A History of the State Theatre:
The theatre was the vision of Stuart Doyle (GU) & designed by Sydney Architect Henry Eli White, who invited US architect John Eberson to work with him.
White was very influenced by Eberson’s work in the USA & copied his style.
The Greater Union Theatre Group commissioned the construction of the State Theatre & it commenced in 1927.
The budget was 400,000 pounds but eventually blew out to over a million pounds.
Construction of the theatre was completed in 1929.
When opened, the 2,775 seat venue was billed as the Empire’s greatest theatre & referred to as the Palace of Dreams.
Its importance has been recognised by The National Trust of Australia that has classified it as "a building of great historical significance and high architectural quality, the preservation of which is regarded as essential to our heritage".
The design of the theatre was a fusion of Gothic style architecture with French Renaiissance, Italian & Art Deco elements.
The State was designed as a film theatre, but with such a grand design was equally suited to live theatre & music performance.
A gothic-styled shopping block 11 storeys high was opened above the theatre in 1930, but later these were converted to offices.
The front of the theatre gives very little indication of the plush grandeur & opulence to be found inside.
Once you walk through the solid bronze doors, you enter into the low ceiling but very grand foyer area.
The Gothic entrance foyer is adorned with ornate wall & ceiling detail & elegant life-size statues of King Arthur & St. George.
Other famous medieval figures adorn the walls among massive oak panelled walls.
The ceiling is a reproduction of the fan pendant ceiling in the Henry the 7th Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
In the centre of the floor is giant floor clock, with gilded hands & numerals in mosaic tiles under a plate-glass face.
Then you are confronted by the majesty of the Grand Assembly, flanked on either side by impressive flowing golden marble staircases & balustrades.
These marble stairs were pre-fabricated in Italy and assembled in the theatre, and lead the patron to the dress circle foyer & mezzanine.
The Grand Assembly can accommodate up to 450 guests at a cocktail party.
Inside, The Royal Mezzanine Circle, signals a new level of grand design that rivals the great theatre houses of America.
The State Theatre was the first theatre in the Southern Hemisphere to adopt this new grandiose architecture that had become popular in the USA.
The State Theatre’s palatial interiors feature artworks and fixtures of rare significance.
The Dress Circle gallery houses artworks by significant Australian artists. Many of these were submitted in a competition for the opening of the State.
Artworks included are by William Dobell, Charles Wheeler, Raymond Lindsay, Julian Ashton, and a painting of Bronte by John D. Moore.
The theatre has 13 enormous chandeliers hanging in the Auditorium & Grand Assembly
The piece de resistance of these is the Koh-I-Nor cut crystal chandelier which is the second largest on earth, weighing over four tonnes.
The Koh-I-Nor chandelier is a replica of the chandelier in the Hall of Muses in The Habsburg Palace of Vienna.
The State Theatre contains a 21 Rank Wurlitzer organ, one of only three in the world.
The Wurlitzer organ is still in working order & the only Wurlitzer to be still found in its original location.
Among the original pieces of furniture were a Louis XIV chair & another chair dated from 1607.
The first motion picture to be shown at the State Theatre was Enrnst Lubitch’s The Patriot, accompanied by Price Dunlavy playing the Wurlitzer organ.
The opening night’s performance also featured a live band performance lead by noted bandleader Will Prior.
A newsreel theatre showing Fox Movietone newsreels, the first in Australia, was opened in the basement of the building in 1932. It later became a screening room. When TV put newsreels out of business the basement theatre began to screen feature movies & became known as State Theatre 2. Eventually it was converted to the Statement Lounge & Bar in 2009.
Many Hollywood blockbusters premiered at the State during the 1960’s & 1970’s including Jaws & Count Yorga Vampire.
The State Theatre played host to the Sydney Film Festival in 1974, where it has remained ever since.
In 1980 the doors of the State Theatre closed and some feared that it was the beginning of the end.
The theatre was half a century old, had seen thousands of performances, and was in need of serious maintenance work & upgrades of equipment.
The State was rarely being used as a cinema as 2000 plus seat venues were not suited to modern cinema usage where audiences of several hundred people per viewing would be stretched over a rather longish run.
Thankfully, the theatre received a new lease of life via six months of maintenance, restoration & equipment upgrades.
The recent refurbishment of the State Theatre’s legendary Ballroom, which retained its original 1930s sprung wooden dance-floor, saw the addition of three fantastic new rooms that conjure images of luxury and opulence of a bygone era.
These new function rooms offer state of the art facilities and are suited to smaller scale events
Live theatre & musical performances returned the theatre in the 1990’s.
The State Theatre is respected internationally as a top class venue & many famous artists have since graced its stage.
These include: Rudolph Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Stephane Grapelli, Sting & Harry Connick Jr.
Musicals include: Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar & The Secret Garden.
There have been decisions made to develop the theatre to make it more suitable as a venue for live performance.
It has long been accepted that the stage of the State is too small & that a new stage & dressing rooms would need to be constructed.
In 2012-2013 plans were made to renovate the theatre to create an orchestra pit and backstage area to increase the capability for live shows.
State Theatre website.
Sydney Architecture website.
Architecture Australia Vol.70 No.3, July 1981 by Ross Thorne.
Sydney Architecture book by Graham Jahn 1991.
Motion Picture News – October 5, 1929 issue.