Theatres in early Johannesburg

Just a quick thank you to everyone out there following, reading and commenting on this blog. Thanks also to the Heritage Portal, Past Experiences and Candice from Wyatt’s Hairdressing who have all either linked to this blog or mentioned it in some way.

This out-of-place post is the result of some research into theatres I was doing for a scene in the story. I had to find the right kind of theatre with some outside and inside photographic reference. It also had to be in the right part of town so the scenes that follow are believable. Here we go:

First theatre in JHB called Theatre Royal was in Market Street (east) and erected on 15 June 1887 by J. Mipping. The portable and demountable structure came from Newcastle.

Another theatre known as the second Theatre Royal was a corrugated iron structure on Commissioner and Eloff Street and in December 1888 it was used by leading impresario, Luscombe Searle. The first season opened with a play called Maritana the Bohemian girl. Musicals by Gilbert & Sullivan were also popular. Some sources put Searle’s theatre as the first.

The second THeatre Royal

The second Theatre Royal

Next, the Globe Theatre was built and opened on 24 June 1889 in 47/49 Fox Street but this brick structure was destroyed in a fire on 7 September 1889 after three seasons. It reopened in June 1892 as The Globe but degenerated into a second-rate music hall and eventually closed. In 1894 it re-opened as Empire Palace of Varieties on the 1st December 1894 and its bar became an informal stock exchange. It appears to have burnt down again in 1903.

First Globe Theatre

First Globe Theatre

Rebuilt Globe Theatre

Rebuilt Globe Theatre

First Empire Theatre (Palace of varieties) previously the second rebuilt Globe. See 'Globe' still visible on top facade

First Empire Theatre (Palace of varieties) previously the second rebuilt Globe. See ‘Globe’ still visible on top facade

1898 program from Empire Palace of Varieties

1898 program from Empire Palace of Varieties

The Standard Theatre in Joubert Street (behind the Rissik Street Post Office) between President and Market Street was completed next and opened on 12 October 1891 as the Standard Opera House and was leased by Ben Wheeler in 1892 who opened with a musical comedy and later put on six Shakespearean productions and twenty other plays. The owners were Emmanuel Mendelssohn and R.S. Scott who also owned the newspaper ‘Standard and Diggers’ news’. The Standard was also where Mark Twain delivered for of his famous ‘At homes’ in 1896. Wheeler also brought the famous D’Oyly Carte Opera Company to SA.

Original Standard Theatre from 1891

Original Standard Theatre from 1891

Standard Theatre's stage

Standard Theatre’s stage

In the late 1890s the Georgian-styled theatre was encased on three sides by a three-storey block of shops, offices and rooms in late Victorian style with ornate iron work.

The Standard with building erected around it a few years before being demolished

The Standard with building erected around it a few years before being demolished

Early aerial view of the Standard Theatre showing the Rissik Street Post office behind

Early aerial view of the Standard Theatre showing the Rissik Street Post office behind

Plans showing the seating arrangments

Plans showing the seating arrangements

Later plans showing the addition of the shops that encased the theatre creating an arcade

Later plans showing the addition of the shops that encased the theatre creating an arcade

It was closed in September 1947 as a fire hazard and although money was raised by various stage personalities of the time to fix the fire hazards, the council was seemingly uninterested. It was finally demolished in 1956 to make way for a park or green lung area. The area is now known as the Ernest Oppenheimer Park and was revitalised and re-opened in 2010. There are carvings of the facade of both the Rissik Street Post Office and the Standard Theatre out of railway sleepers on display. The last production at the Standard was ‘Golden Boy’ by playwright Clifford Odets.

Carved Rissik Post Office and Standard facades in Ernerst Oppenheimer Park

Carved Rissik Post Office and Standard facades in Ernest Oppenheimer Park

View of Ernest Oppenheimer Park from 2010 where Standard used to be

View of Ernest Oppenheimer Park from 2010 where Standard used to be

The Gaiety Theatre 3/5 Kort Street between Market & Commissioner Streets was opened in 1893 and in 1894 its lease was taken over by the Empire Theatres Company SA (Ltd) who changed the name to Empire Palace of Varieties. The opening production starred well-known European actors WC Fields, Marie Lloyd and Kate Harvey. It was then taken over by Leonard Rayne in 1902.

A second Empire Palace of Varieties was opened in 135/7 Commissioner Street (corner of Kruis Street) in 1906. It was described as “a spectacle of Edwardian luxury with 18 boxes, plush upholstery and drapes in green and gold – the handsomest theatre in the subcontinent”. It was designed by McIntosh & J.A. Moffat with a capacity of 1200.

Second Empire Palace of Varieties

Second Empire Palace of Varieties

Interior of second Empire Palace of Varieties

Interior of second Empire Palace of Varieties

It appears Varieties was pulled down in 1935 to make way for the new Empire Theatre which opened in 1936. It was Johannesburg’s answer to Broadway.

The third Empire Theatre

The third Empire Theatre

The block it was situated on became too valuable (Carlton Centre is now across the road) and it was pulled down in April 1971. In 1974, the 27 floor Kine Centre Plaza (with 10 movie theatres no longer in use) went up in its place.

Inside the Empire in 1967

Inside the Empire in 1967

Ben Wheeler then opened his own theatre called His Majesty’s which opened in 1903 (demolished 1936/7). The site was originally the Goldreich building and was used as the post office until the Rissik Street post office was built before being converted into the 1100 seater.

Original Goldreich building before the conversion

Original Goldreich building before the conversion

His Majesty's Theatre from 1903

His Majesty’s Theatre from 1903

A second His Majesty’s was built in Commissoner street between Eloff and Joubert streets and opened by General Jan Smuts on the 23 December 1946. The designer was Morris Cowen. The opening show was Phil Levard’s production of Robinson Crusoe. It was converted into a cinema in 1956 for The Ten Commandments. In 1978 it reverted back to a traditional theatre. In 1981 it was converted into a retail store. The last show was a production of Hello Dolly.

The second His Majestys Theatre

The second His Majesty’s Theatre

His Majesty's from around the late 1960s

His Majesty’s in the background from around the late 1960s

Inside His Majesty

Inside His Majesty’s

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The entrance of His Majesty’s Building from 2013

After the Boer war other theatres were built like The Bijou which was designed by Kallenback & Kennedy in Jeppe Street (165-7) in 1910. It was refurbished in 1919 and 1930 and finally demolished in 1958. An 18-storey building called Rand Central took its place. Percy Tucker explains in his book “Just the ticket’ how his new ticket selling company ‘Show Services’ came to acquiring their second offices on the ground floor of Rand Central. Show Services was a forerunner to Computicket.

Bijou Theatre

Bijou Theatre

Site of Bijou today. Note the balconies in the foreground match that of the picture above

Site of Bijou today. Note the balconies in the middle ground match that of the picture above

An oddity are the plans below which are the original and alteration plans for the Bioscope Theatre. The dates and site match that of the Bijou Theatre, but comparing the above picture to the plans shows a vast difference. The refurbishment in 1938 must have also included an extension as the facade doubled in size compared to the original plans.

Original building plans for the Bijou originally known as the Bioscope Theatre

Original building plans for the Bijou originally known as the Bioscope Theatre

Plans for the alterations

Plans for the Bijou alterations

A few blocks up the road in Loveday Street between Jeppe & Bree Streets once stood the old Assembly Hall of the Nationalist Party Club which was converted into a dance hall called  Palais-De-Danse. The plan below shows a  proposed conversion from dance hall to Cafe Bio in 1937. Whatever the conversion, the old building was pulled down and replaced by a highrise.

Cafe Bioscope coversion plans

Cafe Bio conversion plans

Cafe Bio would have stood next to the red brick building on the left

Cafe Bio would have stood next to the red brick building on the left

The Palladium from 1911 was originally the old stock exchange building and was situated on Commissioner Street bounded by Fraser and Simmonds Streets. The 1911 plan calls it ‘Coliseum Theatre’ but from 1912 it’s referred to as ‘Palladium’ The architects were the famous A.H. Reid and Walter Reid. It appears to have been demolished around 1936/7.

Palladium Theatre views

Palladium Theatre views

Palladium Theatre plans from 1912

Palladium Theatre plans from 1912

I found a few theatres noted on an insurance map I use for research and verification but have found no further information. Here are their positions on the map

Palace Theatre in Pritchard Street near to the Bioscope Exhibition Cafe

Palace Theatre in Pritchard Street near to the Bioscope Exhibition & Cafe between Rissik and Joubert Streets

Vaudette Theatre in Pritchard Street between Jouber and Eloff Streets

Vaudette Theatre in Pritchard Street between Joubert and Eloff Streets

Plaza Cinema corner Jeppe & Rissik Street from 1931 was big with motorbike gangs on Monday nights and popular for its ‘skiet-en-donder’ type of films (shooting & fighting or action films). The Deco building also boasted the first cinema organ. It was designed by Kallenbach, Kennedy & Furner (and Werner Wagner) and was demolished in the early 1960s.

Plaza

Plaza

Interior of the Plaza (from Artefacts)

Interior of the Plaza (from Artefacts)

Entrance of the Plaza (from Artefacts)

Foyer of the Plaza (from Artefacts)

The Metro on the corner of Bree and Hoek Streets (Von Brandis Street today) was opened on 4 November 1932. Designed by Thomas W. Lamb (MGM’s New York architect), it was the biggest of its time with a capacity of 3000 and also had a massive Wurlitzer organ in addition to air conditioning. It was said that it had so many bare bulbs beneath its canopy that it warmed cinema queues in Winter. The building was demolished in 1972.

Metro in the 1930s

Metro in the 1930s

Metro

Metro in the late 1960s

Interior of the Metro Theatre

Interior of the Metro Theatre

The 2279-seater Colosseum in Commissioner Street opened on 4 October 1933 by General Jan Smuts and was the flagship of African Consolidated Theatres. It was designed by Percy Rogers-Cooke. William Timlin, a Kimberly artist, designed the interior with its lit castle turrets and Spanish renaissance architecture. Galli-Curci and Richard Tauber performed there. It was closed and demolished in 1985 and a modern office block named Colosseum emerged in its place.

For additional information, read this piece by Kathy Munro on the Heritage Portal where she writes about discovering a copy of the original opening programme.

Colosseum at night

Colosseum at night

Inside the Colosseum 1934

Inside the Colosseum on its 1st anniversary in 1934

Colloseum foyer

Colosseum foyer

Collosseum during the day

Colosseum during the day

Colosseum in the 70s

Colosseum in the 70s

20th Century on the corner of  President and Von Brandis Street opened 5 March 1940 with a capacity of 2048. It was designed by Douglass Cowin.

20th Century

20th Century

20th Century at night

20th Century at night

Inside the 20th Century

Inside the 20th Century

It was closed and demolished in 1974 to be replaced by a single story block of shops (which seems a bit counter-productive since they demolished more to create less)

20th Century from 2010

20th Century from 2010

Cinerama was built in Claim Street and opened in April 1961. St. George’s Presbyterian church was originally on the site. Cinerama was considered a ‘revolutionary cinema gimmick’ (possibly on par with the recent IMAX cinemas) but audiences loved ‘This is Cinerama’, ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ and ‘How the West was Won’. It closed on 27 February 1986 and was converted into a nightclub called ‘Thunderdome’. One of the owners was Chris Gelakis who now owns and runs Electromode, a music company. It was one of the first nightclubs I ever went to and at the time the sound and lighting was state-of-the-art. It was still used a live venue into the 90s. UK death metal bands Carcass and Napalm Death both played there. It’s now a church again.

Cenirama

Cinerama

Cinerama in the early 1980s

Cinerama in the early 1980s

After conversion to Thunderdome Nightclub around 1987

After conversion to Thunderdome Nightclub around 1987

Thunderdome comp

Thunderdome comp

Other theatres were Tivoli, The Grand, The Carlton 1912 (demolished 1933), Astoria, Savoy, Broadcast House in Commissioner Street (1935), Monte Carlo, Starlite, Moncine in Bree Street and Ster City (1969).

Grand Theatre in Market Street

Grand Theatre in Market Street

Carlton Theatre on Market Street opened in 1912 and demolished in 1933

Carlton Theatre on Market Street opened in 1912 and was demolished in 1933

Another Carlton Cinema seen across form the busy being built Carlton Centre. In the mid 80s it became The Dome nightclub and later Masquerades

Carlton Cinema seen across from the busy being built Carlton Centre late 1960s. In the mid 80s it became The Dome nightclub and later Masquerades

Dome Nightclub comp from the late 1980s

Dome Nightclub comp from the late 1980s

Astoria opened in Noord Street in 1927

Astoria opened in Noord Street in 1927

opnte Carlo on the corner of Von Weilligh and Jeppe Street

Monte Carlo on the corner of Von Weilligh and Jeppe Street

Starlite

Starlite Cinema was in President Street near Diagonal Street. It was demolished in 1996 and replaced with a car park

Ster City opened in 1969 in Claim Street and was JHBs first cinema complex

Ster City opened in 1969 in Claim Street and was JHBs first cinema complex

The original Orpheum Theatre on the corner of Jeppe Street and Joubert Street opened in December 1911 (see featured image of this post). In 1919 it was converted into a double-storey. The first film with synchronised sound, Don Juan, was shown there. Percy Rogers Cooke is listed as the architect of the Orpheum Theatre in 1931, presumably for a re-vamp. Unconfirmed, but The Orpheum was pulled down in the 1935 to make way for the still standing deco mammoth Anstley’s Building. I’ve read that before the 20-storey building was built, it was known as Anstley’s 4-storey department store that had a top floor tea room frequented by the well-to-do ladies of Johannesburg. The conversion from theatre to store to building seems plausible but is only mentioned briefly via two sources.

Orpheum

Orpheum after 1919

Original Orpheum Theatre from 1911

Original Orpheum Theatre from 1911

The Library Theatre was opened in 1936 (closed in 1983) and after the Standard Theatre closed in 1949, it was the only theatre in operation until the Reps Theatre (Alexander Theatre of today) was opened. It appears to have been housed in the new library complex that was completed in 1936.

Johannesburg Public Library where the Library Theatre was housed

Johannesburg Public Library where the Library Theatre was housed

The Reps Theatre opened on the 7th November 1951 in Stiemens Street in Braamfontein. It was designed by Manfred Hermer and was Johannesburg’s first custom-built 510-seater theatre for legitimate plays since the old Standard. Its inaugural production was ‘Much ado about nothing’ starring Margaret Inglis and Jack Ralphs and directed by Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies. On the 10 March 1960 it was renamed Alexander Theatre after its founder and honorary lifelong president Muriel Alexander.

Alexander Theatre late 1960s

Alexander Theatre late 1960s

Alexander Theatre shortly after opening

Reps Theatre shortly after opening in 1951

The Mousetrap at Alexander Theatre

The Mousetrap at Alexander Theatre

The Playhouse on Loveday Street between Jeppe and Bree was opened in 1925/6 and was originally known as the Afrikaaner club. Before its demolition in 1973 it was known as Playhouse cafe-cinema and had a popular bar called Langham Deep.

Playhouse built in 1925 (previously the National Party Afrikaaner Club)

Playhouse built in 1925 (previously the National Party Afrikaaner Club)

Windmill Theatre which was located at 277 Bree Street opened in 1955. It was originally a shop and basement. The 300-seater was used for experimental ‘off-Broadway’ type of shows and closed after a few years. Margaret Inglis and Ruth Oppenheim both put on productions in the theatre. Ipi Tombi also ran for two years from 1974. It was demolished in 1981.

Brooke Theatre in De Villiers Street opened on the 13th September 1955 with the production “Deep Blue Sea’ directed by Michael Findlayson. The building was previously an Apostolic Faith Mission and was converted by Architect Felix Fels. The marble flight of stairs in the foyer was rescued from the Standard Theatre.

Brooke Theatre interior

Brooke Theatre interior

The following is from Brian Brooke’s autobiography ‘My own personal star’:

Meanwhile it was August 1955. We had a month to go before the opening night, which I had deliberately set for the 13th of September, thirteen being my lucky number. The cast began to arrive and rehearsals for The Deep Blue Sea began in the coffee bar downstairs.
I was playing a small part, fortunately, which enabled me to check on the hundred and one details that go into making a theatre run. Robert Langford had been a company manager for H.M. Tennents in the West End, so he knew his job and was a tower of strength. In Michael Findlayson I realised that we had found a first rate director.
The Blenheim candelabra standards duly arrived and were positioned on either side of the proscenium arch. And when the seating had been installed in the circle we cleared a portion of the auditorium floor and had a roof-wetting party. Here the press and the artistes met the men responsible for the creation of the building. The following Sunday I asked the Rev. Tugman to hold a service to bless the theatre. It was a moving occasion and his choir boys were the first performers to use the Brooke stage.
Some of the press comments are worth recording:
“A little bit of the West End is growing in Johannesburg . . . growing from the shell of what was once an Apostolic Church.
“It is the new Brian Brooke Theatre, bringing to the city the red plush and shimmering candelabra theatre atmosphere that died when the Standard Theatre was closed; . . . an intimate theatre about the size of the Duchess in London.
“The walls are tall, papered in maroon and gold; there is a broad sweep of gallery that brings even the farthest seats in close intimacy with the stage.
“And with it will go the most modern remote-controlled lighting system ever brought into the country.
“The result: not a church changed into a theatre, but a theatre in what few would ever guess was a church.” The Star 20/8/55

Irma La Douche at Brooke Theatre

Irma La Douche at Brooke Theatre

Brooke Theatre review from 1973

Brooke Theatre review from 1973

The YMCA Theatre, connected to the YMCA building in Rissik Street on the Braamfontein side, also opened in 1955. It was re-named Intimate Theatre in 1959.

In 1961 United Artists (producers of the 1959 black musical King Kong) opened their own theatre called the Rehearsal Room in Dorkay House in Eloff Street Extension to cater for the growing number of black plays. The Bantu Men’s Social Centre established in 1924 was adjacent.

Plastic Theatre in Northcliff was run by Hugo Keleti and was closed down in 1957. It was started by Fred Cohen, the father of Northcliff. On the plateau of the hill he opened a tea room, dancehall, swimming pool and roadhouse in addition to the theatre. By all accounts, it was popular weekend entertainment venue. It is recorded that during Jewish high holidays in 1955, the tea room where the services were held caught fire due to curtains blowing onto the burning candles. It appears the whole of Fred’s complex burnt down. Townhouses now mark the spot. Thanks to Tandi Weinstein from the Northcliff Hebrew Congregation for the additional information.

In 1967 the Academy Theatre opened in a building on the corner of Rissik and Wolmarans Street in Braamfontein previously known as Happiness House. The theatre was soon renamed Academy Theatre of Laughter after a poor opening run (although was always known as The Adacemy). In 1984 after a management change it was renamed Siegfried Maynard Theatre but was damaged in a fire after a few shows. Intimate dinner theatre La Parisienne opened in 1986 but burnt down in early 1988.

Colony at Hyde Park Hotel in Jan Smuts Avenue evidently also hosted some theatrical productions but appears to be better known as nightclub (60s style dinner and dance variety). The shopping centre known as The Colony in Hyde Park today was once the site of the hotel. The existing bar, Colony Arms, was once also part of the hotel. Pictures below from the wonderful Soul Safari site.

Sam Sklair's album cover showing the entrance to the Colony

Sam Sklair’s album cover showing the entrance to the Colony at the Hyde Park Hotel

Advert for The Colony

Advert for The Colony

Adam Leslie Theatre opened on the 27 August 1967 at 96 End Street. The Herbert Baker designed building was built in 1906 and was originally the College of Music. Up until Adam Leslie took it over it had also been used as a macaroni factory and a boot factory. Adam restored it to its former glory down to the interior and furnishings. The chandelier was from an original randlords mansion. The theatre opened with ‘Music Hall Revue’ starring Adam Leslie and Joan Blake and was directed by Anthony Farmer. In the late 70s it became Mandys Nightclub followed by Idols in the late 80s and finally ESP in the 90s. All were groundbreaking and successful clubs in their time. The building is sadly in a state of disrepair and probably not able to be restored. I’ve written a more in-depth piece on this majestic and historical building here

96 End Street from around late 1960s showing the gabled brick work

96 End Street from around the early 1960s showing the gabled brick work

From brick gables to Adam Leslie overhaul

From brick gables to Adam Leslie overhaul

96 End Street in 2011

96 End Street in 2011

Club 58 in Pretoria Street in Hillbrow was a small theatre in an old two story block of flats called Millbro Court built in 1930 (that still stands) that was owned by Barbara Thompson. It became known as No.58 with an additional upstairs venue called No. 58 Too and was a popular late-night cabaret venue.

Once the No. 58 and No.58 Too Theatre and live venue in Pretoria Street Hillbrow

Once the No. 58 and No.58 Too Theatre and live venue in Pretoria Street Hillbrow

Below is a video shot there of Sam Marais and Natalie da Rocha in 1983. They were still performing there in 1990

The Civic Theatre in Braamfontein opened in 1962 and in 1976 part of the old Johannesburg Market building was converted into the Market Theatre.

Civic Theatre

Civic Theatre

Market Theatre

Market Theatre

Other theatres of note are Alhambra (originally a cinema designed by S.V. Mann and completed in 1921) and the Apollo in Doornfontein (1930), Andre Huguenot (now known as Hillbrow Theatre in Kaptjein Street), Leonard Rayne (renamed The Rex Garner in 1994) & Richard Haines both of which were part of Alhambra in Doornfontein, Wits Theatre (or University Great Hall), Little Theatre (from 1973 that opened in Corner House and was later known as Barnato Theatre) and the Black Sun in Berea (and then Rockey Street Yeoville). Chelsea Theatre at the Chelsea Hotel in Hillbrow gave theatrical performances as well as a room at the Oxford Hotel called The Blue Fox. A disused shop in Orange Grove became The Village Theatre for a time. There was  also a Sunday night only experimental theatre at 49 St. Patrick Road Houghton known as The Soiree Society and Johannesburg City Hall hosted concerts and Eisteddfods from time to time.

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Alhambra Theatre designed by S.V. Mann 1921

An old Doornfontein cottage was converted into an experimental theatre called Arena Theatre on the corner of St. Augustine (25) and Louisa Streets. It was run by PACT.

Arena Theatre converted from a Doornfontein cottage

Arena Theatre converted from a Doornfontein cottage

The old Windybrow Theatre was popular in the late 80s and 90s. It was originally one of the early mansions in Doornforntein built and owned by Theodore Reunert (and one of the few surviving examples of pre-1900 buildings left in Johannesburg). It was restored by PACT in the 1980s and is still a theatre today.

Front of Windybrow from 2011

Front of Windybrow from 2011

The first moving pictures based on Edison’s Kinetoscope were shown at the Grand National Hotel on April 4 1895. Henwoods Arcade between Pritchard and President Street soon followed. The Apollo Theatre at 39 Pritchard Street showed moving pictures from December 1908.

Also worth mentioning is that many of the old theatres also began showing films – first silent and then from 1929 full length features with sound –  as well as the new cinemas that sprang up all over the suburbs like Curzon (later the Fine Arts which opened in 1965 with the Sound of Music) and Clarendon Cinema (1940 on the corner Twist & Pretoria streets), Highpoint and Mini Cine (upstairs at the Hillbrow flea market) in Hillbrow; Adelphi and Grand in Rosettenville; Kinema Complex or Grand Bioscope in Kenilworth designed by D.M. Sinclair in 1935; Grove Kinema (later called Victory Theatre), Astra and Royal Cinerama (1966) in Orange Grove; Piccadilly and ‘Bughouse’ bioscope in Yeoville designed by Stucke & Harrison and built in 1929 and first owned by Geo Reid; the Corlett and Avenue (later re-named 7Arts and Rex) in Norwood; Avalon, Planet, Lyric and Majestic in Fordsburg;  Odeon, Parysia, Protea (Oxford Road) and Constantia (Tyrwhitt Ave) in Rosebank; Gem and Regal in Troyeville; Regent in Kensington; Valley Bioscope in Bertrams; Rex in Greenside; Ascot and Palace in Turffontein; Gala Cinelux in Randburg; Cine 303 opposite Library Gardens; Good Hope Cinema in Commissioner Street (originally known as the Uno and previously a Chinese court), Good Hope 2 (old Metro Market Street), Ster Elite 1 & 2 corner Mooi & Marshall Streets, Oscar in Plein Street; Albert, Pigalle in Jorrisen Street (later named Classic) and Gaiety (1928 designed by Percy Rogers Cooke) in Braamfontein; Lake in Parkview;  Jeppe Theatre (or Premeire?) in Jeppe; Malvern Kinema in Malvern; Star Bioscope in Denver; Metro 1 & 2 in Bedfordview; Century in Springs; Criterion in Benoni; Mayfair and Roxy in Mayfair; Scala in Melville; Taj Cinema in 17th Street, The Royal on 23rd Street and The Star on 20th Street in “Fietas” or Vrededorp; Mayfair Theatre in Mayfair (designed by Percy Rogers Cooke in 1931); Odin and Balansky’s in Sophiatown and the King Cinema in Alexandra Township.

Most of these buildings are long gone. With the introduction of television to South Africa in 1976 and video in the early 1980s, the numbers dropped and many were demolished or converted. The ones I know of that are  still standing but converted are Gem Theatre in Kensington (been to a few live gigs there), Valley Bioscope in Bertrams became a synagogue and is now a private home, Scala in Melville (used by Red Pepper TV Productions), Piccadilly in Yeoville, Ascot in Turffontein (now a church), Lake in Parkview (converted into a 2nd hand book and antique market), King Cinema in Alexandra and Majestic, Avalon and Lyric in Fordsburg (Majestic is still in the use but the other two have been converted) and the Good Hope 2 in town.  Jeppe Theatre building is still there as is the Alhambra which I’m told is used as storage by Peter Thorien who bought it in the 1980s. The Royal Cinerama in Orange Grove (which still stands) became a TV studio in the 80s run by Trillion. I remember being in the audience of a primary school TV quiz show in 84 or 85 (where I met Julia Jade Aston of Cafe Society fame when she was still with the group Working Girls). Sometime in the late 90s I played at a Le Club reunion there when it was known as Warhols (see scathing review below. Yes, that’s me behind the decks in the Glastonbury t-shirt )

Cinema today. Note Trillion logo still visible

Royal Cinerama today. Note Trillion logo still visible

Working Girls - Big in the 80s

Working Girls – Big in the 80s

Le Clun reunion at Warhols 1999

Le Club reunion at Warhols 1999

The Civic and Wits Theatre are still going as is the Alexander Theatre (which is also used for non-theatrical events). Victory Theatre (built just before WWI and known as Grove Kinema until after WW2) closed in the early 1980s although it still hosted a few productions before it was rebuilt in the 2000s by new owner Joe Theron. Italo Bernicchi ran the theatre for 35 years before it closed.

Curzon in Kotze Street closed in 1965

Curzon in Kotze Street closed in 1965 to become Fine Arts

Fine Atrs in Kotze Street Hillbrow

Fine Arts in Kotze Street Hillbrow opened in 1965 and closed in the 1980s to make way for a new Kine Hillbrow

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The Grand Bioscope in Kenilworth

Clarendon Cinema on the corner of Twist & Pretoria str Hillbrow 1940

Clarendon Cinema on the corner of Twist & Pretoria Street Hillbrow 1940

Highpoint in Hillbrow from 1973

Highpoint in Hillbrow from 1973

 

Mini Cine cult cinema above the flea market in Pretoria street Hillbrow

Mini Cine cult cinema above the flea market in Pretoria street Hillbrow

Piccadily Theatre in Yoeville

Piccadilly Theatre in Yeoville

Ascot Bioscope in Turffontein

Ascot Bioscope – the first in Turffontein built in the 1930s

Regal Kinema Troyeville

Regal Kinema Troyeville

Regal in 2014 with an odd addition to the front

Regal in 2014 with an odd addition to the front

Gem Theatre and view down Commissioner Street late 1960s

Gem Theatre and view down Commissioner Street late 1960s

Gem Theatre 2014

Gem Theatre 2014

Avalon in Fordsburg

Avalon in Fordsburg

Avalon in Fordsburg from 2014

Avalon in Fordsburg from 2014

Old Lyric Theatre in Fordsburg right across the road from Avalon. It's now a block of flats

Old Lyric Theatre in Fordsburg right across the road from Avalon. It’s now a block of flats

Taj in Vrededorp

Taj 17th Street Vrededorp or “Fietas”

Avalon cinema pageview

Taj in 17th Street was also known as the Avalon. This Goldblatt picture was taken shortly before it was demolished

The Star Cinema 20th street fietasJPG

The Star Cinema 2oth Street Vrededorp or “Fietas”

 

Odin Theatre Sophiatown 1950s

Odin Theatre Sophiatown 1950s. It was owned by the Egnoses who also used it for multi-racial jazz concerts and political meetings

Royal Cinerama in Orange Grove closed in 1980s to become a TV studio. It's a stones throw from the Radium

Royal Cinerama opened in 1966  in Orange Grove closed in 1980s to become a TV studio. It’s a stones throw from the Radium

Odeon on Oxford Raod opened on 18 April 1939

Odeon on Oxford Road opened on 18 April 1939

Rex on Greenway in Greenside closed in 1965 and became Greenway Cinema

Rex on Greenway in Greenside closed in 1965 and became Greenway Cinema

Of interest is a recent find from a April 1973 tourism guide showing the cinema and theatre shows at the time complete with addresses and phone numbers of the venues.

Cinemas & theatre shows in Johannesburg 1973

Cinema & theatre shows in Johannesburg 1973

 

Tea Room Cinemas

Tea Room Cinemas

Tea Room Cinemas

I discovered that there were also Tea Room Cinemas in Johannesburg and will post pictures as I find them.

Before any theatres, the first professional entertainment in the growing town was that of the Frank Fillis Circus which staged its first show of a fortnight run on 24 August 1887 on Marshall Square. It proved so popular they erected a more permanent structure around 1889/90 – a tent-shaped wood and corrugated iron structure seating 800 that stood 15 metres high in Jeppe Street between Harrison and Loveday Streets (two other sources put it in Bree Street) that cost 8000 Pounds. Bell Rose was mistress of the ring.

Fillis Circus

Fillis’s Circus

Fillis circus middle right

Looking down Simmonds Street toward Braamfontein showing Fillis’s Circus on the right

Fillis Circus - Rose Bell

Rose Bell – Mistress of the ring

Fillis Circus programme

Fillis’s Circus Programme

In 1975 Andre & Philo Pieterse built a 3000-seater entertainment tent at Bruma called the Film Trust Arena. Its first show was the imported ice show Disney on Parade. It may have also been used as a circus venue.

It’s also worth noting that the original Wanderers Hall at the sports ground in Braamfontein also hosted many theatrical performances.

Reference:

The site Cinema Souvenirs was invaluable, especially for info and pictures on the lesser-known theatres and cinemas in Johannesburg. Unfortunately, it appears to have been taken down.

Cinema Treasures provided useful additional information.

I also used pictures and info from Benjamin Arnold’s brilliant and sadly, out of print book, ‘Lost Johannesburg’.

Info and picture on The Star Cinema in Fietas came from ‘Fietas: A social history of Pageview 1948 – 1988’ by Nazir Carrim

Sketches and paintings are all from Philip Bawcombe’s ‘Johannesburg’

The recent update in November 2014 was thanks to Percy Tucker’s out-of-print memoir  ‘Just the Ticket’. It’s an amazing and detailed book covering Percy’s 50 year love affair with theatre and his involvement with an early manual incarnation of Computicket and his part in implementing and running Computicket when it launched in South Africa in the 1970s.

Additional old photos and information on Brooke, Reps, 20th Century, Empire and His Majesty Theatres came from Howard at www.busvannah.co.za

The ever accurate and detailed Artefacts helped with various architects, build & demolish dates and old photos of the Plaza.

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101 thoughts on “Theatres in early Johannesburg

  1. Pingback: Doornfontein part.3 (Eastington & The Turrets) | Johannesburg 1912

  2. This is what I needed somebody with in depth knowledge about The City. I also do abit of my own research since I stay right in the cbd but Thank you for this abundance of information.

  3. I was amazed at your website and theatre/movie house history. I can say proudly that I visited and performed at the Brooke Theatre (sadly I don’t have a photograph – bow brownie B&W in those days – was built on a church and graveyard) almost all the movie and theatre venues depicted after 1951 till now over the years. I was looking for the history of then the Sound of Music musical production started in South Africa: Brian Brooke was the 1st, then how many other productions have since been performed and where in South Africa to date?

    Well done on your brilliant research – BRAVO!

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for the great comment! I’m no expert on the actual productions so have no idea…

      • Percy Tucker says I have written in my autobiography ‘Just the Ticket” extensively on the Brooke Theatre and I even have a copy of Brian Brooke’s autobiography ‘My Own Personal Star’. ‘The Sound of Music’ was presented at the Brooke Theatre starring Heather Lloyd-Jones in 1964. I have also recorded the history of SA entertainment from 1935 to 2003 which I have on CD and which was broadcast in 2003 and 2004.

      • William Popper on said:

        This is so interesting. I am researching family history. My great grand parents ran two “bio-scope cafes” , the Elite in Pritchard Str and and Town Hall in President.
        Their Company was registered in 1919 but they may have been trading earlier.

        Also in 1912 they were living in Moseley Buildings in President Str – Do you have any pics or info about any of this this?

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Hi William,
        THanks for reading. I do have something on Moseley Building which I’ll mail to you as well as some reference to the bioscope cafes.

      • There was a cinema in Braamfontein named the Pigalle which incidentally in its last days was managed by the great actor/manage/director Andre Huguenet. It was sad to see such a great figure of SA Theatre in evening dress standing outside the cinema waiting for the few customers to come in. After such an illustrious career he died penniless.

  4. Great history!! I wonder if you have more info on Ben and Frank Wheeler who was involved? I am researching the WHEELER families in South Africa. Regards Richard Wheeler

  5. Themba on said:

    This is a great site. It is always useful for history to be documented.

    The Alexander Theatre mentioned above was never legally a ‘theatre’; it was never zoned as such and thus operated illegally.

    It is now used, again, illegally, to host ‘non-theatrical’ events which is another term for night-club/concerts or general noise polluting.

    It was never granted permission to undertake these events because has flats and offices at all sides.

    • I think your information is incorrect.The whole history of the Reps Theatre ( its original name) is in a book called ‘They Built a Theatre’ by Arthur and Anna-Romain Hoffman published by Ad Donker in 1980. The theatre opened in 1952.

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Hi Percy, I got the opening date of the Reps theatre on 7 November 1951 from your book. I’ll keep an eye out for ‘They built a theatre’

      • Re The Reps Theatre. The date is my book is correct It was 7th November 1951.
        Why I wrote 1952 is stupid because I only went to the theatre in March 1952 after I returned from my theatre trip overseas and I apologise for the error.

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Please don’t apologise! You’ve given the piece a massive endorsement and taken the time to look at the details. I appreciate that immensely.

  6. Reblogged this on JEAN COLLEN ON WORDPRESS and commented:
    This is a marvellous article about theatres in early Johannesburg. I am sure it will be of interest to the many people who have followed my post on “life in Kensington and Johannesburg fifty years ago”.

    • Marcia Rykov on said:

      I enjoyed reading about your life in Kensington fifty years ago as I lived in Cyrildene in the 1950’s which was a wonderful suburb. I would love to see some pictures of that once beautiful city and also some pictures of Hillbrow in the 1960’s if anyone has any of these treasures?
      Thanks in advance.

      • Thank you for your comment about my article on life in Kensington, Marcia. As you know, Cyrildene is the adjoining suburb to ours. It has changed character over the years and is now inhabited largely by the Chinese community these days. I would also be interested in seeing photos of Hillbrow in days gone by. My husband and I lived in a flat there in the seventies when we were first married and have happy memories of our life there. We returned to Kensington in 1974 and have remained here ever since.

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        I have found a number of pictures of Hillbrow from the 60s and 70s as well as a few from the really early days. Interestingly, Hillbrow has the least amount of early pictures of the suburbs I’ve been focusing on. I’ll show all when I get to the post (which will be after Braamfontein is complete)

  7. I am delighted to have discovered your post which gives such a comprehensive overview of theatres and cinemas in Johannesburg from the very early days. What a shame that so many of these buildings have been demolished.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks Jean!
      It is a shame but it’s interesting to see how many are still around (although re-purposed for other uses with their history waiting to be uncovered). I’ve been following your blog for a while after reading the Kensington post. I grew up there from 79-87.

      • Thank you for your reply. How interesting that you grew up in Kensington. I look forward to reading more of your blog now that I’ve discovered it.

    • I’ll look forward to reading your next post, Marc. You are certainly doing the history and suburbs of Johannesburg proud with your fascinating blog.

  8. What a great article. I have a fb group called Kensington Kids, and would to link the group up to your site.

    I remember going to some of these old cinema’s in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoons, particularly the Monte Carlo, it was a long walk from the bus terminus, and not a good idea in winter, there was hardly any sunlight in the city in the late afternoons.

    Thanks for stirring up these long forgotten memories

  9. Gerard on said:

    Do you have any info on the Andre Huguenet Theatre in Hillbrow…now called the Hillbrow Theatre. Thanks
    Gerard

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Gerard,
      I’ve come across the name but no information. I often add new pictures and update as I find missing pieces and will keep a look out for this one. Do you know the address or street it is in?

      • The Andre Huguenet Theatre was opened in 1977 by Pieter Toerien in Kapteijn Streeet Hillbrow.It was named after the famous Afrikaans actor Andre Huguenet. It was incorporated into a space in a building housing a German old-Age Home. Later when Pieter opened his own theatre The Alhambra, Tim & Cathy Plewman took it over. The theatre was unused for a few years and then re-opened as The Hillbrow Theatre.
        I have written in my auto-biography the history of SA Theatre from 1935 to 1997. I also recorded this on CD which was broadcast with interviews by every known theatrical personality on Radio Today in 2003/2004

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Hi Percy,
        Thanks for the info. Would you mind if I used it on this blog and can you tell me where can I purchase a copy of your auto-biography?

    • My reply to your question is written in full. I have no idea why it didn’t fit in to your reply column.

  10. Gerard on said:

    Dear Percy

    Thank you so much for your response and information on the former Andre Huguenet Theatre. I work at the theatre running the Hillbrow Theatre Project. I should have contacted you years ago. I have tried to make contact with Pieter Torien this year to find out some of the history and to get archive material. I have found the old Andre Huguenet sign which I have hung in the foyer.

    I will look for a copy of your auto-biography and would love to get a copy of CD of interviews.

    Best regards

    Gerard Bester
    Creative Director – Hillbrow Theatre Project
    Manager – Hillbrow Theatre Community Centre
    Tel: 011 720 7011
    Facebook: Hillbrow Theatre Project (Community Page)
    E-mail: hillbrowtheatre@outreachfoundation.co.za

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Gerard,
      Thanks for the info. I’ll be in contact soon as I would love to see the theatre and take a few pictures for the blog.

  11. Absolutely amazing research. Well done. I wish we could distill the heritage and use the essence to reinvigorate the theatre in Jozi.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for the comment!
      Regular movie houses are in danger of closing due to poor attendance. It appears to be a combination of not-so-great-films, price, access to digital TV with on demand services and streaming. Why go out when one can stay at home? I suppose much like how the introduction of TV in 1976 was to have an effect on traditional theatre over time. Records have made a small comeback. Like theatre, they never really went away, they were just hiding. Could there be a niche revival of traditional theatre? I think so, so long as the content is compelling and exciting/good enough for people to want to go and experience it.

  12. So many of the theatres and cinemas bring back memories. No mention of The Adam Leslie Theatre where I was in “Mr Skinflint” and “They Sing Cole Porter” in the early 1970s.
    Adam`s shows were so topical, incorporating news of the day, and he and Joan Blake were a formidable combination. All a very interesting read.

    • I wrote the whole history of the Adam Leslie Theatre in my autobiography ‘Just the Ticket!’ published by Jonathan Ball in 1997 and which however is now out of print. There are also pictures of the theatre in the book. I also wrote Adam’s whole history in ‘Jewish Contibution to SA Theatre’ which was published in the magazine Jewish Affairs in 2006. In fact all the biographies of Jews in SA Theatre are in this magazine. Percy Tucker

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for reading it! Good point on the Adam Leslie Theatre…I did a whole piece on it as part of the Doornfontein history here: https://johannesburg1912.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/doornfontein-part2/
      I will add it to the theatre piece.

      • My autobiography published by Jonathan Ball is unfortunately out of print and all the records were burnt in a fire at JB. I am trying to find a method of putting over 600 pages of the history of theatre in SA and 150 pictures onto the internet but haven’t found a solution yet !!!!

  13. Diani Gernandt on said:

    Wow, such detailed facts, such precious historical information and archives. Thank you! As a theatre performer I salute you!

  14. Cory Voigt on said:

    Thankyou so much for this! I was going to ask if you spoke to Percy Tucker, but of course he is in touch. Jewish geography aces Boere geography! And also glad he mentions the wonderful Jewish Affairs issue which highlights the Jewish involvement in SA theatre. I never knew The Gem in Kensington was anything other than a moviehouse. I lived in Belgravia in 1973 and remember climbing the stairs up to Kensington to go to movies. Later on the Classic Motorcycle Club used to meet over the road at the Oribi Hotel

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks Cory!
      I’ve been in touch with Percy and am trying to track down his book to read all about it. I did some work on the history of Belgravia in some earlier posts on this site and would like to hear thoughts on what it was like living there back in the 1970s.

  15. Nigel Plumley on said:

    What a wonderful site and lots of memories brought back. I grew up in Johannesburg,use to go into downtown on a Saturday with my Dad who went off to work, and I’d go to a movie in the morning and then another in the afternoon.Remember all the interiors, magical places…the splendour of the night sky in the Colosseum, the mermaids recessed on the walls of the Monte Carlo…remember seeing Elvis Presley up on the screen at the Metro, and many audience members swooning every time he sang…Ben Hur at His Majesty’s.And before that the manager of the Astra in Orange Grove was a family friend….with my sister when we were small all through the 50’s we’d sit in the last row and watch Saturday afternoon matinees.So many wonderful memories

  16. Marc, thank you for this wonderful site. I stumbled across it while looking for information on Heather Lloyd-Jones, whom I knew. In the early 1960’s, when I was still in primary school, a group of us little girls used to catch the bus and go and see matinees at the Colosseum, Empire, Metro and His Majesty’s. A movie ticket cost one shilling, and it was safe enough for children that young to make the journey, without adult supervision, and go and see a movie. It was a magical, wonderful world. I went to high school in Kensington, and we frequently went to the Gem. As a young adult I patronised the Royal Theatre in Orange Grove, the Piccadilly in Yeoville, Cinerama, Ster City and the Carlton Cinema. I had an enjoyable stroll through old Johannesburg, the beautiful, inspiring city of my youth. I am going to share on Facebook, people need to know about this. It would make a superb book.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Anne Marie, thanks for sharing your memories of the old theatres and cinemas! There is a really good book on the old theatres that I’m reading at the moment (hoping to find a few extra facts for the post). It’s called ‘Just the ticket’ By Percy Tucker. I’ve only just started it but he appears to be the person who started Computicket and it’s full of detailed information of theatres from the 1940s right up to the 1990s. It is out of print but managed to track a copy down via Bookdealers.

      • Cory Voigt on said:

        I believe Percy is still alive and living in Sea Point. We corresponded by email 2 or so yrs ago. Excellent book ,anyway.
        Also check out JEWISH AFFAIRS.In 2006 they published an issue on theatre in
        Jewish SA,edited by Percy

        Cory Voigt

        Sent from Samsung tablet

        Johannesburg 1912 – Suburb by suburb research wrote:
        Marc Latilla commented: “Hi Anne Marie, thanks for sharing your memories of the old theatres and cinemas! There is a really good book on the old theatres that I’m reading at the moment (hoping to find a few extra facts for the post). It’s called ‘Just the ticket’ By Percy Tucker.”

      • I am still very much alive and living in Sea Point. Am still very involved in the performing arts and I sit on the Board of the Cape Town City Ballet. I hopefully can answer any questions about theatre in Johannesburg in the 20th Century.

  17. Marcia Rykov on said:

    Thank you so very much for the incredible pictures and wonderful memories of a special time in my life. I was fortunate enough to have spent many wonderful hours enjoying films at The Metro, 20th Century, Colosseum, Empire, Plaza, His Majesty’s etc up until 1964 when I left South Africa. It is sad to know that these beautiful buildings have been demolished as they gave us so much pleasure and joy as we all dressed up in our best outfits on a Saturday evening to go downtown and see a movie. Thank you again for this site which I was lucky enough to find. Would love to see more pictures of the once beautiful Johannesburg.

  18. I’d like to know when the Brooke Theatre closed.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Ivan,
      It appears to have closed around July 1980. According to Percy’s book, the last play staged was Pyjama Tops which ended it’s run on 19th of July 1980. The theatre was demolished to make way for an office block

      • Percy Tucker on said:

        The Brooke Theatre closed on July 19th,1980 with a production by Pieter Toerien of ‘Pyjama Tops’.

  19. ‘Old Johannesburg’. Interesting, we are up to the Brooke Theatre closing in 1980. I suppose that is old, we have an older Datsun in daily use, and I have just sold my 1964 motorbike
    Klip in die bos; can anyone contribute about African/Bantu/Black theatres in early Jozi? I drove past the old Dorkay House last week, and at least the façade and lettering still is up. And did they not have theatre at the Bantu Mens’ recreation Center a few doors up?

    • Percy Tucker on said:

      The Brooke Theatre in Johannesburg closed on July 19th 1980 with a production of ‘Pajama Tops’ by Pieter Toerien.

      Percy Tucker

  20. Pingback: History of theatres in Johannesburg | Marc Latilla

  21. Lorna Moir on said:

    What wonderful memories. I was Lorna du Preez who lived in Kensington – went to Jeppe Girls – Of course all these “bioscopes” and theatres were the fabric of our lives. Thanks for interesting comments – those were good days – too long ago (born 1935)
    but it is so nice to hold on to the memories. If you recognise my name – I send my love – I remember you well! Maybe you were a date of mine at the Regent Cinema on a Saturday night or a bought me chocolates at the Colosseum or Empire – glorious times and theater and movies. Where is Kathy Phillips that lovely soprano that worked with me at JCI?

  22. ERIC COHEN on said:

    My name is Eric Cohen I lived in Orange Grove Joburg in Orange Grove we had the Royal ,the Astra and the Victory Cinema in the 60s the Astra was turned into a Ster Cinema and the Royal into Cinerama does anyone rember

  23. I remember them all as the company which I founded ‘Computicket’ used to do all their advance bookings. I was a director of the first ‘Cinerama’ opposite Ster City. The Royal Cinerama was the 2nd to open but eventually they ran out of product.

    • Percy, Do you remember what was previously on the site of Cinerama in Claim street? My research indicates either a Presbyterian or Dutch Reform Church. Thanks, Marc

      • Sorry I don’t know the answer. I was born in Benoni and only came to live in JHB after I opened my first business called ”Show Service’ in Eloff street. After school I studied at Wits and was an accountant before I decided that I really belonged to the show business world.

  24. Hi there, Thank you for this post! I am researching burlesque and cabaret in the country.
    Do you perhaps know of the history of Burlesque dancing in South Africa?
    Kind Regards, Miss Oh!

  25. David Shapiro on said:

    No mention of the old “Yeoville Bioscope” known also as the “Bughouse” in Bedford Road ,just of Ralegh street ,Yeoville ,I used to pay 6 pence for the Saturday Matinee,Used to swop comics before the show and at interval.Remember at one time the manager was Uncle Harry , Used to wear a dress suit even inthe afternoon (Matinee )shows

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks David! It’s the first time I’ve heard of that one. I’ll add it shortly.

      • Marcia Rykov on said:

        Yes it was the Picadilly in Yeoville. Saw many great movies in this little theatre or as we used to say the “Bioscope” in the mid to late 50’s………Thanks for the memories!!

    • I remember a cinema in Yeoville – I think it was called the Piccadilly. It often showed films which were not seen on the usual cinema circuit.

    • I remember the Bughouse well, they had two shows some nights, a morning show on Saturdays and a matinee on Wednesday and Saturdays. It was possible to see four shows on a Saturday, I think I once did.
      The seats were wooden and the floor uncarpeted. As kids at the Saturday morning show we would stamp our feet at the exciting parts especially during skiet and donner parts.
      I remember admission to matinees was a zack (sixpence).

  26. An article on the College of Music, which became the Adam Leslie’s Theatre in 1967, appears in “Between the Chains”, the Journal of the Johannesburg Historical Foundation, volume 12, 1991, pp. 22-23.

  27. The Doornfontein History Project has a well-researched article on the Alhambra Theatre if you’re interested.

  28. In c. 1956 I went to the Apollo Bioscope in Beit Street, Doornfontein, to watch a Tarzan film. Although apartheid was in place then, only the coloured community frequented the bioscope as Doornfontein was then inhabited by that community.
    You do not seem to have anything on the Astra Biscope on the south-eastern corner of Louis Botha Avenue and 17th Street, Orange Grove. As with the Royal Cinema a little further away, we used to swop comics while waiting in the queue to buy tickets that cost sixpence.
    In 1961 I attended Damelin College in Plein Street. Next door was a, I forget the correct term, “tea-room bioscope”. The college principal, Dr Kriel, warned all pupils that anyone caught attending the bioscope would “summarily be expelled”!
    Another well-known cinema, extant until recently, was the Victory in Louis Botha Avenue, owned by Mr Bernicchi.
    The Fine Arts Theatre in Grant Avenue, Norwood, was where I saw the most angelically beautiful girl selling tickets; her aunt acted as policeman right behind her, c. 1971. By some good fortune she became my wife in 1977 (not the aunt!). Bernicchi also owned this cinema.

  29. Having only now gone through all the comments above, the term is “cafe bioscope”. The only one I attended in the late 1950s was next to Stuttafords in Pritchard Street, where I was served a fizzy drink during the show, when it was dark and could not see the state of cleanliness of the glass it was served in, which felt grubby and sticky,
    I particularly liked the Piccadilly in Yeoville as it showed cases that the Scotland Yard had solved before the main features.

    • Marcia Rykov on said:

      I too enjoyed the Piccadilly! Had relatives who lived on the corner of Hopkins street just up the road. My favorite was the Metro downtown on Bree street where we always visited the Gaggia coffee bar for a cuppuccino after a show.

      Does anyone have pictures of Hillbrow in the 1960’s?

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Thanks for the memories Marcia! Hillbrow is but two posts away and I’ll share everything I have. I have pictures from 50s – 80s (but not nearly enough) and a few from the early 1900s

      • Marcia Rykov on said:

        Thank you Marc………Looking forward!!

  30. Marisa Rothbauer on said:

    Thank you for all the history about cinemas and theatres in Johannesburg and surrounding suburbs. I did not notice anything about The Apollo, Beit Street, Doornfontein, I used to go there in the 1950s. There used to be a cinema in Jorrisson Street, Braamfontein, could not see in your history what it was called. I seem to remember that it closed in the late 1960s.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks For reading Marisa! I only mention the Apollo once in the piece just above the Alhambra picture. There is very little info available on some the older theatres and cinemas, so when I find something new I add it. I will over time try and post pictures and/or more info on all the buildings. On the Braamfontein cinema, could it have been either the Albert or the Gaiety?

  31. majestic theartre fordsburg miss8ng here

  32. Basil Ladakis on said:

    My youth was defined by going to the movies in joburg. Watching Vanishing Point at the Cinerama; Close Encounters of the Third kind at kine centre 1; Enter The Dragon at Highpoint. To name a few. Thanks for this extensive research.

  33. Katherine Munro on said:

    I enjoyed your original posting about the Theatres of Johannesburg . I read it a while ago and then came back to it having found an excellent article by Cyril Stoloff on the Old Theatres of Johannesburg written in the Student Forum of the South African Architectural Record vol 32 , May 1947 . Are you aware of this source ? Stoloff should be recognized for his pioneering efforts . He included a map of the Johannesburg city Theatres between 1887 and 1920 and covered the following Theatres : the Globe, the 1 st Empire, the Gaity , Palladium , his Majesty’s , Theatre Royal , Second Empire , Standard , Orpheum , Bijou , Oxford, Astoria, Carlton , Tivoli, Grand and Vaudette . He discussed all ( some briefly ) in his article . Stoloff drew on the Africana museum , African Consolidated Theatres archives ,and his own photographs which are now an historic source . Stoloff was also interested in the architects of Theatres .

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for the kind words! I’m not aware of it. Is there some way I could access it? I recently got hold of an insurance map of JHB which shows exact positions of various buildings and businesses (1898 I think) and will be using that to validate some of my info. It includes theatres and public buildings. I spend a lot of time adding to and re-writing the old posts. Doornfontein is getting a re-vamp at the moment!

  34. Pingback: 100K views for Johannesburg1912 | Johannesburg 1912 - Suburb by suburb research

  35. Marc, you are a star. Like so many other people I have rejoiced in the memories that you have evoked for us all and I salute you.

    My “bioscope” visits as a lonely and unhappy boy in the late 1950s lifted me out of my misery for 1½ hours every week – the gay persecution was dreadful. My havens were the Odeon and the Parysia in Rosebank and later, too, the Curzon and Clarendon in Hillbrow. Palaces of enchantment.

    Thank you so much.

  36. Marcia Rykov on said:

    Hi Marc, been a while since seeing any new posts?? Do you or does anyone have any photos of Hillbrow in the early 1960’s? I am most interested to see Koetze, Pretoria and Twist Streets. Hope you are well and working on something wonderful for us to enjoy!! Thanks again for all you do!!…..It is a real treat!

  37. Wonderful, really enjoyed this page, I was looking for the theater that I saw Nico Carstens playing his accordion in, in the late 60’s or early 70’s, because I believe he passed away today. I think it was His Majesty’s but could have been the Colleseum? such a lovely atmosphere it was..I loved the aura of those days…:) thank you for this informative page.

  38. Pingback: Julia | In search of Harris

  39. Fantastic blog,everytime I read it I wish I could travel back in time to see these places in their prime.I adore your blog because I’m a sucker for history

  40. Fabulous reading and memories. Thank you

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