Crystal Palace Theatre

Dandenong Road and Railway Avenue,
Melbourne, VIC 3161

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Hoyts Theatres

Architects: H. Vivian Taylor, Richard A. Le-Poer Terry

Firms: H. Vivian Taylor, Soilleux & Overend, Richardson & Wood

Styles: Neo-Classical

Previous Names: Hoyts Crystal Palace Theatre

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Crystal Palace Theatre

Located in the south Melbourne district of Caulfield North, at the corner of Dandenong Road & Railway Avenue. The Crystal Palace Theatre was opened on 23rd March 1921. The owners were Griffiths & West Property Ltd. with George Griffith (Managing Director of Hoyts Theatres) receiving a half-share. The Griffith involvement gave the group access to product played by Hoyts, as a result it would become normal practice to switch programs with Hoyts New Malvern Theatre which was located in the adjacent suburb. The plans of the “Crystal Palace had been designed and executed my Messrs Richardson and Wood, Architects of Collins Street, while the contactor employed was Mr. E. Massey of Flinders Street.

Mt. West, managing director for the proprietors of the theatre Griffith and West introduced the Mayor of Caulfield, Cr. Packer to a packed house of 1,500 people, who in declaring the theatre open, congratulated management in their splendid charitableness in donating the proceeds for the first night of £100 to the Alfred Hospital. A flashlight photograph was taken of the excited audience for publishing.

By 1930 talking pictures had arrived and the bio box equipment consisted of a pair of Simplex projectors fitted with RCA Photophone soundheads, with the rectifier supplying DC power to the arcs. The brand of the arcs is not known. 1934 and a decision was made to improve the acoustical properties of the theatre. The Crystal Palace has always been regarded as a fairly good sound house, but there was an intermittent interruption caused by the noise of the railway trains which passed close to the building. A comprehensive plan to eliminate extraneous sounds was prepared by Messrs H. Vivian Taylor, Soilleux and Overend, acoustic consultants (and architectural firm), of Henty House, Little Collins Street, Melbourne. This consisted of the application of special sound baffles designed to admit air current, while excluding distracting noises.

A special feature of the theatre was a Falksley curtain which works in conjunction with the lights, gradually extinguishing or lightening them as it is drawn across the screen.

In 1936, fifteen years after the opening, it was decided to update and completely remodel the theatre. Richard A. Le Poer Terry, a prominent Melbourne cinema architect, was engaged to prepare plans, and eventually a contract was signed with Frank L. Walton, master builder for an extensive remodelling project. This was supplemented with the installation of foot warmers, and a special section of the roof was modified so it could be rolled back on warm summer nights. December 1954 saw the arrival of CinemaScope, however the stage specifications would create major problems. During the refit in 1936 the proscenium had been modified to accommodate the screen size of the Academy ratio. This was not ideal for wide-screen presentation and as a result CinemaScope presentation would always be regarded as inadequate. At the same time, the Health Department would order the management to install more convenience booths and one additional exit. A period of 6-months was given to execute the improvements. The theatre operated profitably until the advent of Television when audiences fell to a point where management was forced to close the theatre. This was during the winter of 1959.

The property was sold at auction to Downards Furniture Storage in 1960 for £28,000 and was used by that firm for their Head Office and a storage facility. The Crystal Palace projectionist Alf Steward would remain as manager of the Downards depot for the period of their tenure.

It is believed that Downards operated at the address until approx. 1975/1976, when it was either sold or rented for the purpose or running a discotheque under the name Crystals Disco, and a cafe named Heart & Soul. The building remained a discotheque and cafe until at least 1982, with on-going advertisements promoting the venue were still appearing in the Age newspaper up until November 1982., which confirmed its existence, at least until the widening of Dandenong Road over the next three years period when the theatre was finally sold and demolished.

A new building of glass was erected in the 2000’s on the theatre site for the purpose of offices/shops/showrooms and retail. It remains in 2024 as a building of interest.

Contributed by Greg Lynch
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