Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten

St James Theatre


Henry White


107-111 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, NSW 2000


Built- 1926   Demolished- 1971


Adamesque. Was a very fitting neighbour to the DJs store. Inter-War Commercial Palazzo


Rendered brick Stone


Summary The St. James Theatre opened as a legitimate theatre on 1st April 1926 with the musical “No No Nanette”. It had a seating capacity for 1,773. “Rio Rita” was staged in 1928. Movies were shown from August 1929, however it returned to live theatre in August 1930 for twelve months. The Adamesque style theatre moved permanently to movies in August 1931.

The St. James Theatre was taken over by MGM in 1934 and screened many of the studio’s classic films. The capacity of the theatre was listed in 1955 as 1,609 seats. The grand cinema closed with “Gone With The Wind” on 20 March 1971 and was demolished to make way for a 26 storey office block.
Below- the interiors.

The St James was another of Sydney’s celebrated Henry White designs like the cherished State nearby and the lost lamented Wintergarden at Rose Bay. Apart from the 3 level auditorium, its cameo designs and nouveau 20s style, it was maintained to a perfect 20s degree and style by MGM as their premier house.

Oddly though, in 1959 they hung huge swags of cream satin screen curtains covering half the side walls as well. This was to give the impression that there was this huge cinerama type screen behind. They did this to open BEN HUR and then screened the film in 35mm cinemascope. The St James never did have 70mm even with all the 70mm MGM films released. Just in the closing weeks, MGM sensibly ran a festival of classics and made them available to us 15 year olds at just 50c a ticket. you can imagine the stampede, and the cinema every time I attended was packed. I saw WIZ OF OZ. HUCK FINN, SINGIN IN THE RAIN etc in this period and for a short last time was able to run all over this elegant theatre with my friends.

Above the theatre was the most beautiful 20s shopping block with the most exclusive shops and designers in Sydney. It was famous for being the nth degree in exclusive female shopping. It was truly like something from LOVELY TO LOOK AT or any MGM technicolour musical in real life.

The sale of all MGM’s cinemas in 1971 by the new Kekorian admin in the USA was the reason for the closure and demolition. I went to the auction and saw the unveiled stage and walls for the first time in my life. So beautiful, side boxes, balconies and frescoes.

To add insult to injury, the c/s screen fitted within the old proscenium so all this dumb drapery from 1959 was just for before-the show effect and the awesome 20s decor was hidden all those years. Then a bulldozer ground the whole lot to dust in the name of progress and someone got richer from that.



This image is a photographic print from the Bob Lucas archive of Australian cinema. It shows the now demolished St James Theatre which was located at 107-111 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. The image shows the auditorium with a spectacular light fitting sitting on the floor. There are many workers and onlookers present probably waiting for the light to be hoisted into place. The St James Theatre was opened in 1926, so perhaps this light fitting was one of the final installations.

St James Theatre was built as a live musical theatre by the Fuller Brothers and Hugh J Ward. According to The Sydney Mail, it represented ‘the last word in comfort and elegance of appointments and artistic decoration.’ The architect was Henry E White who later contributed towards the design of the Sydney State Theatre. The St James opened in March 1926 to spectacular success with the still popular musical ‘No No Nanette.’ The song ‘Tea for Two’ was one of the hits from this show. Sadly for the builders this euphoric start did not last, with a combination of the depression and the arrival the the ‘talkies’ sending the original owners to the wall.

The theatre became a cinema in 1929 and after a brief return to live theatre in 1930, it became a permanent home to movies in 1931. Later renovations saw the theatre loose some of its lavish 1920s decoration and in 1971 the building was demolished and replaced with an office block.

Post by Lynne McNairn, Digital Media

Photographer unknown, c 1930 


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