). "Ceremony born from Wing and a prayer". The Age.
  15. ^ Wing, John Ian. "History of the Olympic Closing Ceremony". Retrieved 4 December 2014. At the time, I was living above my father's restaurant at 16 Bourke Street Melbourne, which was two doors away from St James picture theatre. It was now about 11.00pm. A few hours earlier, looking down into the street, I watched people lining up in an orderly manner waiting to go into the theatre. Now I watched them come out in one big mass, spilling out onto the road and stopping the traffic. They were smiling and laughing and even talking to strangers as if they had known each other before. Then the ‘idea’ came to me. As I was writing my letter to the chairman of the Organising Committee, I suggested that all the athletes of the world should come together for the closing ceremony, to unite and intermingle and enter the Stadium as One Nation.
  16. ^ Culpepper, Chuck (23 August 2008). "His big idea had legs". Los Angeles Times.
  17. ^ "Outrage as workers begin ripping out Palace interior before Council Heritage Decision". Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  18. ^ "Palace Theatre enters last chance saloon as the bulldozers warm up". Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  19. ^ "Jinshan Investments defends stripping of Palace Theatre Venue". Retrieved 15 May 2016.

Coordinates: 37°48′41″S 144°58′20″E / 37.81139°S 144.97222°E / -37.81139; 144.97222