ORIGINAL NAME : VICTORY THEATRE
LOCATION: 20 CARLISLE ST , ST KILDA SOUTH, 3182
OTHER / FORMER NAMES: NATIONAL THEATRE (since 1972)
- Building commenced 1920, opened 1921 as a cinema 3000 seats. Efftee Pictures F W Thring et al
- By 1924 Mr Thring was on the board of Hoyts, and the Victory entered the Hoyts chain until 1971
- Major reconstruction undertaken in 1928 reduced seating capacity to 2550 and made theatre more luxurious to compete with new Palais and Regent Theatres.
- June 26 1929 converted to talking pictures
- October 6 1937 seating was 1650 (stalls), 354 (lounge) and 537 (dress circle)
- Purchased by National Theatre Movement 1971
- September 1972 - conversion of former stalls into Studios completed & schools moved in.
- 1972-74 Work underway to add new stage to former dress circle continued
- Opened as National Theatre 1974 - live venue using former dress circle as auditorium (800 seats). Current capacity 783
An interesting technical note was the transfer from the Regent Theatre in Collins St to the Victory theatre of the Regent's carbon-arc projectors and projection equipment sometime in the late 1960s. The equipment has been beautifully maintained and still operates at the National Theatre though much is from the 1940s and 50s.
Historically the building is of interest because of its association with F W Thring of Efftee Pictures (And the early Australian Film Industry) and more recently the National Theatre Movement ( Australia 's oldest professional arts company) and Gertrude Johnson OBE.
The theatre has been a major social, theatrical and architectural landmark in St Kilda since it opened in 1921. Its hey-day was probably in the late 1920s after it was extensively refurbished 1927-8. The refurbishment was probably in response to competition from the new Palais Theatre which, with double the capacity and a more opulent scale, always managed to keep the Victory playing second fiddle to it. Nevertheless, the two theatres were more of a double act for St Kilda, with audiences thronging from all over Melbourne to attend its glamourous entertainments. Every major cinema-theatre of this era boasted its own orchestra, with their concert masters attaining virtual star status. The greatest name at the Victory was Henri Penn, who presided over the Victory Concert Orchestra well into the 1930s.
A typical nights entertainment included an array of musical and cinematic entertainments before a feature length movie. Afterwards patrons could adjourn to the coffee lounges of Acland St or disperse on the all-night tram services that crossed lines at the Barkly and Carlisle Street intersection.
The theatre itself fronted directly onto the corner, on a diagonal axis, so that the theatre hall was sited at 45 degrees to both streets. The front of house section was therefore triangular in plan with its two facades identical to the two streets and its entrance situated on the corner proper. The theatre hall was large enough to seat 500 concertgoers in the balcony and about 750 in the stalls below.
The building permit drawings of original 1920 design by the architect Cecil Keeley show a cavernous rectangular hall of brick walls, reinforced concrete floor, steel framed balcony and truss roof, and reinforced concrete columns and entablature around the walls. Large volume fresh air ducts were installed under the floor and a section of roof slid open for further ventilation. The theatre's stylised classical décor was then applied to the walls and shallow vaulted ceiling in elaborate fibrous plasterwork.
The existing 1920s front of house area varies markedly from Keeley's original plans. Whether his scheme was reworked before being built in 1920/21 or completely remodelled in 1927/8 is not known. Enquiries of the City of Pt Phillip and the State Records Office have not unearthed any plans of the 1921 building as built. Whereas the present broad marble staircase to the upstairs lounge rises from the front lobby directly on the main axis, the original scheme had two opposing staircases from the lobby to the lounge aligned on a cross axis.
This original configuration produced a central lounge area aligned on axis above the lobby, whereas now the lounge reaches crossways behind the main hall's balcony seating under its magnificent transverse coffered ceiling vault. The original scheme also featured upstairs three open air spaces, one open air lounge above the front entrance, and two roof gardens in the corners to each side. These spaces were more like porches, situated within the form of the building, under cover, and looking out through the giant colonnades.
The colonnades are still a major feature of the building but immediately behind them the spaces have been enclosed with walls and windows (built, again, either in 1921 or 1927/8). Downstairs, the original scheme included six small shops, three on Barkly St and three on Carlisle ; with access to the theatre only through the corner entrance doors. These shops have made way for an expanded entry and lobby space. The existence of some of the original shopfronts lends evidence to the possibility of the theatre having been built as originally designed. But the degree of variation between the original and existing layouts, and the completeness and lavishness of the revised interiors makes one reluctant to jump to that conclusion.
The recent history of the theatre has seen radical changes to the fabric of the building. In the 1972/4 alterations and refurbishment for the National Theatre, the hall was divided horizontally, the upper hall continuing to serve as a diminished theatre, and the stalls area removed and refitted to house the National Theatre Drama and Ballet school studios.
Modernisation of the backstage areas brought towering steel-clad additions to the rear of the hall to create a fly tower for the new proscenium stage. The huge VICTORY sign no longer surmounts the ridge of the roof and the replacement National Theatre signs are nowhere near as spectacular. Of the two Hoyts signs, adapted to read National Theatre, the Carlisle Street sign was lost in a fierce storm in the early 1990s (pre 1995 at least).
The steel cladding of the street awning seems inappropriate though the original awning was not much different in form. Indeed the pressed metal soffit is still in place. A repaint to highlight architectural features of the building was carried out in 1996, restoring some of the exuberance and personality of the building, though many of the windows remain painted-over, deadening some detail. Nevertheless, The National Theatre is still very much alive and it would take only a relatively superficial scheme of renovation to reproduce a full sense of its former splendour.
Externally, the theatre is presented as a tall, heavily modelled Classical Revival edifice, with its two principal facades hinged about a rotunda at the corner. The giant column screens and entablature are in the ionic order. Its symmetrical planning and monumental classical elevations and interiors are typical of the fashionable Beaux Arts - based style of architecture that re-emerged in the 1910s and 20s, a style of classicism that, by the late 1920s, owed as much to Hollywood as it did the French academy, and which characteristically incorporated distinctly modern design motifs amongst its more or less correct classical elements. In the theatre, these later motifs include the simplified, squared-off heavy banding of its planes and piers, and the flat modern versions of traditional cartouche emblems. The patterns of the window glazing are distinctly 1920s.
The building stands as a fascinating comparison to the recently restored Regent by the same architect, particularly as both theatres have been fated to emerge as live theatre venues in the late 20 th century. In particular the attention lavished on the principal facades is contrasted at the Victory by the state of incompletion of the walls of the main body of the hall itself. Their intended dull, classical, stuccoed treatment was abandoned mid-stream, with just raw preparatory brickwork completed. It has left a fascinating visual lesson in the elaborate methods that went into producing the classical edifices of the era.
What is significant:
Aside from its age, and 85 year history of continuous occupation by the entertainment industry, the building has several architectural points of interest. To quote Ross Thorne's 1981 book Cinemas of Australia via USA " The exterior had a palatial appearance far more elaborate than that of the interior, another idiosyncrasy of the building… the Victory appears more as an insurance company's offices or even a bank built in the last classical boom revival of the 1920s. Each street frontage with its detached columns and Roman style balustrade is as unusual for a cinema as the half rotunda which solves the problem of the design on a corner site, providing the necessary emphasis to the main entrance." With 3000 seats it was the largest in Melbourne when it opened in 1921.
The 1928 renovation concentrated on internal upgrades according to The Argus (20/3/28) "The greater part of the money has been spent inside the building…. The floor of the foyer is mosaic tiled, and the walls are panelled. The stalls are entered from either side of a wide marble stairway. The stairway leads into a promenade which extends the full width of the theatre - about 80ft- and gives entrance at either side to the balcony stairways."
The Management understands that the Australian marble used in the foyer was from the same quarry as State Parliament, purchased through Wm. Train & Co of Sturt Street, South Melbourne .
Why is it significant:
The Victory Theatre was one of St Kilda's most celebrated theatrical venues. It is a relic of St Kilda's heyday as the pre-eminent main centre of Melbourne 's entertainment and cultural life in the 1920's. Its continued use as an important cultural venue reinforces continuity of this history, and the largely intact Classical Revival architecture reflects its former grandeur. It is a very good example of the monumental Beaux Arts style of theatre design typical of the 1920s.
The front of house section is the most prominent, intact, and architecturally important part of the building, while the main hall is largely intact though divided by a later mezzanine floor structure. The incomplete state of its external walls with the exposed brick keying for external render is of interest, and was recently lit as a feature as part of the City of Port Phillip redesign of neighbouring Talbot Reserve.
Historically and nationally the building is of interest because of its association with F W Thring of Efftee Pictures (And the early Australian Film Industry) - Virtually no other structure associated with the film industry in St Kilda from the early days is still standing - and more recently the National Theatre Movement ( Australia 's oldest professional arts company).
The 1972/74 conversion to a live theatre is also of major interest in the study of "recycled" buildings having attracted international attention and articles when it opened in 1974 i.e. Sightline (Spring 1975) - ABTT Journal, Buhnentechnische Rundschau 6 December 1975 and TABS (Stage Lighting International) Summer 1975.
The Victory Theatre is significant for architectural, historic, and social at a Regional level. It is featured in several important publications including:
Ross Thorne's 1981 Cinemas of Australia via USA
Simon Brand's 1983 Picture Palaces and Flea Pits (80 years of Australians at the Pictures)
Bill Brodie & Stan Marks' 1980 St Kilda Sketchbook
Sightline (Spring 1975) - ABTT Journal pp 23-32
Cinema & Theatre Historical Society newsletter August 1994
Buhnentechnische Rundschau 6 December 1975 pp21-24
TABS (Stage Lighting International) Summer 1975 p17
Robert Peck von Hartel Trethowan, St Kilda 20th century Architectural Study Vol 3, 1992
Frank van Straten OAM National Treasure 1994
John Cargher Luck was my Lady 1996
Public Records (Laverton) VPRS Series No. 7882/P1 Unit 204
City of Port Phillip Heritage Review 1998 (A Ward) recommended inclusion on Victorian Heritage Register, National Estate Register and the Schedule to the Heritage Overlay Table in the City of Port Phillip Planning Scheme.