Regent Theatre, Melbourne

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Regent Theatre
Regent Theatre June 2014.jpg
The Regent Theatre in June 2014
Address 191 Collins St
Melbourne, Victoria
Australia
Coordinates 37°48′56″S 144°58′03″E / 37.8155°S 144.9675°E / -37.8155; 144.9675Coordinates: 37°48′56″S 144°58′03″E / 37.8155°S 144.9675°E / -37.8155; 144.9675
Owner Marriner Group
Designation National Trust of Australia, Victorian Heritage Register
Capacity 2,143
Current use musicals, opera
Construction
Opened 1929
Reopened 1996
Website
www.marrinergroup.com.au

The Regent Theatre is a 2,143 seat theatre in Melbourne's East End Theatre District, Australia. It is listed by the National Trust of Australia and is on the Victorian Heritage Register.[1]

History[edit]

When first opened on Collins Street on 15 March 1929 as the flagship Melbourne theatre for Francis W. Thring's Regent franchise (later sold to Hoyts), the theatre had 3,250 seats, was equipped with a Wurlitzer organ and was the second largest theatre to the State Theatre. It also had a ballroom, the Plaza, in the basement.

The cinema was gutted by a fire on 29 April 1945 which destroyed both the auditorium and organ. The reconstructed Regent opened on 19 December 1947, including a new organ, making it one of the last picture palaces to be built in the country.

By the 1960s, persistent rumours of the theatre's closure (and of the Plaza Theatre in the basement) forced proposals for it to be split into two cinemas. Ultimately, this was not to be, the theatre being replaced by the Hoyts Cinema Centre in Bourke Street. The Regent Plaza Theatre is cited as one of the few cinemas adapted for Cinerama outside of North America.

The Regent was located on the site reserved for the Melbourne City Council City Square project and the council had announced intentions to acquire and demolish many of the buildings on the block from 1966.

On 1 July 1970, Hoyts shut the doors of the Regent for the last time. The South Yarra Regent closed the same night and Ballarat location soon followed suit. The Plaza closed in November of that year. In December, 1970, an auction was held at the theatre where everything that was not bolted down was auctioned off, raising a few thousand dollars.

In response to the closure and clouds over the building's future, a "Save the Regent" committee was formed led by president Loris Webster was formed to preserve the unoccupied building and prevent its demolition by the council.

In 1974 the National Trust declined to list the theatre, claiming it was not of significance (somewhat ironically years later after threats to the building had ceased, the Trust successfully nominated the Regent and Plaza Theatres to the Victorian Heritage Register). In response to the National Trust's stance Lord Mayor Alan Douglas Whalley demanded that the Regent be demolished, presenting a report headed by Sir Roy Grounds to quell the conservationists and claiming that the Regent was not worthy of preservation in declaring that it was "not the Colosseum".[2] The council argued that the long blank side wall of the Regent would compromise architects abilities to create grand visions for the site.

Save The Regent presented a petition of 1,800 signatures to the City Council in May 1975.

Lord Mayor Ron Walker supported his predecessor. However Norm Gallagher helped to place green ban and black bans on the building.[3]

In 1977, Victorian premier Rupert Hamer stepped in to prevent demolition of the Regent by publicly declaring it a landmark and throwing official support for the retention of the building by passing legislation for its protection and offering up to $2 million in interest free loans from the state to restore and maintain it.[4]

Over time, Melbourne's Regent had become the last remaining fully intact theatre of the Regent Theatre chain, and one of the few intact central city 'picture palaces' in Australia. The Regent in Sydney was demolished in 1988 and only the (almost matching) foyer remains of the Regent Theatre in Brisbane. The smaller Ballarat and Adelaide Regents Theatre have also lost their auditoriums. In New Zealand the Regent Theatre, Dunedin was adapted for the performing arts in the 1970s, and retains its original 1928 interiors. The State Theatre and Capitol Theatre in Sydney and the Forum (formerly the State) in Melbourne, as well as the large Palais Theatre in St Kilda, are the only other 'picture palaces' remaining intact in Australia.

The Melbourne Regent lay unused for 26 years. Many suggestions were made during this time as to the Regent's future including demolition, redevelopment as a carpark and even as a Casino and poker machine venue. Sadly, much of the Plaza Theatre's interior was gutted to make way for the City Square project in 1980, with only the ceiling remaining as an original item.

Redevelopment[edit]

In 1992, the city council voted on a proposal to demolish the Regent and approve the redevelopment of the site as part of a commercial precinct consisting of multi-storey retail buildings, however council voted down the proposal.[5]

Entrepreneur David Marriner earmarked the Regent for restoration when he established a revival movement for classical performing arts theatres in Melbourne during 1991[citation needed] as part of a strategy to create a monopoly and promote the city as a performing arts capital.[clarification needed] In a deal with David Nolte, Chair of the Arts and Culture Committee at the Melbourne City Council[when?], Marriner proposed to purchase the adjacent City Square site for development of the multi-storey Westin Hotel and apartments on the condition that some of the money go towards restoring the theatre. The redevelopment, which was undertaken by commercial builder Hansen Yuncken, took 3 years from September 1993, and involved complete overhaul, repairs, new services, installation of extensive stage facilities, recreation of decorative fixtures and finishes including much of the furniture and the ornate street front ticket booth, and creation of a new stalls lobby in matching style. Using photos supplied by a member of the Save The Regent Theatre Committee, Ian Williams, the Plaza Theatre was also fully and magnificently restored to its original ballroom format.

The Regent Theatre reopened with a gala event on 17 August 1996, and on 26 October Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard premiered.

Use[edit]

The theatre is mostly used for large-scale musicals. Over the years, the Regent has seen many live shows, including:

External links[edit]

References[edit]