Sunday, November 1, 2009

Castlemaine Theater Royal



A few weeks ago I was in Castlemaine, Victoria, for a University subject, and simply could not help but stop and take pictures of the beautiful Theater Royal. After looking into the history of this wonderful building at the link below, I was amazed to read of its colourful and facinating history. So much so that I have copied it here for other fans of architecture and history to also enjoy. Thanks to the Theater Royal website for this information. The Theater Royal is an active working theater and also hosts live shows, movies, functions, has a Bed and Breakfast, and a a delicious cafe restaurant. If you are in the lovely town of Castlemaine do drop in and enjoy !!!



Castlemaine's Theatre Royal is the oldest continually operating theatre on the Australian mainland. Back around 1852 an early structure of rough timber and canvas was constructed to provide live entertainment for the thousands of diggers who swarmed into the district after discovery of what was to become the richest gold yielding area in the country.

It was a theatre assembly hall and auction rooms. Contemporary reports state that the supporting poles were decorated with gum leaves, and the plaster and lath walls were lined with crimson baize with a raised gallery at one end for the auctioneer or speaker.

With the advent of prohibition on the goldfields, a new proprietor in 1856 announced in the Mount Alexander Mail that he proposed to "..rebuild the front portion, which will become a hotel, the rear portion to be remodeled as an elegant theatre, which will be convertible to a ballroom"

It must have been a fairly impressive building by then, because the outrageous and notorious Lola Montez deigned to appear for a limited season [two nights] of tableaux playlets and dances. Madame Montez was the first of many well known artistes and performers who graced the Theatre's stage and provided the swelling population with cheap entertainment.

The Theatre Royal and the Royal Hotel thrived but disaster struck in November 1857, when a fire, which started in a neighbouring boot and shoe manufactory [built of wood and canvas] leaped across the narrow dividing laneway and completely destroyed the hotel and theatre the latter with all its scenery and properties.

Benefits were held for the Lessor and shortly after, the phoenix arose from the ashes in the form of a stone and brick building with a substantial iron roof - much of which exists today.

Another attraction in 1860 was the exhibition in the Hotel of '3 Monster Alligators' including the skeleton of a further alligator, plus the opportunity at scheduled times to hear a discourse on how they were captured after '17 months hard labour'. How many hotels today could offer that sort of diversion for the patrons?

Over the next 28 years the Theatre Royal played host to many traveling companies, exhibiting drama, melodrama, circuses, tragedies and comedies by many of the great [and not-so-great] dramatists. In addition, variety and minstrel shows were very popular, as were concerts and recitals, Gilbert & Sullivan operettas always a sell-out.
Fire struck again in 1887, gutting the building. That didn't slow it down long though
The Royal Hotel breathed its last and the Theatre was rebuilt utilizing the whole block.

By the early 1890's the Theatre Royal was again being advertised in rapturous terms.
With the coming of moving pictures the next owners moved with the times and the venue became the 'People's Popular Picture Palace'. It was extensively re-modeled in 1938 having lost its High Victorian verandah, dress circle, fixtures and fittings in the early 1920s.

By the early 1970s the Theatre had fallen on hard times. It had a crumbling art deco fa├žade and only one performance a week was being advertised. The Theatre Royal had reached the point where only the small gallery [a mere ghost of the splendid original Dress Circle] was open, and heating and mod-cons were at an absolute minimum.

As a result of the hard work put in by the previous owner Ray Lindstrom, cinema manager Les Thornton, and a loyal and enthusiastic staff, the Theatre Royal came back to life.

They brought a variety of new films four or five nights a week, matinees, live theatre, discos, bands and live music for various age groups on a regular basis, a supper bar, liquor licence and-until quite recently, a video shop.

In 1999 new owners John & Donna Walter restred the Theatre, utilising the 1938 renovation as a foundation and reinstating the ice cream and juice bar.

Julian and Renee de Crespigny with David Stretch and Sarah Burdekin bought the Theatre in December 2004 and have set about continuing the restoration of the Theatre and in the process, aim to grow the business and establish the venue as a landmark regional entertainment complex.

Castlemaine is very proud of its Theatre Royal. It has a history of over 150 years of continuous entertainment on the same site, in substantially the same building, with no ostensible break in service.

Castlemaine's grand old lady of entertainment looks set for many more successful years


Still known as the Theatre Royal and the Royal Hotel, the two buildings were joined by a form of lobby and continued to do good business. In 1860 the Royal Hotel was advertising the availability of 'Iced Drinks! Every Day! No Extra Charge!' with
'ice for sale in small or large quantities!'

1 comment:

  1. What a gorgeous old theater! Wonderful post. Thank you so much for your sweet comments honey! Have a marvelous Tuesday...Kori xoxo

    ReplyDelete

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