Statement of Significance
What is significant?
The National Theatre, St Kilda opened in April 1921 as a cinema, the Victory Theatre, described at the time as the second biggest cinema in Melbourne with a capacity for an audience of 3000. The original design by architect Cecil Keeley included a crush hall and roof gardens. By the late 1920s it was owned by a consortium that included film entrepreneur Frank W. Thring who became the managing director of Hoyts and later set up his own company Efftee Films. The theatre directors commissioned extensive alterations in 1928 to designs by the architect Cedric H. Ballantyne. The works reduced the seating capacity to 2550 and made the cinema more luxurious to compete with the newly built Palais Theatre, also in St Kilda. The works included a new proscenium arch, grand entrance foyer with panelled walls and mosaic tiled floor, upper lounge and a barrel vaulted mezzanine promenade. A central marble staircase, using Australian marble, replaced the original two side staircases. Downstairs the original plan included six small shops but two shops made way for more foyer space in the 1928 alterations. The form of the shopfronts remains.
The National Theatre, a heavily modelled Classical revival building, is sited on a diagonal axis with a triangular entrance foyer and two principal facades on both Carlisle and Barkly Streets. The giant column screens and entablature are in the Ionic order. Its symmetrical planning and monumental elevations and interiors are characteristic of the Beaux Arts style. The external side walls have exposed brick keying for stucco treatment which was never completed.
In 1971 the cinema chain Hoyts sold the cinema to the National Theatre Movement for use as its permanent home. The National Theatre was established in 1935 by soprano Gertrude Johnson (1894-1973) on her return to Australia after a successful overseas career. Her aim was to foster training in drama, dance and opera nationally and to form professional ongoing companies to undertake national tours. Schools were established in Opera, 1935, Drama, 1936 and Ballet, 1939 and professional performing companies followed in ballet and opera in 1948 and drama in 1951. During the 1960s, the success of the National Theatre's production companies waned and the focus of the company turned to the schools. The Drama School's directors have included Joan Harris, Kim Durban, Babs McMillan and Ken Boucher. The Ballet School's directors included Marilyn Jones, Kathleen Gorham (associate director), Gailene Stock, Anne Jenner and Beverly Jane Fry. The National Theatre's Opera School amalgamated with the Victorian College of the Arts in 1978.
Under the management of John Cargher, the National Theatre commissioned alterations to convert the former cinema into its school and theatre. The theatre re-opened on 7 September 1974 with the Premier, Rupert Hamer, officiating. The stalls were converted into studios, a new stage, orchestra pit and fly tower were constructed, the auditorium and foyers were refurbished and backstage facilities were completed. Most of the auditorium's ornate plaster mouldings and fittings were retained and the chandeliers re-hung. The huge Victory sign which had surmounted the ridge of the roof was removed. Two Hoyts signs were adapted to read National Theatre, but one was destroyed in a storm in the early 1990s. Some of the windows have been painted over. The original balcony front of the auditorium has been retained and forms part of the orchestra pit as the orchestra pit rail.
Objects of note housed in the building include an early carbon arc slide projector; two c.1940 Gaumont-Kalee carbon arc projectors transferred from the Regent Theatre in the 1950s; and a rare collection of seats from the Tivoli Theatre, Melbourne which were acquired by the National Theatre Company after the theatre burnt down in 1967. The individual lounge seats were a feature of the 1956 rebuilt Tivoli and include plaques with names of Tivoli stars.
The building continues to be used by the National Theatre, now known as the Australian National Memorial Theatre Ltd.
Why is it significant?
The National Theatre, St Kilda is of historical, social and architectural significance to the State of Victoria.
How is it significant?
The National Theatre is of historical significance for its associations with the National Theatre Movement and its founder, Gertrude Johnson, a significant figure in the arts in Victoria both as a performer and a pioneering arts administrator. The theatre also has associations with national broadcaster John Cargher AM, general manager of the company from 1969 to 1989, who oversaw the alterations to the building and a major re-organisation of the company. As a pioneering professional arts company, the National Theatre has important historical associations with the history and development of the performing arts in Australia. Many significant performing artists, directors and writers have been associated with the company throughout its history.
The National Theatre is of historical and social significance for its associations with one of the most popular forms of mass entertainment, the cinema, during its boom years of the interwar period. The 1928 alterations reflect the influence of the more luxurious picture palace style of cinema. The collection of movable objects is significant for assisting in an understanding of the technology, history and development of cinema. The building is valued by a wide community as a venue for films, festivals and theatrical performances over a long period of time. It is also valued as the home of the National Theatre Movement, recognised as a significant cultural institution in the Victorian arts scene.
The National Theatre is of architectural significance as a fine example of a cinema designed in the Beaux Arts style. The most notable elements are the entrance foyer, promenade, upper lounge and dress circle with their elaborate fibrous plasterwork and early decorative features and light fittings.
NATIONAL THEATRE - Permit ExemptionsGeneral Conditions: 1. All exempted alterations are to be planned and carried out in a manner which prevents damage to the fabric of the registered place or object. General Conditions: 2. Should it become apparent during further inspection or the carrying out of works that original or previously hidden or inaccessible details of the place or object are revealed which relate to the significance of the place or object, then the exemption covering such works shall cease and Heritage Victoria shall be notified as soon as possible. Note: All archaeological places have the potential to contain significant sub-surface artefacts and other remains. In most cases it will be necessary to obtain approval from the Executive Director, Heritage Victoria before the undertaking any works that have a significant sub-surface component. General Conditions: 3. If there is a conservation policy and plan endorsed by the Executive Director, all works shall be in accordance with it. Note: The existence of a Conservation Management Plan or a Heritage Action Plan endorsed by the Executiove Director, Heritage Victoria provides guidance for the management of the heritage values associated with the site. It may not be necessary to obtain a heritage permit for certain works specified in the management plan. General Conditions: 4. Nothing in this determination prevents the Executive Director from amending or rescinding all or any of the permit exemptions. General Conditions: 5. Nothing in this determination exempts owners or their agents from the responsibility to seek relevant planning or building permits from the responsible authorities where applicable. Minor Works : Note: Any Minor Works that in the opinion of the Executive Director will not adversely affect the heritage significance of the place may be exempt from the permit requirements of the Heritage Act. A person proposing to undertake minor works may submit a proposal to the Executive Director. If the Executive Director is satisfied that the proposed works will not adversely affect the heritage values of the site, the applicant may be exempted from the requirement to obtain a heritage permit. If an applicant is uncertain whether a heritage permit is required, it is recommended that the permits co-ordinator be contacted.
Minor repairs and maintenance.
Removal of extraneous items such as air conditioners, pipe work, ducting, wiring, antennae, aerials etc, and making good.
Installation and repairing of damp proofing by either injection method or grout pocket method.
Installation or removal of external fixtures and fittings such as, hot water services and taps.
Installation, removal or replacement of projection and sound equipment (except for the early projectors), providing they do not adversely impact on significant elements, or involve structural alterations.
Painting of previously painted walls and ceilings in appropriate heritage colour schemes, provided that preparation or painting does not remove evidence of any original paint or other decorative scheme.
Installation, removal or replacement of carpets and/or flexible floor coverings.
Installation, removal or replacement of screens or curtains, including cinema screens and curtains (and associated structure), curtain tracks, rods and blinds, other than where structural alterations are required.
Installation, removal or replacement of hooks, nails and other devices for the hanging of mirrors, paintings and other wall mounted art works.
Removal or replacement of non-original door and window furniture including, hinges, locks, knobsets and sash lifts.
Installation, removal or replacement of ducted, hydronic or concealed radiant type heating provided that the installation does not damage existing skirtings and architraves and that the central plant is concealed.
Installation, removal or replacement of electric clocks, public address systems, detectors, alarms, emergency lights, exit signs, luminaires and the like on plaster surfaces.
Installation, removal or replacement of bulk insulation in the roof space.
Installation of plant within the roof space, providing that it does not impact on the external appearance of the building or involve structural changes.
Installation of new fire hydrant services including sprinklers, fire doors and elements affixed to plaster surfaces.
Installation, removal or replacement of electrical wiring.
Installation, removal or replacement of fixed non-original seating.
NATIONAL THEATRE - Permit Exemption Policy
The cultural heritage significance of the National Theatre is due to its historical associations with the National Theatre Movement and its role in the history of Australian performing arts. The building is also a fine example of an early cinema designed in the Beaux Arts style.
Important elements include the building's facades on Barkly and Carlisle Streets, and interior features including the entrance foyer, the central marble staircase, the barrel-vaulted mezzanine promenade, the upper lounge, the dress circle auditorium, which retains the decoration from the original larger auditorium, the bio box and original or early light fittings and chandeliers. Other elements which survive later modifications include the original proscenium behind the 1970s alterations, the rake of the stalls in the main studio hallway, early decoration behind the upper lounge c.1960s snack bar and the decorative balcony of the dress circle which forms a wall for the orchestra pit. Removal of these elements would require a permit. Removal of the registered objects would also require a permit. Other alterations which impact on the significance of the exterior and the interior are subject to permit applications.
LINDENVictorian Heritage Register H0213
HALCYONVictorian Heritage Register H0775
FORMER PRIORY LADIES SCHOOLVictorian Heritage Register H0726