Sydney Architecture Images- Gone but not forgotten





79-83 Castlereagh Street.


Built-    Demolished- 1929, replaced by Art Deco Embassy Theatre (see below).


Federation Free Classical Second Empire


Rendered brick Stone


Summary Until 1928 the Tivoli theatre in Sydney was located at 79-83A Castlereagh Street. This site is now occupied by the Westfield Sydney shopping complex. There is no indication that it was once the site of a grand old theatre.
The Tivoli Sydney to 1910

Until 1928 the Tivoli theatre in Sydney was located at 79-83A Castlereagh Street. This site is now occupied by the Sky Garden shopping complex, next door to the Imperial Arcade. There is no indication that it was once the site of a grand old theatre.

The only site acknowledged as the Tivoli, is one on the corner of Hay and Campbell Streets, further south near Central Station. A green plaque marks this as once being the site of the Tivoli Theatre. This is true, but only from 1928 when the Adelphi theatre (1911) which stood on the site was renamed The Tivoli .

The 79 Castlereagh Street address had a long theatrical history, dating back to at least 1868. In that year it was opened as the Scandinavian Hall. It charged sixpence and three pence for entrance. The elite sixpenny patrons sat around tables, drinking and smoking and spitting into the provided spittoons. The others spat into the sawdust. Young ladies in white dresses with blonde plaits, sashayed between the patrons, serving the drinks. They were the reason the hall was named 'Scandinavian."

The Scandinavian was a typical music hall. It had all the features of this sort of establishment, including the slightly risqué performances and the primarily male, working class, clientele.

In 1874, the place was renamed Sullivan's Athletic Hall and became a boxing venue. It then became a clothing factory for a period of time. Then in 1878 a billiard saloon. The place changed names from Victoria Hall to The Academy of Music in the successive years.

In 1882 it was the site of a Home Rule for Ireland meeting, held by John Redmond and William Redmond. They could find no other place to have the meeting. There was fear that the large Irish population would riot. The meeting however defied expectations and was remarkably peaceful.

In 1890 the old building was demolished and The Garrick Theatre was built. Plays such as "The Middleman" and "The Idler." were produced there.

On Saturday February 18th 1893, Harry Rickards took up the lease of the Garrick and renamed it, The Tivoli Theatre. Rickard's wife Kate, had persuaded him to take up the lease and it proved a good investment. As the Tivoli, the theatre introduced the Sydney public to such acts as illusionist, Chung Ling Soo, and Little Tich. Harry Rickards' Tivoli Theatre, soon became a byword to the people of Sydney.

In early 1899, Rickards bought the freehold title of the site, but disaster struck soon afterwards. In September that year, the Tivoli Theatre burnt to the ground. It was an unmitigated disaster. The loss was estimated at 25, 000 pounds. Rickards did not have any insurance. One thing was rescued from the ashes. A lucky horseshoe which was placed upside down in the new Tivoli that was built on the site of the old.

The night after the fire, the Tivoli programme went ahead as scheduled. John Leete, Harry's brother had organised a lease on the Palace Theatre . In true, "the show must go on" tradition, G W Hunter, Spry and Austin, and Little Alma Grey performed that night. They had improvised props and wardrobe, but were warmly received by a large audience.

Rickards immediately proceeded to rebuild his theatre. It took eighteen weeks for architect Backhouse and Backhouse and builder Alexander Stuart to design and build. It cost 20,000 pounds.

The new theatre was an arched sandstone marvel. It was decorated in colours of turquoise, cream, gold, silver and light grey with terracotta tints. There were elaborate decorative schemes, including ornamental pilasters and specially commissioned paintings. The theatre was electrically lit by fixtures in the domed ceiling and the style was described as "French Renaissance" by the Building Engineering and Mining Journal of 1900. A hotel was associated with the theatre with the entrance towards Castlereagh Street.

According to Valentine Day who attended the opening of the new theatre on April 12 1900, it was a place of unobstructed views and unrestricted acoustics. It had a new capacity of 1200 people, about 200 more than the old theatre.

This extravagant example of theatre design was closed as a live venue in 1928. It became a cinema, as did most of Sydney's live theatres. Many older Sydney residents may remember it as the Embassy Cinema. It was demolished in the 1960s.

-By Leann Richards


John Waymman wrote in part:
Barry Humphries starred in "Just A Show " at the Tivoli Theatre Sydney 1968
Further research into the Tivoli Theatre from Wikipedia
The New Tivoli Theatre Sydney previously known as "The Adelphi Theatre and the "Grand Opera House"
was a theatre & music hall at 329,Castlereagh Street ,Sydney, Australia, which was long at the heart of the
Tivoli Circuit
It was generally known as the Tivoli Theatre.



(aka Garrick Theatre)

Tivoli Th 1 - Syd [NLA](1890-1929) 79-83 Castlereagh Street.

Situated on the site formerly occupied by the Olympic Theatre, Royal Marionette Theatre, Scandinavian Hall, Victoria Hall, and Academy of Music, the Tivoli was opened as the Garrick Theatre on 22 December 1890. In February 1893 Harry Rickards took up the Garrick lease for his vaudeville operations, renaming it the Tivoli. When the building was destroyed by fire in 1899 he built a new theatre, opening it on 12 May the following year. Although aligned with the Tivoli circuit the theatre was in fact operated by several different management firms until J. C. Williamson’s closed it down in 1929.

See Adelphi Theatre entry for details relating to Sydney’s second Tivoli Theatre.
See also “Reminscences of the Stage” series (1917) by Valentine Day
Image source: National Library of Australia.

Harry Rickards and the Tivoli Theatre

Harry Rickards was an English music hall performer who became one of Australia's most successful theatre entrepreneurs. Although Rickards isn't very well known, his theatre chain, The Tivoli, is a magic word in Australian Theatre History.

Below is a letter dated 1893 on Harry Rickards' stationery. I'm not sure if it's signed by Rickards or by his brother Jack Leete. The Tivoli circuit was a family affair and Jack managed a lot of the business side.

This is a picture of Harry Rickards from an early 20th Century magazine. It outlines all the theatres he operated in Australia. These included the Tivoli in Sydney, The Opera House in Melbourne, and theatres in Adelaide and Brisbane. As you can see, Rickards had no problem with self promotion.

Finally, below is a 19th Century postcard of the New Opera House in Melbourne. It was later called the Tivoli and was run by Rickards. A shopping mall now stands on the site.

Frank Van Straten's book on the Tivoli called Tivoli, covers everything you want to know about the history of this legendary theatre chain.

Leann Richards
Above- later to occupy the site....
This delightful addition to the Sydney city theatres was built on the site of the old Tivoli Theatre that was demolished in 1929. Designed by William Thomas Leighton working out of the office of Charles Bohringer, and built by J. Marron it opened its doors on the upmarket Castlereagh Street on June 1, 1934. Located across the street from the rear entrance to MGM’s flagship theatre, the St.James Theatre and 100 yards from the Mayfair Theatre. Being in the heart of the shopping district, slightly removed from the main area of the movie palaces it relied heavily on shoppers throughout the day and hotel residents in the evenings. The theatre was owned equally by Union Theatres and Hoyts Theatres but being run by Hoyts.

Its opening attraction was Charles Laughton in “Private Life of Henry VIII” and throughout its life continued to be an outlet for mostly British product quite often films from Union Theatres' distribution arm B.E.F. This policy was retained into the 1960’s and 1970’s when it tended to play popular films that required a more intimate setting or films that had a limited audience. Being close to some big road show theatres it tended to pick up some of their overflow customers and remained successful to the end.

The facade was relatively plain with a few Art Deco style details and half of the frontage was taken up with two shops. One shop being a famous jewellery store. The Embassy Theatre had an outer foyer open to the street, featuring a large bas-relief “The Ambassadors” a Roman scene under which were the five sets of glass and chrome entrance doors. These led into the box office area, complete with a central ticket booth, candy counter and straight into the rear stalls. The dress circle was reached through wide stairs with elaborate chrome balustrades to the right.

The Embassy Theatre was decorated throughout in an enthusiastic geometric Art Deco style, with lavish use of metal leaf and reflective surfaces. There were heavy wooden doors throughout with Art Deco style marquetry covering them. Sunburst light fittings, chrome work, comfy armchair seating in the dress circle and overall a cosy elegant feeling rather than stark and awkward like some deco theatres. The elaborate auditorium light fittings were removed during the war and replaced with safer indirect fixtures. On the whole the Embassy Theatre retained this refined and elegant feeling throughout its life and was maintained to a high standard. The only major changes the theatre seems to have had throughout its career was the added comfort of air conditioning and then CinemaScope, which fitted handsomely behind its crimson, drapes that were backed up with a second set of silver satins.

Its demise happened very quickly and went virtually unnoticed. Hoyt’s were shedding all their old theatres to embrace the concrete box. Greater Union were having financial problems and did not want another theatre in the city. It was mutually agreed to sell the property. It was stripped and then left with a ‘For Sale’ sign for two years. Finally it was short leased to an up market shoe store. Hidden behind temporary inner walls and a new facade it was forgotten until it was finally torn down and an expensive shopping arcade built in its place.

Above- on the site today, Westfield Sydney.