Princess Theatre

73 View Street,
Bendigo, VIC 3550

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Additional Info

Architects: Reginald Appleford, Christopher A. Cowper, Gordon Murphy, William Charles Vahland

Firms: Cowper, Murphy, & Appleford

Previous Names: Royal Princess Theatre

Nearby Theaters

Princess Theatre 73 View Street, Bendigo, VIC

The Royal Princess Theatre was opened on 31st August 1874. The cost of the building was £12,000 with a capacity of 2,000 people. The building was designed by William Charles Vahland. The site was at the corner of View Street and McKenzie Street, with the frontage facing View Street. The auditorium was on three levels and seated 650 in the pit (rear stalls), 200 in the stalls, 250 in the dress circle and 850 in the gallery. A further 50 were seated in the six stage boxes. The frontage of the theatre was 80ft wide x 60ft, which inside the auditorium the proscenium was 30ft wide by 18ft high. The stage was 56ft deep. Stage lighting at the time was by gas until the Electric Supply Co, of Victoria Ltd. had DC power available in 1898. The theatre was described as comparable to anything Drury Lane in London had to offer. The original proprietor’s of the theatre John Croley died on 26th March 1899 aged 72 years, while William Billy Heffernan died 23rd March 1891 aged 81 years.

The greatest stars performed at the Royal Princess Theatre and stayed at the Shamrock Hotel. Lola Montez performed her legendary ‘Spider Dance’ here, while Dame Nellie Melba played to a number of enraptured capacity houses. Monday 3rd February 1908 and the popular newspapers of the time reported that on the appearance of Melba the world-famed soprano, “Dame Nellie will perform at the Royal Princess Theatre tonight and the crowd will be huge. In anticipation many plan to welcome Madame Melba to Bendigo earlier in the day by gathering at the railway station at 4:05pm to meet her. The concert will commence at 6:00pm sharp and carriages may be ordered afterwards for 10:00pm. The great Diva is now in the full glory of her power as the greatest singer in the world, and this sadly will be her last performance in Victoria.”

During her stay Melba resided at the Shamrock Hotel. Dame Nellie complained that the Post Office clock was striking on the hour and was disturbing her reviere. Legend has it that she demanded under no circumstances should the clock be permitted to chime after midnight. Naturally, the Post-master obliged.

In 1910 the Royal Princess Theatre became the first permanent picture house in Bendigo. The theatre was used for live shows and the screening of silent films. The first ‘talkie’ “The Desert Song” starring John Boles was screened at Easter 1930. By 1936 the Royal Princess Theatre was not able to compete with the newly erected Plaza Theatre in Mitchell Street, and closed it’s doors on 3rd October 1936 with the programme Zasu Pitts in “Hot Tip” & Ralph Bellamy in “Air Hawks”.

Architectural firm Cowper, Murphey & Appleford were employed to re-design and modernise the theatre. The new style was Art Deco. The rebuilt and invigorated Princess Theatre opened on 4th December 1936 with Bette Davies in “Front Page Woman”. By 1946 it was operated by Northern Amusements Pty. Ltd. chain. The Princess Theatre celebrated its 81st anniversary on 31st August 1955 with a screening of Howard Keel in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” on the new CinemaScope screen. As part of the celebrations Cr. R,J. Poulston, the Mayor of Bendigo cut a huge birthday cake from the stage, then presented it to the matron of a local benevolent home for its distribution.

The Princess Theatre was the first theatre to close in Bendigo and a decision was made to sell the site due to the introduction of Television by BCV8. The last film to be screened was David Niven in “The Guns of Navarone” when it closed on Saturday 14th May 1963. It was demolished to make way for an Amoco service station that remained operating for approximately 25 years, to be ultimately replaced by a various array of retail outlets. Currently in 2023 Peachy the corner restaurant operates from this location.

Contributed by Greg Lynch
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