For nearly a century, the Capitol Theatre has stood on Melbourne's Swanston Street — initially playing host to silent films that were preceded by live theatre productions before each screening, and also accompanied by Australia's first large Wurlitzer organ. First opening in 1924, it's a crucial part of the city's entertainment history; however since 2014, the space has remained closed.
Owner RMIT is eager to change that, launching a crowdfunding campaign to restore the theatre and put it back into use. With $20 million in restoration and improvement works mooted, the university is seeking to supplement the Victorian Government's pledged $2.5 million with $2 million in public funding — with every dollar donated to be matched by RMIT. And, for folks who give $250 or more, their name will be featured on the building's wall.
Running since late 2017, the campaign aims to "give Melbourne a spectacular and world famous space to house festivals, film premieres and screenings, concerts and conferences" — according to the appeal's website — plus learning spaces for RMIT students. It's the latest chapter in the theatre's eventful lifespan, which has seen it closed in the 60s, renovated to turn its stalls-level seating into the Capitol Arcade, and then remodelled again when RMIT took over in 1999.
If you've ever stepped inside the space — which was used as a venue for the Melbourne International Film Festival as recently as 2014 — you will have noticed the decor. Designed by architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, who also designed the city of Canberra, its striking, geometric-shaped, light-filled ceiling attracts as much attention as anything on the venue's stage or screen.
The entire structure, aka Capitol House, has been on the Victorian Heritage Register since 1989 — with the Capitol Theatre pre-dating both the nearby Forum and Regent Theatre.