|Palais Picture Theatre|
|Designation||Victorian Heritage Register|
|Type||Live Music, Theatre, Ballet, Film|
|Capacity||2,896 on 2 levels|
|Opened||11 November 1927|
|Architect||Henry E. White, Walter Burley Griffin|
The Palais Theatre is a former cinema, now functioning exclusively as a concert venue, located in St Kilda, Victoria, Australia. With a capacity of 2,896 people, it is the largest seated theatre in Australia.
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 the Palais Pictures. In 1919, a steel-framed and arched truss structure was built over the old dance-hall which was relocated next door, to the north. The current Palais is situated by Port Phillip Bay, facing the Lower Esplanade, and is part of a turn-of-the-century entertainment district.
The theatre was originally owned by the Phillips brothers (Leon, Herman and Harold), three American showmen from Washington. Arriving in Australia prior to the First World War, Leon Phillips joined forces with fellow American James Dixon Williams. After establishing a chain of upmarket and highly successful cinemas in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and New Zealand, together with a major film exchange business, the pair moved into the area of outdoor amusements with the construction of Luna Park in St Kilda in 1912. Williams eventually returned to the United States where he became a key figure in the movie 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.
In 1922, the architect Walter Burley Griffin began designing a remodelled 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.
When the last of the Phillips died in 1957, the Palais, the 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, the theatre 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. The theatre now hosts around one hundred performances per year and is in the top 20 theatre concert venues in the world.
In 1974/5, a Warner Brothers movie, A Film about Jimi Hendrix, had its Australian premiere at the Palais by special arrangement with the Paul Dainty Corporation. This was also the first time that a 1,000 watt sound system was used at a cinema screening in Australia.
Interiors 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.
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 theatre in 1971
- The theatre is featured in the 1976 Australian film Oz (a take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
- The theatre is featured in the 1993 Australian comedy film Hercules Returns, directed by David Parker
- Michael Nesmith, former member of the 1960s group the Monkees, recorded an album at the theatre titled Live at the Palais (released 1978)
- "PALAIS PICTURES.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1956) (Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia). 12 November 1927. p. 31. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
- History & Archives, Palais Theatre Official Site - accessed 3 May 2009
- Swan Lake, AustraliaDancing.org - accessed 3 May 2009
- Nutcracker, AustraliaDancing.org - accessed 3 May 2009
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