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His Majestys Theatre, 825 Hay St, Perth, WA, Australia

Photographs View Photo Database Record
List Register of the National Estate (Non-statutory archive)
Class Historic
Legal Status Registered (21/03/1978)
Place ID 16697
Place File No 5/11/020/0007
Statement of Significance
His Majesty's Theatre was designed in 1904 by William Wolf in the Federation Free Classical style and is significant for the lavish quality of its ornamentation. The building demonstrates the ebullient decorative form and style favoured by successful developers within the central business district of Perth during the gold rush period. The theatre also demonstrates Edwardian theatre architecture in its auditorium and stage design, despite loss of some of the original stage features. The degree of ornamentation exhibited by His Majesty's Theatre is unrivalled in Australia, making this building a rare example of its type (Criteria B.2 and D.2). His Majesty's Theatre defines the corner of King and Hay Streets. Its eclectic use of diverse decorative Classical elements and its rich visual and textural quality make it landmark in Perth (Criterion E.1). His Majesty's Theatre has social significance as the venue at which several generations of Western Australian's have been introduced to live theatre, opera and ballet, having hosted both local and international productions for over seventy years (Criterion G.1). His Majesty's Theatre has a close association with the development of the West Australian Opera Company, the West Australian Arts Orchestra, the Western Australian Ballet Company and the Perth Theatre Trust. It has also been the venue for presentations by notable performers such as Dame Nellie Melba and Margot Fonteyn (Criterion H.1).
Official Values Not Available
His Majesty's Theatre is a four storey ornately decorated Edwardian hotel and theatre built in 1904. At the time of construction, WA was experiencing the wealth, prosperity and security of a long running gold boom. Opulence, optimism and confidence in the future of the State and the reign of a new king, Edward VII, heralded a baroque quality associated in architecture. Freeland, 1968 states: ' 1892, Perth had been a primitive frontier town with all the rawness and lack of style of a pioneer settlement. By 1900, it had been dipped boldly into a bucket of pure Victoriana and taken out, dripping plaster and spiked with towers and cupolas in a bewildering variety of shapes, to dry. His Majesty's Theatre surpasses any other in Australia for the lavishness of its ornamentation'. His Majesty's Theatre was built for Perth businessman T G Molloy (son of a Pensioner Guard who had arrived in WA in 1862) who was later became the Mayor of Perth in 1908-09 and 1911-12. In the 1890s, Molloy bought the interests of James Graves in various hotel ventures (in Fitzgerald Street and Hill Street) and built the Metropole Hotel in central Hay Street. He built the Royal Theatre next to the Metropole Hotel in 1897. This proved to be a very profitable venture and Molloy subsequently built His Majesty's Theatre and Hotel in 1904, on the corner of King and Hay Streets. The total cost of the project was 46,000 pounds, a substantial sum. The building alone cost 43,000 pounds and when complete had a rateable value of nearly 2,000 pounds. His Majesty's Theatre was designed by the architect, William Wolf. Wolf was born in New York City and trained as an architect in Germany. He migrated to Australia in 1877 and worked in Melbourne and Sydney before setting up a successful practice in Perth in the mid-1890s. In designing His Majesty's Theatre, Wolf followed the proven style of the nineteenth century theatres of England and Europe and created a horseshoe shape for seating within the auditorium which brought the audience closer to the stage and improved sightlines and sound. Within the theatre the auditorium was 23m by 21m, seating 2,584 people in its three tiers: 974 in the stalls, 540 in the dress circle and 1,074 in the family circle and gallery combined. The stage, large by any standards, was 20m by 23m. The auditorium featured four artificial waterfalls and the dome of the roof was built to slide sideways to improve ventilation so that on warm, fine nights the audience could sit under the stars. The builder of His Majesty's Theatre, Frederick Liebe, had come to Perth in 1896. He specialised in commercial developments and by 1904 had already built a number of office blocks, hotels and banks in Perth. After building His Majesty's Theatre he would build the Art Gallery in Beaufort Street (1906) and the Peninsula Hotel in Maylands (1906). On 24 December 1904, the theatre opened with a production of The Forty Thieves . According to the program notes for the opening performance, '...neither brains, money nor pains have been spared in erecting an edifice that would rank among the finest of its kind in the Commonwealth'. The new building presented an impressive sight in 1904. Western Mail reported: 'The massive grey walls are relieved with longs rows of balconies and deep set windows and are set off with ornamental cement modelling of great variety of rich design. The Italian style of architecture has been followed. Two tiers of balconies, carried out in the Doric Order, run around the whole front, while the windows of the top floor have annexed to them balconets which form a happy blend with the rest of the facade. In 1947-48, the two tiers of balconies were removed as the supporting pillars were considered a traffic hazard. His Majesty's Theatre has been the performing venue for artists as diverse as Nellie Melba, Pavlova, Jascha Heifetz, Sybil Thorndike, Vivien Leigh and Margot Fonteyn. But by the 1970s, His Majesty's Theatre had fallen into disrepair and virtual disuse because of it's outdated facilities. The new Perth Concert Hall (1973) was the favoured performing venue and there were plans to build a 2000 seat lyric theatre in the cultural centre. The hotel was rundown and seedy and proposals were made to demolish His Majesty's Theatre. However, the building was still structurally sound and had potential for a long and useful life. A vociferous public campaign persuaded the Government of Western Australia to buy and renovate the theatre in order to provide an adequate venue for local performing arts companies. Hotel space was given over to administrative and public spaces. A comprehensive program was undertaken under the supervision of Peter Parkinson and Robin McK Campbell. The restoration philosophy was summed up in a newspaper comment at the time, 'It's not a case of trying to revive a dead's a matter of rejuvenating a lady who has given this city a great deal of pleasure'. In February 1980, when restoration was complete, the Perth Theatre Trust was formed to promote the use of His Majesty's Theatre for a wide range of activities and as a regular venue for cultural activities such as the Festival of Perth. In 1984, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (WA) awarded the restoration of His Majesty's Theatre the Bronze medal, its highest architectural award. In recent times, His Majesty's Theatre has been used to host the blockbuster musicals Cats, 42nd Street, the Australian Opera Voss as well as regular performances by its resident companies: the WA Opera Company, the WA Arts Orchestra and the WA Ballet Company. With this diversity of activity, some of which is permanently based at the place, His Majesty's Theatre has, in a sense, become a performing arts community in its own right and contributes strongly to the ongoing cultural development of WA's performing arts.
His Majesty's Theatre is a four storey theatre and hotel building of load bearing brick with stucco ornamentation in the Federation Free Classical style. The building has a strongly modelled and embellished facade with a diversity of decorative elements that add to the lively and effervescent quality of the facade. His Majesty's Theatre facade was altered significantly with the removal of the original balconies in 1947-48, as the majority of the ornamentation on the facade is on the uppermost storey. As a result, the lower storeys are less ornamented as the original balconies would have concealed them. This means that there is a disparity in the degree of ornamentation on the facade between the upper and lower storeys: however, a number of decorative features are evident now that the balconies are removed, which make His Majesty's Theatre a richly diverse, textured building providing significant streetscape interest. The Hay Street facade has a triangular pediment with a representation of Edward VII's coat of arms in the tympanum and the words His Majesty's Theatre underneath. The pediment is supported by four Corinthian pilasters that extend through three storeys, beginning at second floor level, to form three strongly modelled bays in the facade. On either side of the triangular pediment are two smaller arched pediments surmounted by lions seated facing away from the centre of the building. Balconets are under windows at the top storey level. This decorative treatment is echoed on the King Street facade. At ground level at the theatre entrance there are wrought iron entrance gates reminiscent of Covent Garden.
Internally, the hotel was originally delineated from the theatre by a corridor running beside the auditorium on the western side which led to the bedrooms on each floor. At the front of the building this then opened into a lobby for the hotel at ground floor level and corridor landings at the upper storeys. Within the front facade the corridor has open arches to the street facade and the corridors were probably used to effect ventilation for the interior rooms of the hotel as well as for the movement of hotel guests. The hotel facade echoed that of the theatre but on a more modest scale. The arched and triangular arrangement of pediments are repeated but the triangular pediment is minor, the same size as the arched pediments. The arrangement of the balconets is similar with a balconet also under the triangular pediment. The lions at parapet level are also evident and face away from the centre of the building. This gives definition to the edges of both the theatre and hotel sections of the building and increases the richness of the ornamentation. The theatre's main entrance in Hay Street originally opened into a tiled vestibule and onto a broad marble stairway. The stairs divided to meet in a spacious and highly ornamented foyer outside the dress circle. There was a bar on the left hand side of the main entrance. The restoration which took place at the end of the 1970s, under the direction of Peter Parkinson, was intended to give the building a 1980s functional ability while retaining the original features. The restoration involved a number of changes including the removal and relocation of the staircase, the creation of a box office in the former bar area just inside the front door, refurbishment of fittings, new seating and the amalgamation of the theatre and the hotel to accommodate performing companies and extra public space for the theatre. Inside the main entrance the central stairway was relocated to the right to allow a bigger foyer to be created. The new stairway now leads to the dress circle, gallery and theatre bars. It has new marble treads but incorporates the old balustrade. The Sportsman's Bar on the left of the entrance has been converted to a box office. Inside the auditorium new stepped floors were installed throughout to improve sight lines and the pillars moved further back to give an unobstructed view of the stage from every seat. The number of seats was reduced from 2,584 to 1,240. Within the original auditorium wall was created a new wall which excludes traffic noise. There was also a new ceiling, moulded in plaster to the original pressed metal pattern. The dome no longer slides open, but the original decoration has been reproduced as closely as possible from a contemporary photograph. The proscenium arch has been made nearly two metres wider and is framed with mouldings taken from the pressed metal decoration of the original arch. It is topped by the same crown and a painting in a turn of the century style by Sam Abercrombie and Jan Omerod to replace the two lost originals by Philip Goatcher. The raked stage has been replaced by a flat one and the old counterweight operated stage machinery has been replaced. New lighting has been installed throughout. The orchestra pit is deeper and larger but more flexible, as part of it can now been used for seating if required. The original pressed metal balcony box panels have been replaced by moulded plaster panels in the same design. Wherever possible, the original fittings were reused. Those that were damaged were replaced, often in plaster moulded from the original; and where no decoration was present but seemed to be needed, it was moulded from appropriate examples elsewhere in the building. Where appropriate, the paint scheme replicated that of the original. In other areas, paint colours typical of the Edwardian period were used but with less vibrancy and in a simplified colour scheme. In the former hotel, the spaces were incorporated into those of the theatre and the saloon and balcony bars were reconstructed using the original fittings and enlarged to provide facilities for theatre patrons. Administrative accommodation and new rehearsal rooms and dressing rooms for the WA Opera and Ballet companies were incorporated. The other areas were opened up to create additional foyer and stairwell space for the relocated staircase, plus additional toilets for the refurbished theatre. In the basement is a new tavern and restaurant. A new back up building housing dressing and rehearsal rooms and the air conditioning system for the complex was built to the south-west corner of the site and is physically separate from the original building. Disabled access was provided and deaf assist sound loops installed throughout the auditorium. Air conditioning was provided to the original building and the new wing at the west. Fire detectors were installed and the former side entrance in King Street became a fire escape. In 1994, a section of the second floor foyer was enclosed to provide additional office accommodation. The work was carried out in consultation with the Heritage Council of WA, to ensure that the provision of light fixtures, air conditioning ducts, services and communication and computer cabling caused the minimum of intrusion and to ensure the alterations have a minimal effect on the original fabric of the building. In 1995, new carpeting has been laid and the seating replaced. A new cafe is proposed in the location of the ground floor bar which will re-establish the retail section and, the door of the original bar, now a box office, on the corner of King and Hay Streets is to be reinstated.

Because of its proximity to the Swan River, the site on which the theatre stands may contain Aboriginal cultural values that have not yet been identified, documented or assessed by the Australian Heritage Commission.
History Not Available
Condition and Integrity
Restoration in the 1970s and a program of regular maintenance has preserved the fabric of the building. His Majesty's Theatre was restored in 1977-80. The restoration altered some of the original fabric of the building by both removing and adding to original fabric. The main staircase was relocated and sections recycled and new parts added. Installation of contemporary theatre technology and reduction in the number of seats available for patrons has altered the original seating capacity and arrangements. Although the new seating diminishes the authenticity of the fabric, overall, the integrity remains high as the restoration maintains the original intention and function of the major building a grand theatre intact, whilst providing modern amenities. His Majesty's Theatre is in excellent condition. (1996)
825 Hay Street, southwestern corner King Street, Perth.
Apperly, R., Irving, R., Reynolds, P., (1989) A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture. Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present. (Angus and Robertson, North Ryde) pp. 104-107.
Australian Heritage Commission Data Sheet.
Beasley, M., U., (1979) 'Architectural Styles and their Sources in Western Australia since 1831' in Pitt-Morison, M., and White, J., (eds) Western Towns and Buildings (UWA Press, Nedlands) p. 221.

Freeland, J. M. (1968) Architecture in Australia: A History (F.W. Cheshire, Melbourne) p. 198.

Heritage Council of Western Australia, File Number 2006 for correspondence, November 1993.

Hibbs, T., 'Conservation Case Study: His Majesty's Theatre' (Unpublished student report, Curtin University of Technology, n.d.)
His Majesty's Theatre, Perth Western Australia (Perth Theatre Trust, Government Printer, n.d.)
National Trust Assessment Exposition.
Stannage, C., T., (1979)) The People of Perth. A Social History of Western Australia's Capital City (Perth City Council, Perth p. 224 & 235.
West Australian cited in Hibbs, T. p. 16.

Report Produced  Fri Aug 29 00:23:04 2014