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The Capitol Theatre was built on the site of the Palais-De-Dance in Kepler Street. The owners of the former Palais and Hotel Mansions (which were both destroyed by fire on the 22nd of February, 1929) built the Capitol Theatre. The architects of the original design were Bohringer, Taylor and Johnson.

The Capitol Theatre opened on the 12th of April 1930 with the sound on disc film “The Hollywood Revue” (M.G.M). The theatre originally seated 1,150 people (750 in the stalls and 400 on the balcony).  Architecturally, the building is treated with a modern adaption of the popular Mediterranean style, with textured walls proportioned with openings and touches of ornaments.  The main structure is comprised of sandstone, steel framing, and reinforced concrete. The Spanish Mediterranean style is continued throughout the auditorium.

Several Spanish balconies and windows adorn the auditorium walls’ proscenium splays, whilst the foyer is heavily panelled. The deep proscenium gives way to a wide stage opening with an elliptical top. Decorative plaster panels complete the Spanish effects in the stage area.

In the 1970s, Warrnambool Amusements Ply. Ltd. took over the running of the Capitol Theatre which saw a redevelopment of the foyer. The original foyer design had a split staircase leading to the top foyer on the right hand side of the bottom foyer with a small ticket box located between. Upon the takeover by Warrnambool Amusements, the split staircase was replaced with a single double-width staircase, and the ticket box was relocated to the left hand side of the foyer. Before this, a lolly shop occupied the current ticket box and candy bar location.  

The theatre was originally built for live performances - although it was far from perfect, suffering from narrow wing space, a shallow stage and the lack of a fly in tower, which limited the theatre to small cast performances. The Capitol often hosted international artists such as Roy Orbison, Julie Anthony, Max Bygraves and Rolf Harris up until it triplexed in 1994.

In March 1990, a 20% bigger screen was installed from the Greensborough cinema in Melbourne which had at the time recently closed down. This 7.6m moveable screen was also complemented with the addition of a 700watt, four track stereo sound system with twelve surround speakers.

On the 14th of December 1993 The Standard announced the plans to convert the single theatre into a three cinema complex, with Cinema 1 (the old balcony) seating 250 people and Cinemas 2 and 3 (the stalls split down the middle) each seating 180. Work commenced in September 1994 until The Historic Building Society tried to stop the redevelopments of the building on the grounds that the building was of historical significance. After much deliberation, the Historic Building Society backed down on their plans to hold up building and let the redevelopment continue. While the building did look stunning in its original form, a single cinema was not a viable option.

Cinema 1 still retains decretive elements of the original theatre with the textured walls, and recessed openings containing ornamental urns. The original plaster chandeliers have been retained and are still used in Cinema 1.

Cinemas 2 and 3 are built in front of the stage, thus preserving the proscenium. The original furnishing of these cinemas were that of blue seats, multi-coloured purple carpet and green wall drapes, both featuring floating screens with horizontal masking. Cinema 1 was fitted with wall-to-wall mauve coloured curtaining across the front of the cinema while the rear wall and sides of the cinema were left uncovered to show the original theatre design.

Cinema 1 retained the original projector room design, with multiple port windows for stage show spot-lighting. It also featured drop shutters, several metal doors, and was cladded in asbestos sheeting. At the time of the Capitol Theatre being built, nitrate film was commonly used. Nitrate film is highly flammable and creates its own oxygen making a nitrate fire very dangerous. The purpose of the drop shutters was to stop the flames entering the auditorium were such a thing to occur. The Capitol was fortunate not to have any nitrate fires. 

The projection room for Cinemas 2 and 3 was built in front of the former balcony and is the full width of the building.  An additional projector was needed to run the extra cinema which was sourced from a closed down drive-in from Geelong. The Capitol Theatre already owned two Century projectors from running reel to reel as a single screen. The projectors were originally sourced from the closed down Warrnambool drive-in. Upon triplexing, all cinemas were fitted with 1800watt xenon lamp houses. Before this, all projectors were previously carbon arc. Cinemeccanica film platters were used throughout the complex, Cinema 1 featuring automation to run without assistance during a show.

In 1995 the Century projector in Cinema 3 was replaced with a Cinemeccanica Victoria 5, which provided hassle free running.  In 2008 the remaining Century projectors in Cinemas 1 and 2 were replaced with newer kinoton projectors sourced from Dandenong.

In 2007 Managing Director Stan Stevens and his wife Norma retired handing the running of the Cinema over to Village Cinemas. Stan still plays in important role as director of the cinema.  Stan use to run the Capitol Cinema while Norma was in charge of the drive-in. The Warrnambool drive-in was located where Calco Timbers is now and some of the original lighting towers are still standing.

On August 4th 2009, the Warrnambool Fire Brigade was called to a fire at the Capitol Cinema at 7.10am. 30 firefighters were on hand to help extinguish the blaze. Two cleaners were inside the cinema building at the time and both got out unharmed. The fire was concentrated largely to Cinema 2, the projection room and the foyer, but the rest of the building suffered smoke damage. The fire is believed to have been started by a light facing a side curtain. Smoke and fire billowed from the roof of the cinema covering the Warrnambool CBD in a cloud of thick black smoke. Once the fire had been extinguished, the work of finding the cause of the blaze got underway.  All that remained of Cinema 2 was the metal of the seats, the fireproof plaster on the walls and part of the ceiling.  The projection room for Cinemas 2 and 3 suffered extreme heat and water damage and the roof air conditioner had melted and dripped onto the floor.  Cinema 1 suffered water damage and smoke damage. The upstairs foyer and Cinema 3 also suffered smoke damage but to a much lesser degree. The downstairs foyer suffered fire damage as the fames were leaping from Cinema 2’s door.

The cinema was closed for almost an entire year. In this time, the remaining asbestos was removed from the walls and the roof. The building received a much needed make over with the top foyer corner candy bar being replaced by a central standalone Caesar stone bench top and a stainless steel kitchenette against the back wall. The old foyer couches have been replaced by a built-in bench seat and complemented by small Caesar stone tables and red stools.

Cinemas 2 and 3 have had the purple and green drapes replaced by black and slate grey coloured drapes and the carpet has been replaced by black carpet with grey swirls. The main foyer has been adorned with gold curtains with a mix of browns and neutral colours giving a more upmarket feel to the building. 

The days of 35mm projection are now in the past with the replacement of all film projectors with Barco digital projectors in all cinemas. Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 also have the ability to screen 3D content. The Barco projectors are ‘2k’ with cinema one being upgradable to ‘4k’ once the technology is properly developed.  All cinemas are controlled by Dolby Digital Cinema servers and all cinemas are linked via a gigabit network connection. This enables fast transfer of content between cinemas. All content arrives on hard drives with each movie being around 150 GB in size. Some movies, however, can be well in excess of 300 GB. All cinemas are fitted with QSC speakers and amplifiers capable of delivering over 4000 watts RMS power just across the front speakers. All the speakers in the cinemas are THX approved.  Each cinema is also assisted with a twin 18in subwoofers rated at 1600 watts with efficiency 99.5%.  The current set up of projection equipment makes us the most advanced cinema in the Village circuit.  Cinema 3 is also equipped to show closed captions for those guests who are harder of hearing.

 

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