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The Capitol Theatre is not just a building: it’s part of the story of Melbourne. In 1999, it became part of RMIT University

The best cinema that was ever built or is ever likely to be built.

Robin Boyd

Renowned Australian architect and RMIT alumnus

After opening in 1924, the Capitol Theatre provided a dazzling backdrop for some of the first blockbuster movies.

The Capitol was designed to evoke a crystalline cave, with a spectacular geometric plaster ceiling concealing thousands of coloured lamps within a complex three-dimensional design.This is where, after it opened in November 1924, audiences were amazed by a new invention – the silent moving picture.

In fact, they got much more than that at the Capitol, with live theatre performances before each screening, a full orchestra playing a prologue and first large Wurlitzer organ in Australia.

It opened up to new audiences in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and again in the 2000s as a festival venue and RMIT lecture theatre – continuing to delight generations of Melbournians for its distinctive architectural expression.

RMIT bought this magnificent theatre in 1999, when it was in danger of being demolished. The then-Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Beanland AO, recognised the importance and cultural significance of the building, and wanted to ensure its future.


When the Capitol opened in 1924, the theatre seated 2137. During the 1930s, the seating capacity was reduced to 2115.


The Capitol was designed by architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. who also designed the city plan for Canberra.


The building was referred to as a “Majestic Pile of Steel and Concrete”, the “Steel Core of the City”, and “a solid concrete fortress of commerce”.


The organist at the opening was Horace Weber, the successful candidate from twelve applicants. He was the resident organist at the Capitol for three periods.


Marion Mahony Griffin was the second woman to graduate in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1894.


More than 4000 concealed lamps filled the 80 feet high ceiling, often pulsating with every prismatic colour.


From 1925, each main film was preceded by a short piece of live theatre. Before this, the orchestra would play a musical prologue to end the screening.

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