The Princess Theatre Melbourne is a 1488-seat theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District, Australia, and is the oldest continuous entertainment site on mainland Australia. It is listed by the National Trust of Australia and is on the Victorian Heritage Register.
By 1885, the theatre came under the control of ‘The Triumvirate’, a partnership between J. C. Williamson, George Musgrove and Arthur Garner. The existing theatre had become rundown, and so the Triumvirate resolved to demolish the existing building.The new theatre, designed by architect William Pitt, interiors designed by George Gordon, and built by Cockram and Comely, was completed in 1886 at a cost of £50,000. The design is in the exuberant Second Empirestyle, and the theatre forms part of the Victorian streetscape of Spring Street.
When completed, it featured Australia’s first sliding or retractable roof and ceiling. It also featured state-of-the-art electrical stage lighting.
The theatre re-opened, again, on 18 December 1886, with a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. The marble staircase and foyer was hailed as equal to that of the Paris Opera, the Frankfurt Stadt and the Grand in Bordeaux.
Williamson left the Triumvirate in 1899 to form his own company, and Musgrove continued operate the theatre until 1910. The Princess came under a rapid succession of different owners until 1915, when Ben Fuller took control. Fuller then went into partnership with Hugh J. Ward, and in 1922 they engaged the architect Henry Eli White to extensively renovate the auditorium and foyers, and add the grand copper awning. The New Princess Theatre reopened on 26 December 1922 with a performance of The O’Brien Girl.
The theatre was purchased from Fuller in 1933 by Efftee Films, the film production company of F. W. Thring, the theatrical and film entrepreneur, who had his initials FT carved over the proscenium arch. He produced several musicals there, and made it the first home of his radio station 3XY, founded 1935.
When Francis W. Thring died, Ben Fuller and Garnett Carroll took over the lease of the Princess in Melbourne and in 1946 they formed another partnershipforming Carroll-Fuller Theatres Ltd to purchase the Princess Theatre.