The Victoria Theatre in Newcastle, New South Wales, opened 1876 and rebuilt during 1890-91 is the oldest theatre still standing in New South Wales.
The Victoria is only one of several large stage and screen theatres built across the city from the 1870s until the early twentieth-century that have since been closed down. Others of importance were the Central Mission Theatre on King Street, the Theatre Royal on Hunter Street West, as well as the Strand (demolished) and Lyric cinemas.
The first Victoria Theatre was built on the site in 1876 by the Victoria Theatre Company. This was altered in 1885 and demolished in 1890. The second theatre was built in 1890-1891 and closed in 1966.
The architect in charge of the 1890 rebuilding was Mr. James Henderson, who elaborately furnished the three level auditorium in neo-Grecian theme. A large stage house and a small first class hotel were also incorporated in the second theatre that could seat 1,700 people. The stalls were steeply sloped and the dress circle could accommodate 500 people. It was fitted with American-style folding seats. The stage was 13.7 m (45 ft) wide, 11.6 m (38 ft) deep and 16.8 m (55 ft) high.
Subsequent changes to the liquor laws meant that the theatre could no longer contain a hotel, so 1921 there were extensive renovations to convert the theatre into dual stage and screen use.
By early 1922, the Victoria was taken over by Sir Benjamin and John Fuller of Melbourne's Princess Theatre fame and they built the large St. James Theatre (now demolished) in Sydney, and added Newcastle's Victoria to their national live theatre chain.
In 1942 Hoyts took control of the theatre. CinemaScope was installed around 1955, with no widening of the decorated proscenium. Despite its use as a picture theatre, live theatre continued at the Victoria until the 1960s, when the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was still performing concerts there.
The interior dress circle, circle foyer, proscenium, stage, fly tower, dressing rooms, ceilings and walls of the Victoria are all intact. Only the vestibule (lower foyer)and back stall area had been subject to alteration for retail purposes. The exterior above the awning is also intact, as it was after the 1921 alterations (with the former hotel windows 'blinded' when the auditorium was extended).
The theatre was permanently closed in 1999, and bought by local veteran hotelier Arthur Laundy for $1.1 million in 2004. The building was put up for auction with a reserve price of $1 in 2015. It was purchased prior to auction by Century Venues (owners of the Enmore Theatre) in November 2015 with plans to refurbish it to it's former glory.
When in operation, the Victoria was the principal theatre in Newcastle, and over the course of its history had attracted performers such as Gladys Moncrieff, Lily Langtry, Richard Tauber, Joan Hammond and June Bronhill. Touring companies also performed at the Victoria, notably London's D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, as well as ballet troupes. Australian actor Jim Gerald performed at the Victoria Theatre on 4 September 1915 as a part of his country-wide tour. It was the actor's second last performance before joining the Australian Imperial Forces during the First World War.
The dual career of the nation's oldest theatre ended quietly during 1966 with the screening of a Bette Davis 'B' film Who's Buried in my Grave. After 90 years of uninterrupted service, the interior of the Victoria has been left practically untouched by owners to ensure that it maintains the potential to be reopened in the future.
The former Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Robert Hill, spoke of the theatre in 1999 saying "Melbourne's Progress Cinema and former Lyric Theatre, and Newcastle's former Victoria Theatre are part of a vanishing aspect of Australia's heritage".
The New South Wales Heritage Office has now Listed the building, declaring the Victoria the oldest theatre building in New South Wales, and as having historical importance on the grounds that it represents and incorporates an age of vaudeville, legitimate theatre, with silent and modern film cinema that no other building in the State can offer - being over 100 years old.