The Palais Theatre, St Kilda was constructed in 1927 as the Palais Pictures, to a design by prominent Sydney-based theatre and cinema architect, Henry E. White. It was built on leased Crown land for the American entrepreneurs, Herman, Harold and Leon Phillips, who had previously established Luna Park (1912) and the Palais de Danse (1913) in St Kilda.
The Palais Pictures building replaced an earlier Palais Pictures which was built c1920 and destroyed by fire in 1926. It was designed to seat up to 3000 patrons and incorporated generous backstage facilities and a broad proscenium. Like its predecessor, the form of the new Palais Pictures conformed to that of the adjacent Palais de Danse, with the adoption of a curved, aircraft hangar-type structure.
The Palais Theatre is a free-standing, rendered, concrete encased steel frame building, with brick infill walls. The roof is a two level, shallow-curved corrugated iron roof, supported on steel trusses. Extensive use was made of steel framing, with the dress circle cantilevered from a steel frame, to minimise the number of columns required in the auditorium.
The highly visible side and rear facades of the free-standing building have minimal decoration, placing emphasis on the front facade. Conceived as a signboard, the central section of this main facade incorporates a large descriptive sign on a curved, rendered parapet. Domed towers flank the facade in a similar manner to the Luna Park entrance and the Palais de Danse facade.
Wanting to convey a sense of modernity, Henry White stated that he adopted no particular style in the design of the Palais Pictures building. The interior, described at times as Spanish, French and Oriental, includes a large, double-height entrance foyer with giant order columns, and two sweeping staircases to the dress circle foyer above. Walls are decorated with a disc-like surface pattern and columns have a scagliola finish. Two open wells in the upper foyer, a rectangular one over the lower foyer and an elliptical one over the back stalls, are an important aspect of the design.
The internal early/original decorative scheme of the Palais Theatre, designed mainly by Melbourne firm A.E. Higgins, is substantially intact. The interior of the Palais Theatre is adorned by a variety of lighting, including candelabras, wall lamps and illuminated glazed panels. The lighting is either part of the A.E. Higgins decorative scheme or is part of a suite of light fittings manufactured for the Palais Theatre by Victoria's pre-eminent manufacturer of lighting and hardware, William Bedford Pty Ltd. Some of the William Bedford light fittings are now located off-site. A switch/power board located in the dome originally controlled the lighting in the theatre.
In addition to the light fittings, the building retains many other carefully resolved original or early design features including:
. Illuminated glass directional signs to the ladies and gentlemen's cloakrooms;
. Illuminated exit signs;
. Tip-up theatre seating, associated foot warmers and attendant piping;
. Arm chair style seating and carved timber benches;
. Wall-mounted usher's seating;
. Stage curtains and wall and door drapes; and
. Moulded spotlight housings.
The place also contains an array of original and early service equipment and some remnants of orchestra pit balustrading that contributes to an understanding of how the theatre originally operated.
After World War II some alterations were made to the building to enable large live performances. The Palais Theatre subsequently became home to the Elizabethan Theatre Trust's ballet and opera seasons, and home to the Melbourne Film Festival from 1962 to 1981. Affected by the opening of the Arts Centre theatres in the 1980s, the use of the Palais Theatre became sporadic, and it has been used largely as a live music venue since this time.
In 1973 the outdoor promenade to the upper foyer was infilled across the front facade, significantly altering the building's external appearance.
The Bedford lights are significant to the cultural heritage significance of the place and in their own right.
Certain items within the building contribute to the heritage significance of the place but do not warrant registration in their own right. Their contribution relates to the intactness of the building and its rarity, being directly related to the principal function of the theatre. There are differing levels of significance of such contributory items.
The following items contribute to the significance of the Palais Theatre to a high degree: tip-up theatre seating (seats bolted to the floor in rows). foot warmers and attendant piping, row of illuminated glazed panels to rear of stalls, wall mounted usher's seating, illuminated exit signs, iron swivel rods for door drapes to stalls fire exits, main front stage curtains with counter weights, ropes and all fittings,leadlight wall mounted light fittings,carved timber bench seats (large), arm chair style seating (lounge), built in balcony moulded spot housings, dome (bio box) switch/power board.
The following items make some contribution to the significance of the Palais Theatre:
White Rose boiler, power generator for projection room (different circuit not in use), switch/power board, various power plant (some not in use), ventilation system (in use), sections (various lengths) of balustrading from orchestra pit, lengths wall drapes and fittings.
How is it significant?
The Palais Theatre, St Kilda is of architectural and historical significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The Palais Theatre, St Kilda is of architectural significance as a relatively rare, and substantially intact, example of a large scale, free standing 1920s picture palace. The general intactness of the exterior and the retention of original internal decorative schemes, including original lighting and applied decoration, furniture and fittings, enhances its significance.
The Palais Theatre, St Kilda is of architectural significance as an example of the work of prominent and influential cinema architect, Henry E. White. It was his largest theatre project in Melbourne and the only theatre designed, rather than refurbished, by him in Victoria. The early/original decorative scheme and the furniture and fittings, mainly designed by Melbourne firm A.E. Higgins, enhance the significance of the theatre as does the suite of William Bedford light fittings (some of which are now located off-site). The Bedford lights are significant as they were specifically designed for the Palais Theatre by a pre-eminent manufacturer of lights and because of their rarity due to the intactness of the suite of lights.
The Palais Theatre, St Kilda is of historical significance for its association with the development of St Kilda as an important seaside resort and as an integral part of the St Kilda foreshore entertainment complex. Its vast scale and solid construction reflect the confidence in the location and the medium of film, by the 1920s.
The Palais Theatre, St Kilda is of historical significance for its continuous association with a major form of popular entertainment in the twentieth century. This includes its original association with American entrepreneurs, the Phillips brothers, and its continued operation through the 1960s-1980s when many other amusements in the vicinity were closed, demolished or burnt down.