There have been several venues named "Palais" in St Kilda, the first of which opened in 1911. At the end of World War I, the Palais de Danse site became Palais Pictures and in 1919, a steel-framed, arched truss structure was built over the old dance hall. By 1922, Walter Burley Griffin had begun to design a remodeled Palais Pictures. Construction began in 1925, but a spectacular fire engulfed the stage in February 1926, just before completion. When the Griffins moved on to Sydney, the developers commissioned Henry E. White to build a larger, more grand theatre.
When Palais Pictures was built it was one of the largest theatres in the southern hemisphere. It opened on 11 November 1927 with Janet Gaynor in "Seventh Heaven". It was also one of the first suburban cinemas to screen talkies, on 3 July 1929.
Until the 1950s, Palais Pictures was the place to go to the movies.
A night out at Palais Pictures was more than just a movie:
• The curtains would open for the newsreel.
• After the newsreel the curtains would close.
• The screen would be flown and the spotlight would move to the middle of the stage.
• Musical Director Harry Jacobs would step forward and the microphone (imported from America and like no other in Melbourne) would come up from the floor.
• Jacobs would announce the programme.
• The curtains would open to reveal the set and a variety performance would begin.
• The curtains would close and the screen would come down again.
• The curtains would open for the first full-length film.
• At interval, people could hear classical music in the foyer.
• After interval, the second film, the main feature would screen and end at eleven or eleven thirty.
• A Saturday night ticket included entry to the Palais de Danse for dancing next door after the film.
With the cinema’s decline in popularity in the 1960s, the Elizabethan Trust reinvigorated Palais Pictures with ballet and opera at the renamed Palais Theatre including The Royal Ballet with Dame Margot Fonteyn. Musicals and operetta appeared as well as Hollywood stars in concert.
Rock and roll’s biggest acts began appearing at the Palais Theatre in the 1960s. The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison and Australia’s own Johnny O’Keefe are just some of the acts to launch the Palais Theatre as the home of live music in people’s hearts and minds.
In the 1970s, the Palais Theatre was the only theatre large enough to host lavish opera and ballet productions including Dame Joan Sutherland in The Merry Widow. The theatre was alive with stars of stage and screen, live music events and two highly successful seasons of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
The 1980s-2000s saw the reinvigoration of Melbourne’s theatres and the decline of the Palais Theatre.
Since 2007, Palais Theatre Management Pty Ltd has revitalized the Palais Theatre. It is now Australia’s No. 1 Theatre Concert venue presenting a full calendar of International and Australian live music events.
From cinema to rock, ballet to pop, the Palais Theatre has been proudly providing audiences the greatest events, entertainers, ambiance and memories since 1927.
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