History of The Capital
"Amongst the memorials and things of fame that bring renown to the City of Bendigo few, if any, bear such honourable, enduring and stately testimony to the wealth and magnificence of the city, as does the Masonic Hall in View Street".
This extract from a book published in Melbourne in 1902 describes exactly the place held by the former Masonic Hall, now The Capital - Bendigo's Performing Arts Centre, in the City of Greater Bendigo.
The Masonic Hall was designed by two prominent Freemasons, W.C. Vahland and his partner, Robert Getzschmann. The foundation stone for the building was laid on 24 June, 1873. It was the most ornate building in the City; the magnitude of its proportions and the classic beauty of its architectural design was regarded as an ornament not only to the City but to the State of Victoria.
The main building covers a frontage of 60 metres in length on View Street and is approached by broad bluestone steps. The building is faced with six pillars in the Corinthian Order rising 10 metres in height with the handsome curvilinear entablature of that Order. The pillars are decorated with an ornate frieze and cornices, having pediments at the top with pedestals, vases and a decorative moulded coping. The building is surmounted with an aeroteria, representing a female face and creating an imposing effect, it being 20 metres from the bottom step to the apogee of the pediment.
Masonic symbols are still in evidence throughout the building. One will note the compasses, the set squares, the all-seeing eye, the celestial globe and terrestrial globe, particularly in the original Lodge Room, the upstairs foyer and the Capital Theatre. The Capital Theatre is the last of the Bendigo theatres. When built this space was the largest hall in Victoria apart from the Melbourne Town Hall. The entire building is listed with the National Trust and Heritage Victoria. The Capital Theatre was closed in the 1970s after almost a century of opera, drama, dance and cinema. The Masons continued in the downstairs Lodge Room until the maintenance of the building became too great a burden on the resources of the members.
During the years when the Capital Theatre was closed there had been constant attempts by the community to have the theatre reinstated. There was strong resistance from some quarters to this proposal and a committee was formed to endeavour to bring about a consensus.
In late 1987 three of the five Bendigo municipalities, Marong, Strathfieldsaye and Eaglehawk purchased the building from the Masons. With the financial support of State and Local Government, private and public subscriptions and overwhelming community support, renovations, costing around $6 million, started in 1989 and the building was officially reopened by the former Premier, Mrs. Joan Kirner on 26 April, 1991.
In 2003-2004, a Federal Government Grant allowed The Capital to undertake further upgrades throughout the venue. Advancment to backstage facilities and the structural development have improved the venue for local and commercial hirers. The Capital Theatre itself has been repainted in a darker colour, so that in the words of one patron, "it actually feels like a real theatre now!" The Box Office has been upgraded and enlarged to accommodate the growing number of patrons, and heritage experts were consulted to advise on the traditional heritage design carpet laid throughout The Capital.