Civic Theatre | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage

Heritage

Civic Theatre

Item details

Name of item: Civic Theatre
Other name/s: Part of the SHR-listed Newcastle City Hall and Civic Theatre Precinct
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Recreation and Entertainment
Category: Cinema
Primary address: 373 Hunter Street, Newcastle, NSW 2300
Local govt. area: Newcastle
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT1 DP225689
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
373 Hunter StreetNewcastleNewcastle  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Civic Theatre is of state significance under a number of criteria as one of the finest theatre buildings in New South Wales having been designed by prominent theatre architect Henry Eli White, architect of Sydney's State and Capitol Theatres. It is one of few surviving late-1920s atmospheric theatres in the country. The building is a finely crafted example of the Georgian Revival style, employed on a large scale. Along with the Newcastle Club and the BHP Administration Building, it represents the influence of this style in the Hunter Region. The theatre's largely intact interior is considered to be an outstanding example of the Spanish/Moroccan style. The building is also an important townscape element, being part of the civic cultural precinct, located adjacent to the City Hall (also designed by White at the same time as the City administration and council chambers) and reflects Newcastle's status as the state's second capital at the time of the theatre's construction. The theatre has operated almost continuously as an entertainment venue since 1929 and continues to be a focus of social and cultural activity, highly valued by the citizens of Newcastle for its outstanding historical, aesthetic and social significance and rarity.

NB; this entry for the Civic Theatre should be read in conjunction with that for Newcastle City Hall (5055746). Although each is, individually, of state heritage significance, they are listed together on the State Heritage Register as the Newcastle City Hall and Civic Theatre Precinct
Date significance updated: 26 Sep 12
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.

Description

Designer/Maker: Henry Eli White, Architect
Builder/Maker: W Stronach, builder
Construction years: 1927-1929
Physical description: The Civic Theatre is a two storey rendered brick Georgian Revival building. Its facade exhibits features of the Georgian Revival style with Italian Renaissance elements, particularly in the elegant, repetitive semi-circular-headed windows. According to the National Trust, the facade of the shop at No 14 Wheeler is the only original. Entranceways are timber framed with glass, and leadlight above. The awning is painted in heritage colours with circular motifs and pressed metal soffit.

The interior is an elaborate example of White's style in 'Spanish Baroque' featuring a traditional proscenium arch, crowned with a classical frieze, a grand ornamental dome in the ceiling, with smaller domes above the back stalls and huge, recessed arches over the Royal boxes which flank the stage. Within these arches are Alamo-style parapets containing statues. The domes are indirectly lit and a 'blue sky' surround flanks the stage. The auditorium walls were decorated to imitate stone castle walls. Renovations in the early 1970's enlarged the stage and orchestra pit.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Good
Date condition updated:12 Apr 12
Modifications and dates: 1948-49 - renovations
1954 - CinemaScope installed
1955-56 - minor alterations to proscenium
Renovated 1970's early
1974-76 - conversion to live theatre
1978 - Playhouse theatre created within centre
Early 1990s - major refurbishment and restoration
Current use: Theatre and shops
Former use: Cinema

History

Historical notes: The demand for both the theatre and the new Town Hall reflected Newcastle's growth and importance as the state's second city. Stimulated by the steel industry, the population of Newcastle (excluding Lake Macquarie Shire) grew from 54,000 in 1911, to 84,000 in 1921 and 104,000 in 1933. With such significant industrial and demographic development, the CBD responded with new commercial buildings, particularly hotels and stores, and, of course the town hall and Civic Theatre. (Suters' Architects, Newcastle City Wide Heritage Study, Thematic History Update, 2007, pp 7-8)

Henry Eli White was one of the most successful theatre architects in the country. He was one of the most prominent and famous of his time, having designed Sydney's Capitol and State Theatres. In all, he designed 183 theatres in Australia, New Zealand and North America, many in partnership with John Eberson. (Civic Theatre website: http://www.civictheatrenewcastle.com.au - History) In 'Front Stalls or Back' Cork and Tod note, 'In the Civic Theatre he produced one of the most outstanding theatres ever built in New South Wales: a 1627-seat auditorium (1005 downstairs; 623 upstairs) for either live or cinematic use, decorated in a modified Empire style with Spanish / Moroccan overtones. It featured 'a traditional proscenium arch, crowned with a classical frieze, a grand ornamental dome in the ceiling, and huge, recessed arches over the Royal boxes which flanked the stage. Within these arches were Alamo-style parapets containing statues, back-lit in blue. The auditorium walls were decorated to imitate stone castle walls.' 'Building Magazine' praised the theatre's 'graceful proportions and harmonious colour scheme.' (Cork.& Tod,1993, p111)

The theatre opened under the company, Northern Amusements, which was associated with Newcastle Theatres Pty Ltd and Greater Union. In 1941 Hoyts became a major shareholder in Newcastle Theatres, thus giving it control of the Civic. In December 1947, Hoyts instructed the lessee, Newcastle Theatres to carry out repairs, renovations and renewals totalling at least 26, 250 pounds. (Cork & Tod, 1993, p 112)

The Civic was redecorated in 1949/50 to recreate the Moroccan motif, and new ornamental window grilles in the dress circle, new seat and floor coverings were added, while the walls were retextured in multicolours to blend with the ornamental ceiling. The theatre was also recarpeted throughout. Around this time, chandeliers were installed in the auditorium. (Cork & Tod, 1993, p 112)

In 1954 CinemaScope was installed without major alterations to its proscenium. There were minor alterations to the proscenium in 1955 and 1956. With the advent of television, however, the Civic's large size made it unsuitable for use as a cinema. According to Hoyts' files, cited in 'Front Stalls or Back', between 1956 and 1965, the theatre's patronage decreased by nearly 63 percent. In the early 1960s, Hoyts considered twinning the auditorium by gutting it entirely. Fortunately the proposal did not proceed. Hoyts closed the theatre on 10 October 1973. (Cork & Tod, 1993, p 112)

The theatre opened under the company, Northern Amusements, which was associated with Newcastle Theatres Pty Ltd and Greater Union. In 1941 Hoyts became a major shareholder in Newcastle Theatres, thus giving it control of the Civic. In December 1947, Hoyts instructed the lessee, Newcastle Theatres to carry out repairs, renovations and renewals totalling at least 26, 250 pounds. (Cork & Tod, 1993, p 112)

The Civic was redecorated in 1949/50 to recreate the Moroccan motif, and new ornamental window grilles in the dress circle, new seat and floor coverings were added, while the walls were retextured in multicolours to blend with the ornamental ceiling. The theatre was also recarpeted throughout. Around this time, chandeliers were installed in the auditorium. (Cork & Tod, 1993, p 112)

In 1954 CinemaScope was installed without major alterations to its proscenium. There were minor alterations to the proscenium in 1955 and 1956. With the advent of television, however, the Civic's large size made it unsuitable for use as a cinema. According to Hoyts' files, cited in 'Front Stalls or Back', between 1956 and 1965, the theatre's patronage decreased by nearly 63 percent. In the early 1960s, Hoyts considered twinning the auditorium by gutting it entirely. Fortunately the proposal did not proceed. Hoyts closed the theatre on 10 October 1973. (Cork & Tod, 1993, p 112)

The lease was relinquished and the City Council was faced with the options of demolishing the theatre for Council's new administrative offices or to convert the Civic to a live theatre. The latter option won out, thanks to the need for a live theatre venue in the city since the closure of the Victoria Theatre in 1966 and the Civic's listing by the National Trust. $120,000 was spent on converting it for live theatre use. Most of this work involved lighting improvements, flies, drapes, repairs and electrical work. (Cork & Tod, 1993, p 112)

In 1978 Suters and Busteed, architects designed the Civic Wintergarden within the theatre for adaptive reuse. It is now the small Playhouse Theatre. In 1994 Suters Architects and Snell Architects undertook further restoration. The Centre also includes street level shopfronts and a restaurant. It is Newcastle's premier venue for live theatre. The building is considered to be an exemplary model of sensitive restoration. (Maitland & Stafford, 1997, 128)

As Cork and Tod state, 'The Council's far sighted decision saved one of the last great remaining examples of picture palace architecture in the state. Outside of Sydney's State and Capitol Theatres, the Newcastle Civic is the third most important theatre/cinema building in New South Wales in terms of its history and its outstanding architecture, according to a study done for the Heritage Council of NSW. To replace it (at 1990/91) prices would cost around $100 million, making it virtually priceless in terms of what it has to offer the citizens of Newcastle in terms of entertainment and historical and architectural heritage.' (Cork & Tod, 1993, p 112)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
7. Governing-Governing Government and Administration-Activities associated with the governance of local areas, regions, the State and the nation, and the administration of public programs - includes both principled and corrupt activities. (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)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Visiting gardens-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Civic Theatre is of state historical significance as an outstanding example of a late 1920s theatre, designed as a picture palace in the flamboyant style characteristic of that era and of which this theatre, together with the State and Capitol theatres, Sydney is one of the finest examples in Australia. Its construction, scale and style articulates Newcastle's coming of age as a major regional capital - the state's second city, due to its economic importance and consequent growth in population. The theatre itself has operated almost continuously since 1929, first as a picture theatre, then as a live theatre venue and its history reflects developments in the cinema and theatre industry in Australia and in Newcastle, reflecting both the heydays, then decline of the grand cinemas and cinema-going as a major recreational activity. It remains Newcastle's premier live theatre venue.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The theatre is highly significant for its association with architect, Henry Eli White, who was one of the most prominent and successful theatre designers in Australia in his time, having designed over 180 theatres in Australia, New Zealand and North America. With the State and Capitol theatres, the Civic is one of the most important of his designs.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Civic Theatre is of outstanding aesthetic significance for its architectural style and interior. The building is a finely crafted example of the Georgian Revival style, employed on a large scale, with Italian Renaissance elements - an extremely elaborate yet stately theatre. Along with the Newcastle Club and the BHP Administration Building, it represents the influence of this style in the Hunter Region. Occupying a large prominent site on the corner of Hunter Street and Wheeler Place, in the heart of the CBD and important civic precinct, it makes a strong statement about the importance of the theatre in the life of Newcastle and its sense of civic pride and indeed about Newcastle's place as the second largest city in NSW. With the large civic square facilitating clear vistas to the theatre, flanked by palm trees, and with the City Hall clock tower in the background, the theatre contributes to the landmark qualities of this precinct. It complements the adjacent City Hall, also designed by Henry White. The theatre exhibits outstanding design and craftsmanship, including its Georgian Revival facade and pressed metal awnings, but particularly its interior, which displays much of the original elaborate Spanish / Moroccan style detailing, particularly in the auditorium and is considered an outstanding example of this style. The theatre's interior possesses great coherence in style throughout the foyers and auditorium, enhanced by the interesting use of lighting to produce an elegant and rich theatrical setting (Thorne, Tod and Cork, 1996, p 290).
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The theatre has been a focal point of Newcastle's social and cultural life for most of the twentieth century and continues as the city's premier theatrical venue. Its value to the local and wider community is evidenced by the National Trust's efforts to save the theatre and ensure its restoration and continued operation as a cultural venue.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The theatre is capable of yielding information about the design and construction of late 1920s theatres and the tastes and aesthetics of design in that era as well as changes in the social and cultural context of cinema and theatre-going throughout the twentieth century.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The theatre is rare nationally as the best and only fully intact example of a palatial Spanish style theatre remaining in Australia (Thorne, Tod & Cork, 1996, p 290). It is also extremely rare in terms of its scale, style and internal detailing and as one of only three similar theatres in NSW designed by Henry White.
Integrity/Intactness: High
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 workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
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.

FRANK SARTOR
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
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions HERITAGE ACT 1977

ORDER UNDER SECTION 57(2)

Newcastle City Hall and Civic Theatre Precinct
Newcastle

SHR No. 1883

I, the Minister for Heritage, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, in pursuance of section 57(2) of the NSW Heritage Act 1977, do, by this my order, grant an exemption from section 57(1) of that Act in respect of the engaging in or carrying out of any activities described in Schedule C by the owner, mortgagee or lessee of the land described in Schedule B on the item described in Schedule A.

The Hon Robyn Parker, MP.
Minister for Heritage

Sydney, 22nd Day of July 2012

SCHEDULE A

The items known as the Newcastle City Hall and the Civic Theatre Building, situated on the land described in Schedule B.

SCHEDULE B

All those pieces or parcels of land known as Part Lot 1 DP 225689 in Parish of Newcastle, County of Northumberland shown on the plan catalogued HC 2545 in the office of the Heritage Council of New South Wales.

SCHEDULE C
Newcastle City Hall
1. External façade remediation programme and associated conservation works carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 City Hall Conservation Management Plan and including change of materials to improve durability where this does not affect heritage significance.
2. Installation of accessible lift including associated structural modifications to the lift shaft and external lift motor room, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan, particularly Conservation Policy 48, page 67/8.
3. Reconfiguration, upgrade or renewal of commercial kitchens in existing locations.
4. Modification or replacement of building services to meet standards, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
5. Internal alterations to the IT department, not affecting original fabric.
6. Alterations to seating in the Council Chamber, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
7. Renewal and replacement of flooring in service areas, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
8. Renewal or replacement of air conditioning plant on the roof, not visible from the street together with associated ductwork, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
9. Works to Concert Room and Banquet Room floors, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
10. Works to Concert Room and Banquet Room floors, carried out in accordance with the relevant policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan.
11. Reconfiguration of the plant room roof to improve slope.

Civic Theatre Building


1. Internal fit-out of shops on Hunter Street frontage, not affecting the shopfront windows or significant fabric.
2. Fit-out to the space currently trading as the Civic Brasserie -limited to internal changes to non-original fabric and not involving external fabric or finishes.
3. Signage for the purposes of advertising shows and theatre events, limited to periodic replacement of print media on the existing armature above the Hunter Street awning.
4. Under-awning business identification signage of shops on Hunter Street frontage, limited to content of existing suspended signage and not affecting the external fabric or finishes of the shops.
5. Modification or replacement of existing building services to meet current operational and Australian standards, carried out in accordance with the policies and recommendations of the 2008 Conservation Management Plan and with the advice of a qualified heritage architect.
6. Upgrade of services within existing conduits and ducting.
7. Renewal or installation of air conditioning plant on building roof, not visible from the street.
8. Alterations to back-of-house storage areas, prop rooms, dressing rooms and service areas not affecting original significant fabric.
9. ‘Make good’ works to the west façade of the building. Following demolition of the Civic Arcade.

Christie Place
1. Construction of temporary access roads during City Hall façade restoration and ‘make good’ works to Civic Theatre building.
Sep 27 2012

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register - Element 0188327 Sep 12   

References, internet links & images

None

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5060931
File number: S90/01087-035


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