Triumph Theatre, East Brisbane

Triumph Theatre, 963 Stanley St, East Brisbane

Going to the pictures on a Saturday night was a normal weekly event for many families in the early 1900s. It  was an important social occasion where friends and neighbours came together to watch the newsreels and films on a variety of topics. It was not about the films themselves, but more about the socialising. Most theatres started off as open-air cinemas and were closed in over time. During the boom years there were about 100 theatres in Brisbane, mostly family run businesses and competition was strong. Unfortunately there are not many left today.

The Triumph Theatre in East Brisbane is a good example of the old suburban family and community picture theatres which were popular in Brisbane in the 1900s. In 1921 the site was bought by Frederick Olsen who built an open-air theatre showing silent movies. In 1927, a year after his father’s death, his son Vigo commissioned a fully enclosed theatre. It was designed and built by Arthur Robson who designed many theatres at the time. The eye-catching Mediterranean style façade ensured its street appeal. It opened as The Triumph theatre and in the 1930s started to show talking movies.

The introduction of television in Brisbane in the late 1950s led to a sharp reduction in popularity of cinemas and many eventually closed. The Triumph struggled on with many owners and renovations to the foyers etc. to try to attract patronage. These refurbishments are reflected in the reduction of seating capacity, from 950 in 1938, to 800 in 1960 and 510 in 1970.

In the 1970s the Triumph was renamed the Capri and started showing R-rated movies to boost patronage, but closed in the early 1980s. It re-opened as the Classic in 1988 showing art and cult house movies. The theatre finally closed in mid 2000.

The building was listed on the Queensland State Heritage Register on 27 July 2001, to preserve the ‘Original decorative 1927 façade of classic picture theatre designs now rare in Qld.’

Since 2004 the former theatre has become the headquarters of the Chinese Kung Fu academy and a yoga studio. Major features of the theatre have been preserved: the original lattice ceiling, decorative plaster panelling and raked timber floor.