Palais Theatre in St Kilda is included in the Victorian Heritage Register, though the current building was built only in 1927.
The history of the Palais Theatre
Two brothers from America, Herman Phillips and Leon Phillips secured lease for the land in St Kilda Foreshore, where they erected Luna Park in 1912 with American showman James Dixon Williams. And next to the Luna Park Palais De Danse a timber building was also erected. Palais De Danse was built at the site of current Palais Theatre and in 1915 the building was converted into the Palais Pictures. In 1919 a steel framed new Palais Pictures was built over the old one. Later this structure was dismantled and relocated nearby and named Palais De Danse again. In 1925 the construction of a substantial remodelling of the Palais Pictures began next door. The building was destroyed in 1926 when the work was nearly completed. The damage bill was around £30,000 and the insurance was for £22,000. After the fires the Phillip brothers commissioned architect Henry E White to build a grandeur theatre.
For the people of St Kilda, Palais was not just a theatre but a home away home. Its significance and the importance people attached to the theatre and the heart beats of a generation can only be correctly gauged if we walk our readers through the newspaper clippings of those years.
The Herald (Melbourne, Vic: 1861 – 1954) Fri 11 Nov 1927/ Page 13/ PALAIS PICTURES
Affection for St. Kilda’s Theatre
Some 12 -years ago, Messrs. H. F and L. Phillips decided to establish a picture theatre on the Esplanade, St. Kilda. They were warned on all sides that It would be a failure. “You can keep going at St. Kllda during the summer months,” said those who knew, “but you will have to close down all the winter. No show has ever been able to run on the sea-front during the winter months.”
Mr Phillips listened attentively.
“Yes,” he said, “on general principles, I think you are right, but there are always exceptions. We’ll give it a trial.”
So Messrs. Phillips went ahead with their arrangements, and the new picture theatre was duly opened under the name “Palais Pictures.”
Right from the start the finest orchestra of any suburb in Melbourne was Installed. Previously suburban theatres had been satisfied with a few musicians. At our Palais a full orchestra of 10 musicians was engaged.
People began to talk about the Palais Pictures, and about the music as well as the pictures. In a little
while they began to see reasons why they should go to the Palais Pictures in preference to another cinema shows.
But still the management was not satisfied. Special heating was arranged for the winter months. A new and Improved method of projection was devised. A now screen giving stereoscopic effects was imported from America.
All this time the attendance had been steadily Increasing. More accommodation was found to be necessary and the building was enlarged. With the enlargement of the building, extra seats were needed, and the management decided to do the thing thoroughly, and re-seat the whole theatre.
The new seats were a revelation, never before had seats of such comfort and luxury been placed in any theatre In Australia. They created something of a sensation, and put the coping-stone on the reputation of Messrs Phillips for progress and thoroughness.
From time to time, as artists of recognised ability were available, musical Items were given in conjunction with the pictures. The quality of the pictures was kept up to the highest standard, and It soon became generally recognised that, at the Palais Pictures, nothing but the best was Included in the programme.
In this way, little by little, the reputation of the Palais Pictures was built up, and in some mysterious way, concurrently with this increase in popularity, another feeling had arisen — a feeling of something resembling affection on the part of patrons towards the theatre.
A HOME FROM HOME
Week after week, they visited the Palais Pictures. Week after week, they met there their friends, during the intervals they strolled about, exchanging greetings, and so gradually the Palais Pictures became a kind of “home away from home.”
This feeling was, without doubt, helped greatly by the constant Instructions. given by the management to the staff that the utmost courtesy and consideration extended to every patron. When the Palais Pictures was burned down It was felt us a personal loss by thousands of those who had been in the habit ‘ of visiting’ the theatre. The Interest which these old patrons have taken at the theatre ‘Is evidenced today by the hundreds of requests which have been received, during the last few months, for seats on the opening night. Patrons would communicate with the management:
“Whenever you open the Palais Pictures, will you please keep so many seats for me for the opening night? Whatever night you open on, keep the seats. ‘
These patrons are evidently determined that under any circumstances they will be on hand on the opening night to extend the right hand of welcome or fellowship to the old show in Its new form.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848 – 1957) Saturday 12th November 1927
PALAIS PICTURES NEW THEATRE AT ST. KILDA,
largest in Australasia.
On the Site formerly occupied by the old wooden structure of the same name, which was destroyed by fire early last year, a new Palais Picture Theatre has been erected on the Lower Esplanade, St Kilda,
At a cost of £140,000. To mark the opening of the building, a special performance was given in the theatre last night, for which 1,500 invitations were issued by the directors of Palais Pictures Ltd.
This evening the theatre will be opened to the public for the first time. Constructed of brick and concrete, the theatre is imposing in appearance, and is a handsome addition to the places of amusement on the St Kilda Esplanade. It has seating accommodation for 3,000, and in this respect it is claimed to be the largest theatre in Australia. It is also claimed to be the most beautiful. On either side of the main entrance foyer, richly carpeted stairways lead to the dress circle foyer, where the ceiling is supported four scagliola columns at the corners of the gallery of the lounge overlooking the entrance hall. Suspended above this is a huge old brass chandelier weighing 17.5 CWT. On this 180 electric candles burn.
The brass fittings on the stairways and doors, and the lighting fittings are a feature of the interior decoration. The building has been furnished on an elaborate scale, combining a composite style, mainly Oriental and French in character, and the walls have been decorated by the ancient Spanish method of steeping. The picture shown last night was “Seventh Heaven.” which will begin a season at the Capitol Theatre next Saturday. The leading parts are played by Miss Janet Gaynor and Mr. Charles Farrell. A pleasing musical programme was contributed by the orchestra under the direction of Mr. Harry Jacobs.
The theatre was formally opened by the mayor of St. Kilda (Councillor F. L Dawkins), who said that as far as possible Australian materials had been used in its construction, and Australian workmen had been employed. Only 1 per cent of the materials used had been imported.
The chairman of the foreshore committee of St. Kilda (Councillor O’Donnell) also spoke. Both speakers paid tribute to the enterprise of the management in erecting such a building.
Mr. H. F. Phillips (chairman) responded on behalf of the board of directors of the theatre
When the last of the Phillips died in 1957, the Palais Theatre was sold to local entrepreneurs in Melbourne. In year 2000, City of Port Phillip was planning a large scale redevelopment of St Kilda triangle which includes the Palais Theatre and the council did not renew the lease of the theatre. Between 2007 to 2016, the venue was managed by a body set up the City of Port Phillip. In 2016 a new lease was awarded to Music Promoter, Live Nation and subsequently the Victorian Government announced a $20 Million restoration for the theatre. A renovated Palais Theatre was reopened in May 2017.
Address: Lower Esplanade, St Kilda VIC 3182