Capitol Theatre | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Capitol Theatre

Item details

Name of item: Capitol Theatre
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Recreation and Entertainment
Category: Theatre
Location: Lat: -33.8796251267 Long: 151.2062630040
Primary address: 3-15 Campbell Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
Parish: St Lawrence
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PORTION20 DP1014952
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
3-15 Campbell StreetSydneySydneySt LawrenceCumberlandPrimary Address
Hay StreetSydneySydneySt LawrenceCumberlandAlternate Address
Parker StreetSydneySydneySt LawrenceCumberlandAlternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
City of SydneyLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

The Capitol is the only atmospheric theatre to survive substantially intact in Australia. The structural fabric of the Capitol Theatre has a remarkable history of adaptation, reconstruction and restoration to accommodate changing uses. First, as the new Belmore Markets in 1892-93; then as a permanent circus venue (Hippodrome) for Wirth Bros and an office and shopping block in 1913-16; finally in the conversion of the Hippodrome to an atmospheric theatre for Union Theatres Ltd in 1927-28. (Kerr 1990:27,28)
Date significance updated: 23 Apr 01
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Henry White and John Eberson
Construction years: 1893-1928
Physical description: A brick building with stone cornices, strings and other dressings, ornamental terracotta capitals, spandrills, rosettes etc with tiles panels and into which was later built an atmospheric type plaster and brick picture palace. (Chapman 1976)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Physical condition is excellent. Archaeological potential is low.
Date condition updated:01 Oct 97
Modifications and dates: 1893 - Belmore markets completed
1913-1917 - redevelopment and conversion to Hipporome
1927-1928 - conversion to Capitol theatre
1933 - 1972 - interiors gradually stripped
1972 - atmospheric and ornamental fabric removed and altered
1990s - restored and reconstructed
Current use: Theatre
Former use: Markets, circus venue, atmospheric theatre


Historical notes: During the 1880s facilities for the bulk sale of fruit and vegetables came under increasing pressure. In March 1891, Sydney Council appointed a committee to recommend a new site for a major covered market. They suggested the adjacent space of the Haymarket and this proposal was adopted in the following July. The principal contractor for the building was Alexander Allen of Summer Hill and his tender of 24,902 pounds was approved in November 1891. The markets opened in July 1893. The New Belmore Markets as it was called was designed by George McRae. The facade presented thirty-six arched bays to the streets: eleven to Campbell and Hay and seven to Parker and Pitt.

The New Belmore Markets was not an economic success and led Council to seek alternative uses for the building. In 1912 the New Belmore Market was leased for ten weeks to Wirth Bros for the purpose of a circus and hippodrome. Council decided to recycle the fabric of the New Belmore Market to create a theatrical circus venue. In September 1912, the Council accepted Wirth's tender for a twenty-one year lease of the proposed Hippodrome.

The conversion was under the control of Robert Hargreave Broderick. The facade was dismantled and re-erected above a new ground storey which was in turn mounted on the old footings. The redevelopment was split into two major contracts: the eastern half now known as the Manning Building was awarded to JM & A Pringle in May 1913 and the Hippodrome theatre to the west to William Maston and Thomas Yates in December the same year. The Hippodrome finally opened in April 1916.

Despite the Hippodrome's versatility, it was not a financial success and by 1926 Wirth's had decided to seek the remodelling of the buildings as a picture palace. Plans for the work were completed by Henry White in February 1927 for 'Capitol Theatre Sydney Limited' and the same month Wirths wrote to the Sydney City Council requesting a 'remodelling' of the building for its proposed new function. Henry White was a very experienced theatre designer and in 1927 visited America with Stuart Doyle, the managing director of Union Theatres Ltd., to review the latest developments in theatre design. Whilst in the United State, architect John Eberson was engaged to provide White with designs for the conversion of the Hippodrome. The plans for an atmospheric auditorium were very much like Eberson's Riviera at Omaha, Nebraska. The conversion involved remodelling the interior and raising the roof trusses to make room for the atmospheric ceiling and extended slope of the new gallery. In May 1927, the Sydney City Council approved Wirth's proposed alterations. The Capitol opened on the 7th April 1928. In 1929 the theatre was fitted to screen talkies but by 1931-32 Greater Union was in financial difficulties with the Depression. In November 1932 the Capitol closed its doors.

It re-opened in April 1933 screening second-rate movies. Maintenance economies gradually put machinery and lighting out of action and in 1945 all 'unwanted' decoration including banners, tapestries and artificial foliage was stripped from the interiors.

In 1972 the theatre lease was removed from Greater Union Theatres and awarded to Harry M. Miller for the production of Jesus Christ Superstar. At that time the atmospheric and ornamental fabric was removed.

During the 1990's the lease was transferred to Ipoh Garden Developments Pty Ltd. At this time the Capitol Theatre underwent a detailed restoration and reconstruction to recover the original 1928 experience. It has now been returned to its original grandeur. (Kerr 1990)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Commerce-Activities relating to buying, selling and exchanging goods and services (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The structural fabric of the Capitol and Manning Buildings have a remarkable history of adaptation, reconstruction and restoration to accommodate changing uses. First, as the new Belmore Markets in 1892-93; then as a permanent circus venue (Hippodrome) for Wirth bros and an office and shopping block in 1913-16; finally in the conversion of the Hippodrome to an atmospheric theatre for Union Theatres Ltd in 1927-28. (Kerr 1990:27-28)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The buildings now on the site: Watkins' terrace, the Capitol theatre and the Manning Building, together with the adjacent former Commercial Bank and Corporation Building in Hay Street, form a largely nineteenth century enclave, modest in scale, homogenous in alignment and lively in detail, which makes it a precinct of considerable townscape quality. (Kerr 1990:28)
SHR Criteria f)
The Capitol is the only atmospheric theatre to survive substantially intact in Australia. (Kerr 1990:27)
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act Record converted from HIS events

Order Under Section 57(2) to exempt the following activities from Section 57(1):
*change of use;
*strata subdivision
* maintenance of any item (building, works, relics or places) on the site, where maintenance means the continuous protective care of existing fabric.
*Minor repairs where minor repair means the repair of materials and includes replacement of minor components such as individual bricks, where these have been damaged beyond reasonable repair or are missing. Replacements should be of the same materials, colour, texture, form and design as the original it replaces.
*alterations to the interior of a building which are of a minor nature and will not adversely affect the significance of the building as an item of the environmental heritage.
Apr 6 1990
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0039102 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0039129 May 87 892599
Local Environmental PlanCSH LEP 4 07 Apr 00   
National Trust of Australia register   11 Apr 76   
Register of the National Estate  21 Mar 78   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Capitol Theatre View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Capitol Theatre View detail
Management PlanJames Semple Kerr1990The Haymarket and the Capitol: a conservation plan for the area bounded by George, Campbell, Pitt & Hay streets, Sydney
Management PlanJames Semple Kerr1990The Haymarket and the Capitol
WrittenW.L. Chapman1976National Trust Classification Card - Capitol Theatre

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045280
File number: S90/05255 & HC 32157

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