Imagine my surprise when I got to the Triumph Theatre and found out everybody was… kung fu fighting?
I first came across the unusually designed Chinese Kung Fu Academy about 10 years ago. I’m a bit hazy on how I came to be sitting inside watching a Bruce Lee-style showdown, to be honest. It’s one of those typical only-in-your-20s tales, when the mate of a mate of a mate has something on and the next thing you know, you are watching somebody called Paul bust out a few kicks simply because your friend Emma (who also doesn’t know Paul) tells you to meet her there one fine Saturday afternoon. Naturally.
Turns out that exhibition hall where Paul had been high kicking was the converted former auditorium of the Triumph Theatre.
You didn’t expect me to be observant for once and know that at the time did you? Of course not! The light bulb only went off when I came across the listing earlier this year for a “Classic Cinema” in East Brisbane, which closed as recently as 2000. I realised:
a) I must have driven down Stanley St a hundred times prior to 2000 and simply not bothered looking out the window. Ever.
b) The kung fu building was the old Classic Cinema.
c) The Classic Cinema was actually the old Triumph Theatre.
d) I will never know who Paul was.
Slowly gathering all the photos and info I could find, I started feeling much the same way I expect Paul Walker felt during the
Jessica Alba bikini fest critically acclaimed film Into The Blue, when he is searching for treasure from shipwrecks along the ocean floor – specifically, items that might have the ship’s name on it, such as the ship’s bell.
My ship bell? The original sign with the theatre’s name on it. Every time we found one of those I got a little thrill. Sure they’re out there in plain sight for every Tom, Dick and Harry to stare at, so they’re not exactly secret. Or hidden. Or even that mysterious. But buildings change names over the years and there’s so much 2014 noise surrounding them that, as I mentioned with the Rialto, Plaza and Planet, names aren’t always the first thing you notice.
963 Stanley St East in 2014
Triumph Theatre, 1940 (Source: Queensland Heritage Register)
Classic Cinema, former Triumph Theatre, 2000 (Source: RPData)
The site of the Triumph Theatre has been associated with film exhibition since its beginnings as an open-air picture theatre back in 1921. The building that stands there today was constructed in 1927 as the Triumph Theatre. With a large auditorium built on a modest budget inside, extra attention was given to the glamorous and highly decorative street façade outside (a mix of classical and Mediterranean design) in order to attract patrons.
In 2000 it stopped screening movies – by which time it had been operating as the Classic Cinema – and shortly afterwards, the oldest Kung Fu school in Australia, the Chinese Kung Fu Academy, made the Brisbane heritage-listed building its new headquarters.
As you can see in our photos below, the facade remains remarkably intact: from the awnings over the windows, to the monuments on top of the pillars, to the symbols attached to the walls (are they wreaths with bows, can anyone tell me?) to the peep hole windows and billboard poster panels. The original striking elements of the Triumph are a fabulous (and rare) example of a 1920s suburban picture palace, and a living reminder of the importance of Brisbane architect Arthur Robson, who specialised in theatre construction and erected dozens of suburban and regional theatres in Queensland in the interwar period.
Did you spot the Triumph name at the top of the building? I didn’t even know it was there until after Kristina and I got home! Luckily I got PW back out there to shoot some close-ups. Maybe one of these days I’ll start to cotton on…!
**UPDATED: Thanks once again to the invaluable feedback from commenters over on the Cinemas and Theatres of Australia page, who have informed me that prior to becoming the Classic, the cinema also went by another name: The Capri. Here is what I found on the Queensland Heritage Register: “By 1970 the Triumph had been re-named the Capri East Brisbane and was operated by the Capri Theatre Company…. The cinema is believed to have closed for a short period in the 1980s, but by 1988 had re-opened as the Classic Cinema, an art-house screening alternative and revival films, and the venue for film festivals and the annual Brisbane screening of Australian Film, Television and Radio School productions. The theatre functioned as an art-house until closed in mid-2000.” Thank you Colin and David!
Got a story or photo to share about the old Classic Cinema, or even the old Triumph? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you!
THE HIDDEN CINEMAS PROJECT
Once used as cinemas, these iconic pieces of architecture are living reminders of weekend trips to the “pictures”.