Triumph Theatre, East Brisbane

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.

Chinese Kung Fu
Senior kung fu training inside the converted picture theatre (Source: Chinese Kung Fu Academy website)

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.

Triumph Classic Cinema

963 Stanley St East in 2014

East Cinema

Triumph Theatre, 1940 (Source: Queensland Heritage Register)

East Brisbane January 2000

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.

Triumph Theatre East Brisbane

Triumph Theatre, East Brisbane

Triumph Theatre, East Brisbane

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…!

* Photography: Kristina Childs for Cinemazzi.com. Close-up shots: PW.

**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”.

Part 1: Rialto Theatre, West End

Part 2: The Plaza, Paddington

Part 3: Beverley Theatre, Rosalie

Part 4: Planet Cinema, Camp Hill

Part 5: Triumph Theatre, East Brisbane

Part 6: De-Luxe Theatre, Burleigh Heads

Part 7: Kings Theatre, Rose Bay

Part 8: Victory Theatre, Blackheath

the author

Marie C

Feature writer by trade, movie maniac by night, Marie-Christine grew up watching films from the projection booth at the local drive-in and now she's lucky enough to write about them.

21 comments

    1. Haha Jose I should have known, you really do know your cinemas! Seriously, the more I find out about all these places, the more I realise I spent the last decade and a half in such a hurry, I never took the time to notice so many things… trying to make up for it now 😉

  1. I went there a few times when it was the Triumph because it was close – I lived at Norman Park. It was a bit of a barn inside – I don’t remember anything about it except it had striped stage curtains – all different colours and I had never seen that before anywhere.

    1. and those white and blue strip curtains I would operate by winding them from the bio box…..cec olsen was such a joy to work with and a very kind man to a very young boy who wanted to make his life in cinema operation….including helping the Saturday matinee clean ups…….

  2. My grandfather, Gordon Jones owned the Triumph and managed The Planet back in the 1960’s. My mum and dad worked at both cinemas on weekends. Many fond memories such as changing advertising slides at interval for my dad up in the projection room. Loved the old canvas chairs and got excited about finding coins during the cleaning.

    1. Wow! Thank you so much for getting in touch Ian, and thank you so much for contributing a piece of the puzzle to the history of both of those theatres – that must have been a very busy time for your parents working both cinemas on the weekends! I get very nostalgic looking at the Planet now, even though I never saw a movie there – but it reminds me so much of the old suburban picture theatres we used to have dotted around town, like the Dawn at Chermside. Growing up on the northside, that was my local (and the Aspley Drive-In of course 🙂 )

    2. Also Ian – given your excitement at finding old coins between the chairs (which must have been thrilling as a youngster, or even still now!) – you must watch this news story about an old wallet found in a theatre overseas, which another Cinemazzi reader shared with me. Lovely bit of history 🙂 https://youtu.be/h1x7v0MvcbQ

    3. ian…we must have met at the theatre as kids….Gordon was so kind to me and played a big part in my early life ….without people like Gordon and Cec… I might not have ended up working city theatres and later my own suburban theatre and then a 30 years in television …..

  3. I am really enjoying your posts about hidden cinemas!!! I also used to love going to the Classic cinema in the 90s.

    Keep up the fantastic work!

    Warm regards

    1. Thanks so much James!! I have quite a few more in the works I just need to finish photographing and researching them all, I love tracking them all down!

  4. My father was the manager there for over 40 years. Such fond memories of a child when I used to be there always.

    1. Wow, that’s a long time Greg! You must have had a ball growing up there. One thing I’ve been trying to find out is – what the symbol decorated on the outside of the building is?!

  5. Worked with Charlie Herrick(who managed the Mowbray park theatre before it was demolished and later the odeon at chardons corner )at the triumph in the early 60s……Charlie worked for snow fielding as the manager of the odeon for many years before moving over to Gordon jones triumph theatre….cec olsen( who was related to Gordon) was in the bio who I worked with on Saturday matinees..beryl olsen (cecs wife)who ran the candy bar at the triumph went on to operate the planet theatre at camp hill after the triumph was sold….at this time I was operating the astra theatre at morningside…..for about 8 years……..have a long association in my early life in many southside theatres and many stories……thanks cinemazzi for your interest in Brisbane suburban theatres when picture show men really knew their craft……not like today…….I operate a twin theatre in Laurieton(for the past 17 years)
    nsw after 30 years running my video production company in Brisbane….

  6. Went to school with Greg, Cec’s son and remember quite a few free sessions at the Triumph including hearing the occasional Jaffa rolling down under the seats.
    Clearest memory would be seeing The Battle of Brittain in colour on the big screen. Lol

  7. I’m really interested to speak with you regarding this location. Can you please email if you’re able to spare some time?

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