There have been several theatres named "Palais" in St Kilda, the first of which opened in 1914. At the end of World War I, the Palais de Danse, already on the current site, became Palais Pictures. In 1919, a steel-framed and arched truss structure was built over the old dance-hall which was relocated next door. The current Palais was built in 1927 and was part of a turn-of-the-century entertainment district.
The theatre was originally owned by the Phillips brothers (Leon, Herman and Harold), three American showmen from Spokane, Washington. In 1922, the brothers brought in the architect Walter Burley Griffin to design a remodeled Palais Pictures. Construction of Griffin's plans began in 1925, but a fire engulfed the stage in February of the following year, just before completion, bringing work to a halt. When Griffin moved on to Sydney, the developers commissioned a new architect, Henry E. White, to build a larger, more grand theatre.
When the last of the Phillips died in 1957, the Palais, the Palais de Danse and Luna Park were sold to local entrepreneurs in Melbourne. A brass plaque, still in place on the second level of the Palais, bears a tribute to Leon Phillips from members of the American community of Victoria. The theatre, which had operated primarily as a cinema until the 1950s, became increasingly popular as a live performance venue for top overseas stars such as Johnnie Ray, Bob Hope, the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and many others.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the theatre regularly presented ballet, including The Bolshoi, The Kirov, Stars of World Ballet and The Australian Ballet and opera including Joan Sutherland in The Merry Widow.
As of April 2017 Live Nation Australia Venues has taken on the Palais Theatre’s operations and restoration works which will see it transformed over a 30 year period.
The Palais Theatre has completed Phase 1 and 2 of its biggest renovation since opening in November 1927 with around $26 million being invested in the Venue by the State Government, Local Government and Live Nation Australasia which has breathed new life in to this wonderful and historic art deco Venue.
The Palais Theatre started life as a picture theatre, Palais Pictures, in 1927 and operated as such until making the transition to a live music venue during the early 1950s. Live performance highlights: Bob Hope, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Australian Ballet, Australian Opera, Roy Orbison, Shirley Bassey, Joan Sutherland, Rudolph Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Margot Fonteyn, Robert Helpmann, John Farnham, Tim Minchin, Jesus Christ Superstar, Ed Sheeran, Florence & The Machine, Sting, Kylie Minogue, Ross Noble, 5 Seconds of Summer, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
The renovation works to the Venue have been broken down into phases to minimise the time frame that the Venue needs to be closed ensuring that events can continue throughout.
Phase One Works
Funded by the State Government of Victoria and the City of Port Phillip, Phase One works have been completed and included;
- Restoration of the entire exterior of the building (as much as practical, returning it to its original state)
- Repair of external windows and facades
- Structural repairs
- Upgrade of the entire electrical system
- Upgrade of the lighting system
- Repair and upgrade of the "Palais Theatre" sign
- Upgrade of the fire system
- Installation of additional safe access walkways
Phase Two Works
Undertaken and funded by Live Nation Australasia, these works included;
- Restoration of the historic ceiling domes inside the Auditorium
- Installation of reduced mode curtains between the Lounge and Dress Circle on Level One
- Repair and refurbishment of the Ground Level foyer
- Installation of a lift to Level One
- Installation of accessible facilities/features such as toilets, Ground Level and Level One seating, Box Office windows, hearing loops and general movement flow improvements
- Refurbishment of the performer's dressings rooms
- New administration offices
- Installation of a new central bar on the Level One
- Repair and replacement of floor surfaces within the foyers on Ground Level and Level One (marble tiles and recreation of original carpet)
- Installation of a glass enclosed balcony, The Winter Garden, on Level One
- Upgrade of food, beverage and merchandise outlets
- Toilet renovation, refurbishment and installation on Ground Level and Level One
- Stage surface replacement and painting
- Set up coffee bar and mobile bar locations within foyers
The Venue will continue to undertake annual renovation works, including updates to heating/cooling and seating refurbishments, for the duration of the lease with Live Nation Australasia.