The recent history of Melbourne’s Capitol Theatre is tumultuous to say the least. In its hay-day, the Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin-designed building was known as much for its cinema as for its architecture – and particularly for its majestic, curved and cleverly lit ceiling.
Opened in 1924, the building pre-dates most of Melbourne’s other iconic theatres, including the Regent and the Forum, but for the past few years it has largely gone forgotten. Although RMIT bought the Capitol Theatre from its previous owner, Barry Bloom, in 1999 with the thoughts of restoring it, financial hurdles made that harder to achieve than was first thought. Since 2014, the Capital Theatre has remained out of use, and has several times fought off the spectre of demolition.
Now, the university has launched another shot at reopening the Capitol. RMIT this month launched a public fundraising plea for the “reactivation” of the Capitol Theatre, which – if successful – would fund an architectural restoration led by Melbourne-based practice Six Degrees (who have previously been commissioned by RMIT for lesser works on the Capitol).
The Victorian government has already responded with an investment of $2.5 million. According to RMIT, another $2 million of public or private funding will be needed to make their new vision of the Capitol Theatre materialise. (In total, the university is seeking $18.5 million, which it says it will match in its own financial contribution.) This vision includes a refurbishment of the foyers and auditoriums, upgrades to cinematic equipment and technologies, and the construction of new office spaces.
In 1989, the 10-storey building was added to the Victorian Heritage Register, with a statement from the heritage body stating its significance was relating to its “highly original combination of offices, shops and an entertainment venue in one building”. According to the Victorian Heritage Register, this concept was “highly advanced” for the 1920s.
In the appeal page of their website, RMIT states that their objective is to “reactivate the Capitol Theatre and transform it for future generations, proving a centre for cutting-edge tertiary education as well as a cultural landmark and creative space for Melbourne”.
“The RMIT Capitol Theatre Appeal seeks to return this vibrant home of arts back to students, industry and the people of Melbourne.
“Once the city’s hub for a thriving entertainment and arts scene, the Capitol Theatre has been a beloved and treasured landmark of Melbourne for decades.
“The revitalised Capitol Theatre will give Melbourne a spectacular and world-famous space to house festivals, film premieres and screenings, concerts and conferences; enable industry co-collaboration for work in digital media, VR, AR, film and animation; and create learning spaces for more than 1,000 students per week to study film and digital media.”
Donations can be made on the RMIT Capitol Theatre Appeal website.