Wednesday 22 May 2019

Picture Post 72 - Adelaide Art Deco, The Capri Theatre

The Capri Theatre on Goodwood Road in Adelaide, South Australia stands out from the neighbouring buildings due to its size and a stunning Art Deco facade. Originally known as the New Star Theatre, it was completed in 1941 and opened on October 8th of that year with screenings of Florian starring Robert Young and Helen Gilbert as well as Doctor Kildare Goes Home starring Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore. The design was the work of architect Chris Smith who was responsible for many art deco buildings in Adelaide including the Port Adelaide Municipal Chambers, Hindmarsh Town Hall and a number of other official buildings.

Initially part of the Clifford Theatres Circuit, the cinema could originally seat 1472 patrons. In 1947, Greater Union bought out the Clifford Circuit including the New Star and in 1964 renamed it the New Curzon. Three years later Greater Union stripped out many of the original Art Deco features, reduced the seating capacity to 851 and changed the name again to the Capri Cinema. 

The Theatre Organ Society of Australia (TOSA) purchased the building in 1978, installed their Wurlitzer organ and amended the name to the Capri Theatre. TOSA managed to complete the loan repayments thanks in no small part to the film Crocodile Dundee which played to packed houses for almost a full year in 1986 enabling the organisation to own the building outright. A framed poster for the film is displayed in the lobby, acknowledging its importance to the Capri's story. 

Since then major works have been undertaken to restore the original colours and style to the exterior as well as original carpet designs and replica fireplace and mirrors on the upper level. The facade boasts a fabulous series of fins one of which carries the building's name in vertical lettering. This, together with the beautiful banding, sumptuous corner curve and occasional portholes make the Capri itself something of a showstopper.

The cinema also boasts one of the largest Wurlitzers in Australia. It is still in use including at regular nostalgia evenings when old films, newsreel and vintage advertisements are screened as well as at regular recitals of organ music. In addition to respecting and preserving the cinema's heritage, the Capri also has a commitment to the latest technology. Modern projection and sound equipment were fitted in 2012 with financial help from the State Government as well as Unley Council. There are now 782 seats, some of them branded as deluxe. This combination of old and new extends to the exterior mural which features scenes from Florian and classic Australian movies. The piece  was produced by artists Jake  Holmes and Joel van Moore and was completed last year.

The architect was an interesting character. Born in 1892, his father was a sailor and labourer and his mother is thought to have been illiterate. Smith himself trained as a master carpenter, married, had three children and enjoyed cycling, motoring and bowling. Despite having no formal architectural training, he appears in Sands and McDougall's Directory of South Australia for 1922 as an architect and structural engineer. In addition to the works already mentioned he built himself a stunning Art Deco residence in Prospect Road, Adelaide. The house retains many of its original features and may well have acted as a showroom for his clients as it includes so many deco references including the design, materials and finishes. He also remodelled the synagogue in Rundle Street in 1938, giving it the deco finish it retains until today although it ceased to be a religious building some years ago. Smith died in 1952, not quite 60 years of age,

The Capri was added to the South Australia State Heritage Register in 1990. The day to day running of the cinema is dependent on volunteers. The website has details of how to get involved.


  1. Lovely article. Lot of information about the building and the man who designed it. One of your best posts. Well researched and photographed. Congratulations.

  2. The external Deco architecture is perfect for a picture theatre. But the internal Deco elements are _very_ special eg the mirror, lights, toilet sign etc.