First Globe Theatre 1889

Theatres in early Johannesburg

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The first theatre in JHB called Theatre Royal was in Market Street (east) and erected on 17 June 1887 by J. Mipping. The portable and demountable structure came from Newcastle. The two stands on which the theatre was erected was purchased by Mipping via a sale on 8 December 1886.

Another theatre known as the second Theatre Royal was also a portable corrugated iron structure erected on the corner of Commissioner and Eloff Street in May 1888 by the leading impresario, Luscombe Searelle. The first season opened with a play called Maritana the Bohemian girl. Musicals by Gilbert & Sullivan were also popular. In December 1888, Searelle presented Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Most sources put Searelle’s theatre as the first. Mipping’s story is corroborated in Anna Smith’s ‘Johannesburg Firsts’ pg.199 via a quote from Volsktem 9/12/1886.

Theatre Royal 1889

Second Theatre Royal in 1889 (Source: Museum Africa)

Next, the Globe Theatre was built (starting in April 1889) and opened on 24 June 1889 in 47/49 Fox Street on the corner of Ferreira Street. Leyds’ lists the architect as F. Goad. This was Johannesburg’s first brick theatre. It was opened by Capt. Von Brandis with Mr Thorne’s Dramatic Company, this being followed by a series of Gilbèrt and Sullivan Operas on the 23rd September, and a Shakespearean season from September to October. A fire destroyed the entire building in October of that year. It started when a paraffin lamp crashed and set the stage curtain alight, this before Johannesburg had a fire brigade.

First Globe Theatre 1889

First Globe Theatre 1889 (Source: Museum Africa)

Interior of first Globe Theatre Johannesburg

Interior of the first Globe Theatre (Source: SA Architectural Record)

Globe Theatre after the 1889 fire

Globe Theatre after the fire in 1889 (Source: Museum Africa)

In late 1891 or early 1892, the foundations were extended and the theatre was rebuilt with the frontage extended from Commissioner to Fox Street. The original facade was updated and made more ornate and included a canopy over the entrance to shelter visitors. The interior was also given a plush makeover compared to the first Globe. A highlight was the 40-light chandelier. The theatre could now hold 800 people.

The Globe Theatrical Syndicate leased the theatre in 1892, and the theatre was opened on the 8th June of that year, with the Lyric Opera Company, which presented shows until May 1894. The theatre then closed for a period, while negotiations were proceeding for a change in the ownership. In July 1894, the Empire Theatres Company (known as Empire Theatres S. A. Limited) entered into a lease of the Globe Theatre, which was renamed the Empire Palace of Varieties and was formally opened on 1 December 1894, with a programme of famous British variety artists, including W. C. Fields, Marie Lloyd, and Kate Harvey. Its bar also became an informal stock exchange. The Empire remained continuously open from 1894 until October 1899, when it was closed by the Transvaal Government, due to the declaration of war.

The Empire was re-opened on 26 May 1902. Fire again destroyed the stage after the performance on 19th November 1903, but the auditorium was saved by the effectiveness of the fireproof curtain, which became an innovation in theatres of that period.

Rebuilt Globe Theatre

Rebuilt Globe Theatre (Source: The Star)

First Empire Theatre (Palace of varieties) previously the second rebuilt Globe. See 'Globe' still visible on top facade

First Empire Theatre (Palace of varieties) previously the second rebuilt Globe. See ‘Globe’ still visible on the top facade (Source: Museum Africa)

Interior od the first Empire PalaceTheatre

Interior of first Empire Palace of Varieties (Source: SA Architectural Record)

1898 program from Empire Palace of Varieties

1898 program from Empire Palace of Varieties (Source: SA Yesterdays)

The last play at the Empire was on 12 May 1906 and the owners decided to build another Empire in a better position near present-day Carlton Centre (details further on). The old Globe building appears to have stood until the late 1940s (not as a running theatre) when it was eventually demolished.

On 11 September 1906, just four months after the second Empire ceased to be a theatre, it was the site of a historic mass meeting chaired by Gandhi. It was attended by over 3000 Indians and the launch of the passive resistance movement when the Transvaal Asiatic  Law Amendment Ordinance was rejected.

The Standard Theatre in Joubert Street (behind the Rissik Street Post Office) between President and Market Street was completed next and opened on 12 October 1891 by Capt. Von Brandis as the Standard Opera House. The architects were J. S. Donaldson and J. A. Moffat. Dan Godfrey then led the orchestra though De Volkslied, after which the curtain went up on La Cigale, the opening play produced by Arturo Bomamici. The Standard was leased by Ben Wheeler in 1892 who opened with a musical comedy and later put on six Shakespearean productions and twenty other plays. The owners were Emmanuel Mendelssohn and R.S. Scott who also owned the newspaper ‘Standard and Diggers’ news’. The Standard was also where Mark Twain delivered four of his five famous ‘At homes’ in 1896. Wheeler also brought the famous D’Oyly Carte Opera Company to SA. Both the Zionist Dramatic Society and Jewish Musical Society put on biblical plays and serious dramas at The Standard.

Standard Theatre 1891

Standard Theatre 1891 (Source: Museum Africa)

Standard Theatre's stage

Standard Theatre’s stage (Source: The Johannesburg Saga)

Standard Theatre boxes

Standard Theatre boxes (Source: Museum Africa)

Standard Theatre interior

Interior of the Standard Theatre (Source: Museum Africa)

Standard Theatre Stage

Stage and side of Standard Theatre (Source: Museum Africa)

In the late 1890s, the Georgian-styled theatre was encased on three sides by a three-storey block of shops, offices, and rooms in late Victorian style with ornate ironwork. 27 tons of ironwork was removed when the building was demolished. This extension also included an arcade link from President to Market Streets. Some sources state 1911 for the addition-the same year the theatre was remodeled, but the style doesn’t seem to fit.

The interior was Victorian with decorated ceilings, brass-railed orchestra pit, and steeply pitched galleries. The boxes featured gilded plaster mouldings that were picked up by rose-tinted glass lampshades. Although a director’s nightmare, the theatre was loved by actors as it had a real intimacy.

Old Johannesburgers recall sitting up in the ‘Gods’ at the Standard. These were the hard wooden cheap seats in the gallery accessed via a stone staircase at the back of the theatre. This was a later addition, possibly part of the 1911 renovation.

The Standard with building erected around it a few years before being demolished

The Standard with buildings erected around it a few years before being demolished (Source: Lost Johannesburg)

Standard Theatre arcade entrance

Standard Theatre arcade entrance (Source: SA Architectural Record)

Standard Theatre arcade

Standard Buildings arcade (Source: Museum Africa)

Early aerial view of the Standard Theatre showing the Rissik Street Post office behind

Early aerial view of the Standard Theatre showing the Rissik Street Post office behind

Standard Theatre site map with buildings and Arcade

Standard Theatre site map with buildings and Arcade (Source: SA Architectural Record)

Plans showing the seating arrangments

Plans showing the seating arrangements (Source: Museum Africa)

Later plans showing the addition of the shops that encased the theatre creating an arcade

Later plans showing the addition of the shops that encased the theatre creating an arcade (Source: Museum Africa)

It was closed in September 1947 as a fire hazard and although money was raised by various stage personalities of the time to fix the fire hazards, the council was seemingly uninterested. It was finally demolished in 1959 to make way for a park or green lung area. The area is now known as the Ernest Oppenheimer Park and was revitalised and re-opened in 2010. There are carvings of the facade of both the Rissik Street Post Office and the Standard Theatre out of railway sleepers on display. The last production at the Standard was ‘Golden Boy’ by playwright Clifford Odets.

Standard Theatre being demolished 1959

Standard Theatre being demolished 1959 (Source: Museum Africa)

Standard Theatre being demolished

Another angle showing the demolition (Source: Museum Africa)

The Standard outlasted all of the original Johannesburg Theatres and its unfortunate demolition was felt by the public at the time.

Carved Rissik Post Office and Standard facades in Ernerst Oppenheimer Park

Carved Rissik Post Office and Standard facades in Ernest Oppenheimer Park (Source: Marc Latilla)

View of Ernest Oppenheimer Park from 2010 where Standard used to be

View of Ernest Oppenheimer Park from 2010 where Standard used to be (Source: Google Earth)

The Gaiety Theatre 3/5 Kort Street between Market & Commissioner Streets was opened in 1893 in the Metropole Buildings and at first, devoted to musical comedy. The opening production starred well-known European actors WC Fields, Marie Lloyd and Kate Harvey. In 1894 its lease was taken over by the Empire Theatres Company SA (Ltd) who changed the name to Empire Palace of Varieties. The first-ever Afrikaans theatrical performance staged on Johannesburg was on 2 January 1899 at The Gaiety. It was taken over by Leonard Rayne in 1902. The Gaiety was also known as “De Gaatjie”. The building was also linked to Gandhi who addressed several meetings there, notably the 1907 meeting of Transvaal Indians opposing the Asiatic Registration Act. He also addressed a meeting there on 13 July 1914, a few days after leaving Johannesburg for good. The building eventually became a grocery store and was demolished sometime in 1972 to be replaced by the Southern Life Centre.

Gaiety Theatre Johannesburg

Sketch of the Gaiety Theatre c1893 (Source: JHB Pioneer Journal)

Gaiety Theatre

Gaiety Theatre (Source: SA Architectural Record)

Gaiety theatre painting by Coetzer 1971

Gaiety Theatre painting by Coetzer 1971 (Source: Gandhi’s JHB)

In 1902, a Yiddish theatre company arrived that included two couples: Waxman and his wife from London, and Wallerstein and his wife from New York. They were great rivals and eventually split both vying for audiences at The Gaiety and Empire Palace of Varieties.

The second Empire Palace of Varieties was opened in 135/7 Commissioner Street corner of Kruis Street in 1906 by the owners of the first Empire. The site of the original theatre in what was originally Ferreira’s Camp and the old Globe Theatre was no longer being developed and thus unsuitable. Building commenced on 1 April 1906. The basement included a Billiards Room, while there were shops and a bar on the ground floor, and offices on the upper two floors. It appeared to be a very ordinary Edwardian office building. The only decorations were a few turrets and gables. The theatre lay beyond the offices, where the main entrance foyer in Commissioner Streer, and ·the stage door, private box, and gallery entrances were in Kruis Street.

Second Empire Theatre seating plan 1906

Second Empire Theatre seating plan 1906 (SA Architectural Record)

It was described as “a spectacle of Edwardian luxury with 18 boxes, plush upholstery, and drapes in green and gold – the most handsome theatre in the subcontinent”. It was designed by McIntosh & J.A. Moffat with a capacity of 1200.

The theatre was equipped with a sprinkler system and air-conditioning. Many of the world’s greatest artists appeared on the Empire stage, including Sir Harry Lauder, George Robey, England’s master of broad comedy, Sir Seymour Hicks and Ellaine Terris, Irene Vanbrugh, Anna Pavlova, and Sybil Thorndike.

The Empire Theatre ran into financial difficulties and was taken over in 1913 by I. W. Schlesinger. This was the start of the African Theatres Trust (later African Consolidated Theatres) which went on to own and manage an expanding chain of theatres and bioscopes. Offsprings of ATT led to the establishment of a motion picture company that set-up headquarters on Cook’s Farm on which Schlesinger later established Killarney. African Consolidated Theatres was later sold to 20th Century Fox in the 1950s after I. W’s death after his son, John, took over the company.

2nd Empire Johannesburg

Second Empire Palace (Source: Museum Africa)

Second Empire Palace of Varieties

Second Empire Palace of Varieties (Source: A Johannesburg Album)

Interior 2nd Empire Palace Theatre

Interior of second Empire Palace of Varieties

The Varieties was pulled down in 1935 to make way for the new Empire Theatre which opened in September 1936 featuring Nora Williams, an American songstress and blues singer, and a troupe of sixteen Empire Girls. It was Johannesburg’s answer to Broadway. The Star described its interior as ‘an aesthetic triumph in pastel shades of grey and blue, gold, white and black – an affair vastly different from the old days of red and green plush, brass rails, gildings…and painted and plaster cherubs and other mythological personages.’

The third Empire Theatre

The third Empire Theatre (Source: Lost Johannesburg)

The block it was situated on became too valuable (Carlton Centre is now across the road) and it closed in April 1971. In 1974, the 27 floor Kine Centre Plaza (with 3 movie theatres no longer in use) went up in its place.

Kine Centre

Kine Centre

Inside the Empire in 1967

Inside the Empire in 1967

Ben Wheeler then opened his own theatre called His Majesty’s which opened in 1903 (demolished 1936/7). The site was originally the Goldreich building and was used as the post office until the Rissik Street post office was built before being converted into the 1100 seater by architects Mclntosh & Moffat.

The theatre was in Commissioner Street, with entrances in Joubert Street, and stage door in Fox Street. lt was a simple double-storeyed building, without a verandah when first opened. A concrete verandah was added later in Commissioner Street.  The walls of the entrance foyer and staircases were in Italian marble, and there were 14 exits in total. A contemporary record notes that ‘Four or five different coloured lights are at command, and, by the touch of a lever on the switchboard, the stage can be transformed from total darkness to a brilliancy at least five times greater than that of any other stage in South Africa.”
There were 16 dressing rooms, and a Green Room.

The opening performance was on 11 July 1903, when the Royal Australian Comic
Opera Compàny, consisting of 75 performers, staged the spectacular extravaganza, ‘Djin-Djin’.  In 1916, Ada Reeve presented ‘Floradora’, ‘The Duchess of Danzig’ and the ‘Merry Widow”, which had the longest run in South Africa-eleven weeks.

Original Goldreich building before the conversion

Original Goldreich building before the conversion (Source: Johanesburg 100 Years)

His Majesty's Theatre from 1903

His Majesty’s Theatre from 1903

His Majesty's Theatre in 1933

His Majesty’s Theatre in 1933 (Source: Museum Africa)

His Majesty's Theatre in 1937

His Majesty’s Theatre in 1937 (Source: Museumn Africa)

His Majesty's 1930s

His Majesty’s C1930s (Source: Museum Africa)

Old His Majesty's being demolished in 1937

Old His Majesty’s being demolished in 1937 (Source: Museum Africa)

New His Majesty's Theatre being built in 1940

New His Majesty’s Theatre being built in 1940 (Source: Museum Africa)

The second His Majesty’s was built in Commissioner street between Eloff and Joubert streets (and took up the entire block) and opened by General Jan Smuts on the 23 December 1946. The designer were J. C. Cook and Maurice Cowen.

The design of the building incorporated variable office towers around the central theatre. These towers stood eleven, fourteen and eighteen storeys high and became the headquarters for Schlesinger’s organisation as well as chambers for several advocates including Joe Slovo. In 1956 it was also headquarters for the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce who had offices in the west section.

The opening show in 1946 was Phil Levard’s production of Robinson Crusoe. It was converted into a cinema in 1956 for The Ten Commandments. In 1969, African Consolidated Theatres (also founded by Schlesinger) sold the building to Anglo American. In 1978 it reverted back to a traditional theatre in the hope that it could be saved. The revival failed and in 1981, the theatre was converted into a retail store. The last show was a Brickhill-Burke production of Hello Dolly.

Hello dolly poster

Hello Dolly – the final (Source: Marc Latilla)

The poster above was found for sale at Limpopo Books in Parkview (R150), which coincidentally, is situated in the old converted Parkview cinema.

In 1915, the block comprised of the Goldreich Buildings with His Majesty’s, a rifle range, the Bioscope Theatre, Jooste & Bryant’s first bottle store, and the Albert Buildings (that faced Eloff Street). The Goad’s Map of 1937 shows a blank block suggesting that the site had already been demolished by then. The gap between the demolition and the opening was due to the onset of WW2. The basement was completed in 1939 and the rest by 1945.

The second His Majestys Theatre

The second His Majesty’s Theatre

His Majesty's from around the late 1960s

His Majesty’s in the background from around the late 1960s

Inside His Majesty

Inside His Majesty’s (Source: SA Builders)

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 7.19.56 PM

The entrance of His Majesty’s Building from 2013 (Source: Marc Latilla)

His Majestys street signage

His Majesty’s signage on Eloff Street 2017 (source: Marc Latilla)

His Majesty's building from 2017

His Majesty’s building 2017 (Source: Marc Latilla)

After the Boer war other theatres were built like The Bijou which was designed by Kallenbach & Kennedy in Jeppe Street (165-7) in 1910. It was refurbished in 1919 and again in 1930 when it was updated to the ‘talkies’ era. It still retained its orchestra pit – a relic from the days of silent films when it was demolished in 1958. The Bijou is credited with showing the first sound musical – The Singing Fool with Al Jolson – and was also Johannesburg’s ‘super cinema’ before the Metro and Colosseum appeared.

An 18-storey building called Rand Central took its place. Percy Tucker explains in his book ‘Just the ticket’ how his new ticket selling company ‘Show Services’ came to acquiring their second offices on the ground floor of Rand Central. Show Services was a forerunner to Computicket.

Bijou c1925

Bijou c1925 before the second refurbishment (Source: Museum Africa)

Bijou Theatre

Bijou Theatre c1950s (Source: Museum Africa)

Site of Bijou today. Note the balconies in the foreground match that of the picture above

Site of Bijou today. Note the balconies in the middle ground match that of the picture above (Source: Google Earth)

An oddity is the plans below which are the original and alteration plans for the Bioscope Theatre also by Kallenbach & Kennedy. The dates and site match that of the Bijou Theatre, but comparing the above picture to the plans shows a vast difference. Goad’s map of 1910 also shows the Bioscope Theatre with the Y.W.C.A next door.  According to Arnold Benjamin in Lost Johannesburg, there had been “two improvised predecessors of the same name built by the same owners in 1909”. The new Bijou must have replaced the first building and included the adjacent stand that had the Y.W.C.A. as the facade doubled in size compared to the Bioscope Theatre plans. There was also a Bioscope Theatre in Commissioner Street next to the old His Majesty’s.

Original building plans for the Bijou originally known as the Bioscope Theatre

Building plans for the Bioscope Theatre which was soon replaced by the Bijou (Source: Museum Africa)

Plans for the alterations

Plans for the Bioscope alterations (Source: Museum Africa)

The Palladium from 1911 was originally the old stock exchange and tattersalls building and was situated on Commissioner Street bounded by Fraser and Simmonds Streets. The 1911 plan calls it ‘Coliseum Theatre’ which was a bioscope-vaudeville house, but from 1912 it’s referred to as ‘Palladium’. The original architects of this, the second stock exchange building were Lennox, Canning & Goad. A.H. Reid and Walter Reid were responsible for the Palladium conversion.

When the theatre was reconstructed in 1912, telephones and loudspeakers were installed in each dressing-room, in order to give the players their cues. An early record of Johannesburg notes: “The exterior of this stately building is an eloquent testimony to the wealth and energy of the citizens of Johannesburg, who, in such a few years, have raised so grand an edifice. The interior is roomy, comfortable and
elegantly adorned and in unison with the impression created by the outside of the building”. Ethel Irving appeared in the opening performance in 1913.

The building was demolished around 1938/9.

Palladium Theatre views

Palladium Theatre views (Source: Museum Africa)

Palladium Theatre plans from 1912

Palladium Theatre plans from 1912 (Source: Museum Africa)

Palladium Being demolished 1939

Palladium Being demolished (Source: Museum Africa)

Palladium being demolished 1938

Palladium being demolished from a different angle (Source: Museum Africa)

I found a few theatres noted on an insurance map I use for research and verification but have found no further information. Here are their positions on the map.

Palace Theatre in Pritchard Street near to the Bioscope Exhibition Cafe

Palace Theatre in Pritchard Street near to the Bioscope Exhibition & Cafe between Rissik and Joubert Streets

Vaudette Theatre in Pritchard Street between Jouber and Eloff Streets

Vaudette Theatre (old YMCA) c1912 in Pritchard Street between Joubert and Eloff Streets

Johannesburg theatres 1887-1920s

Map of theatres covering 1887-1920 (Source: SA Architectural Record)

Another early theatre was the Oxford Theatre c1903 which was housed in Sanderson’s Building on the corner of President & Harrison Streets.

Oxford Theatre in Sanderson's building

Oxford Theatre in Sanderson’s building (Source: SA Architectural Record)

Plaza Cinema corner Jeppe & Rissik Street from 1931 was big with motorbike gangs and ducktails on Monday nights and popular for its ‘skiet-en-donder’ type films (shooting & fighting or action films). The late Deco building boasted the first cinema organ and also showed the first ‘three-dimensional’ film ever seen in South Africa. It was designed by Kallenbach, Kennedy & Furner (and Werner Wagner) and was demolished in the early 1960s.

Plaza Cinema Rissik Str

Plaza Cinema Rissik Street

Interior of the Plaza (from Artefacts)

Interior of the Plaza (Source: Artefacts)

Entrance of the Plaza (from Artefacts)

Foyer of the Plaza (Source: Artefacts)

The Metro on the corner of Bree and Hoek Streets (Von Brandis Street today) was opened on 4 November 1932. Designed by Thomas W. Lamb (MGM’s New York architect), it was the biggest of its time (and when demolished) with a capacity of 3000. It was MGMs big gun against its rival Schlesinger’s African Theatre chain. It also had a massive Wurlitzer organ in addition to air conditioning. The air conditioning had a fault in that it wasn’t equipped to handle cigarette smoke (smoking wasn’t allowed in US theatres). It would recycle the smoke back into the auditorium causing it to get more smokey throughout the day making the final show almost unwatchable albeit in a cool environment. It was said that it had so many bare bulbs beneath its canopy that it warmed cinema queues in winter.

The first feature film shown was ‘The Passionate Plumber’ starring Buster Keaton.

The building was demolished in 1972 after a run of sixteen ‘oldies’ which relived some of Metro’s greatest moments. These included some Greta Garbo and Clarke Gable classics amongst others.

Metro in the 1930s

Metro in the 1930s (Source: Museum Africa)


Metro in the 1970s (Source: Howard Thomas)


Metro in the late 1960s (Source: Lost Johannesburg)

Interior of the Metro Theatre

Interior of the Metro Theatre (Source: From Mining Camp to Metropolis)

The 2279-seater Colosseum in Commissioner Street opened on 4 October 1933 by General Jan Smuts and was the flagship of African Consolidated Theatres. It was designed by Percy Rogers-Cooke. William Timlin, a Kimberly artist, designed the interior with its lit castle turrets and Spanish renaissance architecture. Galli-Curci and Richard Tauber performed there. While it blended in with its office surroundings, it featured old Egyptian inspired sculptures of goddesses, falcons, and cobras on its facade with Art Deco ornamentation. These were inspired by the 1922 archeological finds in Egypt. It was closed and demolished in 1985 and a modern office block named Colosseum emerged in its place.

The theatre buildings in Commissioner Street in the 1930s – 1960s (Colosseum, His Majesty’s and Empire) gave name to the phrase ‘Great White Way’ and visually inspired by Broadway in illuminated signage use.

For additional information, read this piece by Kathy Munro on the Heritage Portal where she writes about discovering a copy of the original opening programme.

Colosseum at night

Colosseum at night

Colosseum interior sketch

Colosseum interior sketch (Source: Johannesburg Style)

Inside the Colosseum 1934

Inside the Colosseum on its 1st anniversary in 1934

Colloseum foyer

Colosseum foyer (Source: From Mining Camp to Metropolis)

Collosseum during the day

Colosseum during the day (Source: Museum Africa)

Colosseum buildings north elevation plan

Colosseum buildings north elevation plan (Source: Johannesburg Style)

Colosseum in the 70s

Colosseum in the 70s

20th Century on the corner of  President and Von Brandis Street opened 5 March 1940 with a capacity of 2048. It was designed by Cowin & Ellis and Hanson, Tomkin & Finkelstein in a local interpretation of the International Style. The name of the building was incorporated as part of the design as well as narrow offices on the north side of the building. The design predated the Brazilian influence (seen in many Hillbrow buildings) by a decade. According to Clive Chipkin: ‘The 20th Century Cinema, the ultimate symbol of 1930s modernism…carried the imagery of twentieth-century architecture into the 1960s, when at last it began to look jaded. In a very real sense this was the first post-war building’.

20th Century Cinema north elevation

20th Century Cinema north elevation (Source: Johannesburg Style)

20th Century

20th Century (Source: Johannesburg Style)

20th Century Cinema frontage

20th Century Cinema frontage (Source: Johannesburg Style)

20th Century at night

20th Century at night

Inside the 20th Century

Inside the 20th Century (Source: From Mining Camp to Metropolis)

It was closed in 1974 and converted into a shooting range before eventually being demolished. The building was replaced by a single-storey block of shops which seems a bit counter-productive since they demolished more to create less.

20th Century from 2010

20th Century from 2010 (Source: Google Earth)

Cinerama was built in Claim Street and opened in April 1961. St. George’s Presbyterian church was originally on the site. Cinerama was considered a ‘revolutionary cinema gimmick’ (possibly on par with the recent IMAX cinemas) but audiences loved ‘This is Cinerama’, ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ and ‘How the West was Won’. It closed on 27 February 1986 and was converted into a nightclub called ‘Thunderdome’. One of the owners was Chris Gelakis who now owns and runs Electromode, a music company. It was one of the first nightclubs I ever went to and at the time the sound and lighting were state-of-the-art. It was still used as a live venue in the 90s. UK death metal bands Carcass and Napalm Death both played there. It’s now a church again.



Cinerama in the early 1980s

Cinerama in the early 1980s

After conversion to Thunderdome Nightclub around 1987

After conversion to Thunderdome Nightclub around 1987

Thunderdome comp

Thunderdome comp

Other movie theatres were Tivoli, The Grand, The Carlton 1912 (demolished 1933), Astoria, Savoy, Monte Carlo, Starlite, Mon Cine in Bree Street and Ster City (1969).

Grand Theatre in Market Street

Grand Theatre on the corner of Market Street and Von Brandis Streets (Source: A Johannesburg Album)

Carlton Theatre on Market Street opened in 1912 and demolished in 1933

Carlton Theatre on Market Street next to the old Carlton Hotel opened in 1912 and was demolished in 1933

Tivoli President Street

Sketch of Tivoli in President Street (Source: Museum Africa)

Tivoli Theatre building 2017

Tivoli Theatre building 2017 (Source: Google Earth)

Savoy Cinema Johannesburg

Savoy Johannesburg  Plein Street

Another Carlton Cinema seen across form the busy being built Carlton Centre. In the mid 80s it became The Dome nightclub and later Masquerades

Carlton Cinema seen across from the soon-to-be Carlton Centre late 1960s. In the mid-80s it became The Dome nightclub and later Masquerades

Carlton Cinema 1970

Carlton Cinema 1970

Dome Nightclub comp from the late 1980s

Dome Nightclub comp from the late 1980s

Astoria opened in Noord Street in 1927

Astoria opened in Noord Street in 1927

The Astoria in Noord Streel will long be remembered as the scene of the first colour talkie film ‘Rio Rita’. It also became a popular ballroom dancing venue and a precursor to Johannesburg’s nightclubs along with the old Afrikaaner club which was later converted into a cinema.

opnte Carlo on the corner of Von Weilligh and Jeppe Street

Monte Carlo on the corner of Von Weilligh and Jeppe Street

Monte Carlo cinema Jeppe street

Monte Carlo cinema Jeppe street

Mon Cine Bree Street 1970

Mon Cine Bree Street 1970

Mon cine building 2017

Mon Cine building 2017


Starlite Cinema was in President Street near Diagonal Street. It was demolished in 1996 and replaced with a car park (Source: Bawcombe’s Johannesburg)

Ster City opened in 1969 in Claim Street and was JHBs first cinema complex

Ster City

Ster City (or Ster Land) opened in 1969 on the corner of Claim and Plein Street and was Johannesburg’s first multi-cinema complex. It originally had 3 cinemas – Ster Cine 1000 with 886 seats, Ster Cine 700 with 659 seats, and Ster Cine 300 with 255 seats. There was also the Cine 100 which was apparently high upstairs and used to preview films to critics. In the 1980s, several small cinemas opened on the ground floor.

On the 30th July 1987, a car bomb went off in Quartz Street between the Drill Hall and Ster City. It injured 26 and damaged both buildings. ANC MK member Hein Grosskopf planted the bomb.

The complex closed sometime in the 1990s. It was also used for some time to show adult films, presumably under new ownership. At some point in the late 1990s or early 2000s it was abandoned. Vagrants took over and stripped anything of value from the building, down to the copper lining in the floors.

Today, the building is undergoing a transformation into flats. There are already shop owners operating on street level. The new owners let me in to take some pictures of what is left. Part building site and part untouched since the vagrant eviction, it’s dark and treacherous inside.

Thanks to Ray and Alexa from Boost Property Investments for the access.

Ster City Plein Street

Ster City from Plein Street

Ster City interior 2017

Ster city lobby 2017 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Ster City interior

Lobby where the escalators used to be (Source: Marc Latilla)

Ster City interior 2017

One of the smaller cinemas largely intact taken from a hole in the wall (Source: Marc Latilla)

Ster City interior 2017

Main cinema looking back to the projection room with all the chairs stripped. There was no light to get a better picture (Source: Marc Latilla)

Ster City interior 2017

Main cinema projection room (Source: Marc Latilla)

Ster City interior 2017

Remaining signage inside (Source: Marc Latilla)

The original Orpheum Theatre on the corner of Jeppe Street and Joubert Street opened in December 1911 designed by Allan Monsborough. It was also known as Mammoth Theatre and Picture Palace. In 1919 it was converted into a double-story by architect J. A. Moffat. The first film with synchronised sound, Don Juan, was shown there. Percy Rogers Cooke is listed as the architect of the Orpheum Theatre in 1931, presumably for a re-vamp. The Orpheum was pulled down in 1935 to make way for the still-standing deco mammoth Anstey’s Building.


Orpheum after 1919

Original Orpheum Theatre from 1911

Original Orpheum Theatre from 1911 (Source: A Johannesburg Album)

The Library Theatre was opened in 1936 (closed in 1983) and after the Standard Theatre closed in 1949, it was the only theatre in operation until the Reps Theatre (Alexander Theatre of today) was opened. It appears to have been housed in the new library complex that was completed in 1936.

Johannesburg Public Library where the Library Theatre was housed

Johannesburg Public Library where the Library Theatre was housed

The Reps Theatre opened on the 7th of November 1951 in Stiemens Street in Braamfontein. It was designed by Manfred Hermer and was Johannesburg’s first custom-built 510-seater theatre for legitimate plays since the old Standard. Its inaugural production was ‘Much ado about nothing’ starring Margaret Inglis and Jack Ralphs and directed by Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies. On 10 March 1960, it was renamed Alexander Theatre after its founder and honorary lifelong president Muriel Alexander, who founded the Johannesburg Repertory Players on 15th of November 1927.

Alexander Theatre late 1960s

Alexander Theatre late 1960s

Alexander Theatre shortly after opening

Reps Theatre shortly after opening in 1951

The Mousetrap at Alexander Theatre

The Mousetrap at Alexander Theatre

The old Assembly Hall of the Afrikaaner Nationalist Party or the National Party Club building in Loveday Street between Jeppe & Bree Streets went through several conversions over the years. Commissioned by Gen. Hertzog’s National Party, it was designed by J. C. Cook and officially opened in 1925. The neo-Cape Dutch design was in line with the party’s interests in promoting the Afrikaans-speaking community and interests. The white Cape Dutch gables (derived from Groot Constantia in the Cape) against the red-tiled double-pitch roof made a striking architectural statement in the city centre as there was nothing like it in the area at the time.

The building, or more specifically, the first floor, was converted in the early-1930s into the Palais-de-Danse, which was a popular ballroom dancing venue and early nightclub. The member’s rooms above were let out as accommodation. In October 1937, it was again converted by architects J. C. Cook & Cowan into the Cafe Bioscope. Before its demolition in 1973, it was known as Playhouse cafe-cinema and had a popular bar on the ground floor called Langham Deep. The 350-seater Playhouse came into existence in 1967 and was aimed at the teen market with four daily shows and a Friday midnight show. This is a different Playhouse to the Braamfontein and Main Street namesakes. In 1953 the building was rented by the German Club and in 1964 was home to New Moon Chinese Restaurant (among other tenants).

Playhouse built in 1925 (previously the National Party Afrikaaner Club)

National Party Afrikaaner Club building later housed the Cafe Bioscope and Playhouse (Source: Lost Johannesburg)

National Party Club plans

National Party Club plans (Source: From Mining Camp to Metropolis)

Playhouse showing the Langham Deep Bar

Playhouse showing the Langham Deep Bar

Pland for Cafe Bio conversion

Cafe Bioscope conversion plans from Palais-de-Danse (Source: Museum Africa)

Cafe bio position

Playhouse/Cafe Bio would have stood next to the red brick building on the left (Source: Google Earth)

Windmill Theatre which was located at 277 Bree Street opened in 1955. It was originally a shop and basement. The 300-seater was used for experimental ‘off-Broadway’ type of shows and closed after a few years. Margaret Inglis and Ruth Oppenheim both put on productions in the theatre. Ipi Tombi also ran for two years from 1974. It was demolished in 1981. It may have been next to Mon Cine pictured further up.

Brooke Theatre in De Villiers Street opened on the 13th September 1955 with the production “Deep Blue Sea’ directed by Michael Findlayson. The building was previously an Apostolic Faith Mission and was converted by Architect Felix Fels. The marble flight of stairs in the foyer was rescued from the Standard Theatre.

Brooke Theatre

Brooke Theatre 1970s (Source: Museum Africa)

Brooke Theatre interior

Brooke Theatre interior

The following is from Brian Brooke’s autobiography ‘My own personal star’:

Meanwhile it was August 1955. We had a month to go before the opening night, which I had deliberately set for the 13th of September, thirteen being my lucky number. The cast began to arrive and rehearsals for The Deep Blue Sea began in the coffee bar downstairs.
I was playing a small part, fortunately, which enabled me to check on the hundred and one details that go into making a theatre run. Robert Langford had been a company manager for H.M. Tennents in the West End, so he knew his job and was a tower of strength. In Michael Findlayson I realised that we had found a first rate director.
The Blenheim candelabra standards duly arrived and were positioned on either side of the proscenium arch. And when the seating had been installed in the circle we cleared a portion of the auditorium floor and had a roof-wetting party. Here the press and the artistes met the men responsible for the creation of the building. The following Sunday I asked the Rev. Tugman to hold a service to bless the theatre. It was a moving occasion and his choir boys were the first performers to use the Brooke stage.
Some of the press comments are worth recording:
“A little bit of the West End is growing in Johannesburg . . . growing from the shell of what was once an Apostolic Church.
“It is the new Brian Brooke Theatre, bringing to the city the red plush and shimmering candelabra theatre atmosphere that died when the Standard Theatre was closed; . . . an intimate theatre about the size of the Duchess in London.
“The walls are tall, papered in maroon and gold; there is a broad sweep of gallery that brings even the farthest seats in close intimacy with the stage.
“And with it will go the most modern remote-controlled lighting system ever brought into the country.
“The result: not a church changed into a theatre, but a theatre in what few would ever guess was a church.” The Star 20/8/55

Irma La Douche at Brooke Theatre

Irma La Douche at Brooke Theatre

Brooke Theatre review from 1973

Brooke Theatre review from 1973

The YMCA Theatre, connected to the YMCA building in Rissik Street on the Braamfontein side, also opened in 1955. It was re-named Intimate Theatre in 1959.

Intimate theatre

Intimate Theatre (Source: Museum Africa)

Plastic Theatre in Northcliff started out as the Plastic Hall. It was built in the early to mid-1940s almost entirely from plastic, a new material at the time, and one restricted by the building controller due to material shortages because of WW2.  The hall could seat 350 people and the opening concert was ‘The Amsterdam Quartette’ with Elsie Hall on piano. In 1949 it became a theatre which was run by Hugo Keleti, a well-know Johannesburg impresario, until 1953.

Ballroom function venue and plastic hall

Ballroom function venue and plastic hall (Source: The man who tamed a mountain)

The hall/theatre was started by Fred Cohen, the father of Northcliff. On the plateau of the hill, he opened a tea room, dancehall, swimming pool and roadhouse in addition to the theatre. By all accounts, it was a popular weekend entertainment venue. Fred sold the entire complex due to financial pressures sometime between 1953 and 1955.

Plastic Theatre and entratainment complex under construction

Plastic Theatre and entertainment complex under construction (Source: The man who tamed a mountain)

aerial view showing theatre position

Aerial view showing theatre position (Source: The man who tamed a mountain)

It is recorded that during Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement in 1956, the Plastic Theatre where the services were held caught fire due to curtains blowing onto the burning candles (which could not be extinguished until the service was over). The whole complex burnt down, but fortunately, no one was in the building at the time of the fire. Townhouses now mark the spot. Thanks to Tandi Weinstein from the Northcliff Hebrew Congregation for the additional information as well as the memoir of Fred Cohen compiled by his daughter, Zelda Street.

In 1967 the Academy Theatre opened on the ground floor in a building on the corner of Rissik and Wolmarans Street in Braamfontein previously known as Happiness House. The theatre was soon renamed Academy Theatre of Laughter after a poor opening run (although was always known as The Academy). In 1984 after a management change it was renamed Siegfried Maynard Theatre but was damaged in a fire after a few shows. Intimate dinner theatre La Parisienne opened in 1986 but burnt down in early 1988. A gay bar and meeting place called Champions opened thereafter that lasted into the early 1990s.

Academy Theatre

Academy Theatre at Happiness House (Source: Museum Africa)

Colony at Hyde Park Hotel in Jan Smuts Avenue evidently also hosted some theatrical productions but appears to be better known as nightclub (60s style dinner and dance variety). The shopping centre known as The Colony in Hyde Park today was once the site of the hotel. The existing bar, Colony Arms, was once also part of the hotel. Pictures below from the wonderful Soul Safari site.

Sam Sklair's album cover showing the entrance to the Colony

Sam Sklair’s album cover showing the entrance to the Colony at the Hyde Park Hotel (Source: Soul Safari)

Advert for The Colony

Advert for The Colony (Source: Soul Safari)

Adam Leslie Theatre opened on the 27 August 1967 at 96 End Street. The Herbert Baker designed building was built in 1906 and was originally the College of Music. Up until Adam Leslie took it over it had also been used as a macaroni factory and a boot factory. Adam restored it to its former glory down to the interior and furnishings. The chandelier was from an original randlords mansion. The theatre opened with ‘Music Hall Revue’ starring Adam Leslie and Joan Blake and was directed by Anthony Farmer. In the late 70s it became Mandys Nightclub followed by Idols in the late 80s and finally ESP in the 90s. All were groundbreaking and successful clubs in their time. At the time of writing, the building was in a state of disrepair but, I’m happy to report, that in 2017, the building is back in use as a daycare centre. I’ve written a more in-depth piece on this majestic and historical building here

96 End Street from around late 1960s showing the gabled brick work

96 End Street from around the early 1960s showing the gabled brickwork (Source: Herbert Baker in SA)

From brick gables to Adam Leslie overhaul

From brick gables to Adam Leslie overhaul

96 End Street in 2011

96 End Street in 2011 (Source: Marc Latilla)

96 End Street in 2017

The building back in use in 2017 (Source: Marc Latilla)

The ‘Bantu Men’s Social Centre’ was established in 1924 at the southern end of Eloff Street to provide musical sessions and plays under the auspices of the Bantu Dramatic Society. The building was opened in 1924 and became a great centre of cultural activity, frequented by intellectuals, artists, writers, and emerging political leaders. Sporting events were held there, plays and concerts. In 1944, the Youth League of the African National Congress was founded there.

BMSC cornerstone

Bantu Men’s Social Centre Foundation Stone 2014 (Source: Heritage Portal)

Bantu Mens Social Centre - Heritage Portal - 2014 - 2

Bantu Men’s Social Centre (Source: Heritage Portal)

Dorkay House, next to the Bantu Men’s Social Centre, was also an important venue for black theatre and notably where the play King Kong was produced. From the Blue Plaque inscription: ‘Starting in 1954, Dorkay House became a haven for black performers and musicians, at a time when racial exclusion was the order of the day. This was the home of the Union of South African Artists, dedicated to protecting the rights of performers. A thriving centre of music and drama, Dorkay House produced King Kong and other hit shows. The Sunday jazz sessions were legendary, and a host of great musicians graduated from here’.

In 1961 United Artists (producers of the 1959 black musical King Kong) opened their own theatre called the Rehearsal Room in Dorkay House to cater to the growing number of black plays.

The musical influence of Dorkay House during Apartheid is well documented. Lucille Davie writes ‘Originally a clothing factory and reborn as a cultural centre for blacks in the 1960s, Dorkay House is fondly remembered by many people. Musician Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse remembers going there for drumming lessons as a youngster, arranged by the African Music Drummers’ Association. There he met some of the old greats. “They inspired us to choose our careers,” he says. Dorkay House was the incubator of many talented South African musicians: Miriam Makeba, Jonas Gwangwa, Kippie Moeketsi, Ntemi Piliso, the 10-member African Jazz Pioneers, Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim, and actor John Kani’.

dorkay house heritage portal

Dorkay House 2018 (Source: Heritage Portal)

Club 58 in Pretoria Street in Hillbrow was a small theatre in an old two-storey block of flats called Millbro Court built in 1930 (that still stands) that was owned by Barbara Thompson. It became known as No.58 with an additional upstairs venue called No. 58 Too and was a popular late-night cabaret venue.

Once the No. 58 and No.58 Too Theatre and live venue in Pretoria Street Hillbrow

Once the No. 58 and No.58 Too Theatre and live venue in Pretoria Street Hillbrow (Source: Google Earth)

Below is a video shot there of Sam Marais and Natalie da Rocha in 1983. They were still performing there in 1990

The Civic Theatre in Braamfontein opened in 1962 and in 1976 part of the old Johannesburg Market building was converted into the Market Theatre.

Civic Theatre

Civic Theatre

Market Theatre

Market Theatre

The fruit market of the original Edwardian market buildings was converted into a theatre by the practice of architect Manfred Hermer (Reps/Alexander Theatre and later Ponte along with Rodney Grosskopf). The Market Theatre was a venue for alternative and protest theatre under the direction of Barney Simon and played a massive part in South Africa’s transformation in the 1970s and 1980s. Many Athol Fugard plays started life at the Market.

Other theatres of note are Alhambra (originally a cinema designed by S.V. Mann and completed in 1921) and the Apollo in Doornfontein (1930), Andre Huguenot (now known as Hillbrow Theatre in Kaptjein Street), Leonard Rayne (renamed The Rex Garner in 1994) & Richard Haines both of which were part of Alhambra in Doornfontein, Wits Theatre (or University Great Hall), Little Theatre (from 1973 that opened in Corner House and was later known as Barnato Theatre) and the Black Sun in Berea (and then Rockey Street Yeoville). Chelsea Theatre at the Chelsea Hotel in Hillbrow gave theatrical performances as well as a room at the Oxford Hotel called The Blue Fox. A disused shop in Orange Grove became The Village Theatre for a time. There was also a Sunday night only experimental theatre at 49 St. Patrick Road Houghton known as The Soiree Society and Johannesburg City Hall hosted concerts and Eisteddfods from time to time.

Doornfontein Alhambra theatre c1950s

Alhambra Theatre c1950s designed by S.V. Mann

2016-02-07 14.33.56

Alhambra Theatre (Source: Marc Latilla)

2017 update: The Alhambra is now also back in use as a theatre. Photos below are from Jo Buitendach (Past Experience) from the re-opening night.

Alhambra Theatre 2017

Alhambra Theatre 2017 re-opening night (Source: Jo Buitendach)

Inside the Alhambra

Inside the theatre 2017 (Source: Jo Buitendach)

Alhambra interior 2017

Side Interior from 2017 (Source: Jo Buitendach)

2020 update: The Alhambra appears to have been sold again and is now owned by Kings & Queens funeral business. It also received a particularly horrible re-paint.

Apollo Cinema Doornfontein 1970s

Apollo Cinema Doornfontein 1970s

Apollo Cinema building 2017

Apollo Cinema building 2017 (Source: Google Earth)

An old Doornfontein cottage was converted into an experimental theatre called Arena Theatre on the corner of St. Augustine (25) and Louisa Streets. It was run by PACT.

Arena Theatre converted from a Doornfontein cottage

Arena Theatre converted from a Doornfontein cottage (Source: Bawcombe’s Johannesburg)

The old Windybrow Theatre was popular in the late 1980s and 1990s. It was originally one of the early mansions in Doornforntein built and owned by Theodore Reunert and one of the few surviving examples of pre-1900 buildings left in Johannesburg. It was restored by PACT in the 1980s and is still a theatre today after another restoration in 2017. Read a more detailed history of Windybrow HERE.

Front of Windybrow from 2011

Front of Windybrow from 2011 (Source: Marc Latilla)

The first moving pictures based on Edison’s Kinetoscope were shown at the Grand National Hotel on April 4 1895. Henwood’s Arcade between Pritchard and President Street soon followed. The Apollo Theatre at 39 Pritchard Street showed moving pictures from December 1908.

Also worth mentioning is that many of the old theatres also began showing films – first silent and then from 1929 full length features with sound –  as well as the new cinemas that sprang up all over the suburbs like Curzon (later the Fine Arts which opened in 1965 with the Sound of Music) and Clarendon Cinema (1940 on the corner Twist & Pretoria streets), Highpoint and Mini Cine (upstairs at the Hillbrow flea market), Cinema International Pretoria Street in Hillbrow; Adelphi and Grand in Rosettenville; Kinema Complex or Grand Bioscope in Kenilworth designed by D.M. Sinclair in 1935; Grove Kinema (later called Victory Theatre), Astra and Royal Cinerama (1966) in Orange Grove; Piccadilly and ‘Bughouse’ bioscope in Yeoville designed by Stucke & Harrison and built in 1929 and first owned by Geo Reid; the Corlett near Bramley; Avenue (later re-named 7Arts and Rex) in Norwood; Avalon, Planet, Lyric, Tivoli (Mint Road) and Majestic in Fordsburg;  Odeon, Parysia, Protea (Oxford Road) and Constantia (Tyrwhitt Ave) in Rosebank; Gem and Regal in Troyeville; Regent in Kensington; Valley Bioscope in Bertrams; Rex in Greenside; Ascot and Palace in Turffontein; Gala Cinelux in Randburg; Cine 303 opposite Library Gardens; Good Hope Cinema in Commissioner Street (originally known as the Uno and previously a Chinese court), Good Hope 2 (old Metro Market Street), Ster Elite 1 & 2 corner Mooi & Marshall Streets, Playhouse Cinema in Main Street; Avalon in Ferreira’s Town (now the Tin Town Theatre); Oscar in Plein Street; Albert, Pigalle in Jorrisen Street (later named Classic), Playhouse also in Jorrisen Street and Gaiety (1928 designed by Percy Rogers Cooke) in Braamfontein; Lake in Parkview;  Jeppe Theatre (or Premeire?) and Alexandra Theatre in Marshall Str (designed by Bertam Avery in 1911) in Jeppe; Malvern Kinema in Malvern; Star Bioscope in Denver; Metro 1 & 2 in Bedfordview; Century in Springs; Criterion in Benoni; Mayfair and Roxy in Mayfair; Scala in Melville; Taj Cinema in 17th Street, The Royal on 23rd Street and The Star on 20th Street in “Fietas” or Vrededorp; Mayfair Theatre in Mayfair (designed by Percy Rogers Cooke in 1931); Odin and Balansky’s in Sophiatown; Eyethu Theatre Molofo Soweto built in 1969; San Souci bioscope in Kliptown and the King’s Cinema in Alexandra Township.

Most of these buildings are long gone. With the introduction of television to South Africa in 1976 and home video in the early 1980s, the numbers dropped and many were demolished or converted. The ones I know of that are still standing but converted are Gem Theatre in Kensington (been to a few live gigs there), Valley Bioscope in Bertrams became a synagogue and is now a private home, Scala in Melville (used by Red Pepper TV Productions), Piccadilly in Yeoville, Ascot in Turffontein (now a church), Lake in Parkview (converted into a second-hand book and antique market), King Cinema in Alexandra and Majestic, Avalon and Lyric in Fordsburg (Majestic is still in the use but the other two have been converted) and the Good Hope 2 in town. Eyethu Theatre in Soweto is now a lifestyle and conference centre. Jeppe Theatre building is still there as is the Alhambra which is now a theatre again. The buildings that housed Cinema International in Hillbrow and Mon Cine in Bree street are also still standing.

The Royal Cinerama in Orange Grove (which still stands) became a TV studio in the 80s run by Trillion. I remember being in the audience of a primary school TV quiz show in 84 or 85 (where I met Julia Jade Aston of Cafe Society fame when she was still with the group Working Girls). Sometime in the late 90s I played at a Le Club reunion there when it was known as Warhols (see scathing review below. That’s me behind the decks in the Glastonbury t-shirt )

Cinema today. Note Trillion logo still visible

Royal Cinerama today. Note Trillion logo still visible (Source: Marc Latilla)

Working Girls - Big in the 80s

Working Girls – Big in the 80s

Le Clunb reunion at Warhols 1999

Le Club reunion at Warhols 1999 (Source: Marc Latilla)

The Civic and Wits Theatre are still going as is the Alexander Theatre (which is also used for non-theatrical events). Victory Theatre (built just before WWI and known as Grove Kinema until after WW2) closed in the early 1980s although it still hosted a few productions before it was rebuilt in the 2000s by new owner Joe Theron. Italo Bernicchi ran the theatre for 35 years before it closed.

Curzon in Kotze Street closed in 1965

Curzon in Kotze Street closed in 1965 to become Fine Arts

Fine Arts in Kotze Street Hillbrow

Fine Arts in Kotze Street Hillbrow opened in 1965 and closed in the 1980s to make way for a new Kine Hillbrow

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 9.28.46 PM

The Grand Bioscope in Kenilworth

Clarendon Cinema on the corner of Twist & Pretoria str Hillbrow 1940

Clarendon Cinema on the corner of Twist & Pretoria Street Hillbrow 1940 (Source: The Star)

Highpoint in Hillbrow from 1973

Highpoint in Hillbrow from 1973

Mini Cine cult cinema above the flea market in Pretoria street Hillbrow

Mini Cine cult cinema above the flea market in Pretoria street Hillbrow (Source: Marc Latilla)

Cinema International Hillbrow

Cinema International at the end Pretoria Street in the 1970s

Site of Cinema International 2017

Site of Cinema International 2017 (Source: Google Earth)

Piccadily Theatre in Yeoville

Piccadilly Theatre in Yeoville

Ascot Bioscope in Turffontein

Ascot Bioscope – the first in Turffontein built in the 1930s

Regal Kinema Troyeville

Regal Kinema Troyeville

Regal in 2014 with an odd addition to the front

Regal in 2014 with an odd addition to the front (Source: Marc Latilla)

Gem Theatre and view down Commissioner Street late 1960s

Gem Theatre and view down Commissioner Street late 1960s

Gem Theatre 2014

Gem Theatre 2014

Alexandra theate jeppe

Plans for the Alexandra Theatre in Jeppe (Source: Museum Africa)

Playhouse cinema Main Str

Playhouse Cinema in Main Street near Eloff Street

Avalon Theatre Marshall Str

Avalon Theatre in Marshall Street Ferreira’s Town (Source: Museum Africa)

No connection between the old Avalon Theatre on the corner of Marshall and Wolhunter (Now Margaret Mcingana Street) and the Fordsburg Avalon Cinema has been established. The Avalon in Marshall Street is the Tin Town Theatre today.

Tin town Theatre c2017

Tin Town Theatre building c2017 (Source: Google Earth)

Playhouse in Jorrisen Street

Playhouse in Jorrisen Street

Avalon in Fordsburg from 2014

Avalon in Fordsburg from 2014 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Old Lyric Theatre in Fordsburg right across the road from Avalon. It's now a block of flats

Old Lyric Theatre in Fordsburg right across the road from Avalon. It’s now a block of flats (Source: Marc Latilla)

Fordsburg Majestic Bioscope

Majestic Bioscope 2019 (Source: Marc Latilla)

Fordsburg ortogonal DRC and Tivoli theatre

Hidden DRC building and later Tivoli Theatre in Mint Street (Source: Google Earth)

Avalon cinema pageview

Taj in 17th Street was also known as the Avalon. This Goldblatt picture was taken shortly before it was demolished (Source: David Goldblatt)

The Star Cinema 20th street fietasJPG

The Star Cinema 2oth Street Vrededorp or “Fietas”

Odin Theatre Sophiatown 1950s

Odin Theatre Sophiatown 1950s. It was owned by the Egnoses who also used it for multi-racial jazz concerts and political meetings

Eyethu Theatre

Eyethu Theatre Molofo Soweto (Source: Derek Smith)

San Souci Bioscope before fire

San Souci Bioscope Kliptown before the fire (Source:

San Souci bioscope after 1994 fire

San Souci bioscope after the 1994 fire (Source: 2610South

King's Cinema Alexandra

King’s Cinema Alexandra (Source: Google Earth)

Royal Cinerama in Orange Grove closed in 1980s to become a TV studio. It's a stones throw from the Radium

Royal Cinerama opened in 1966  in Orange Grove closed in the 1980s to become a TV studio. It’s a stones throw from the Radium

Odeon on Oxford Road opened on 18 April 1939

Odeon on Oxford Road opened on 18 April 1939

Parysia in Rosebank

Parysia in Rosebank

Rex on Greenway in Greenside closed in 1965 and became Greenway Cinema

Rex on Greenway in Greenside closed in 1965 and became Greenway Cinema

Corlett cinema Louis botha Ave

Site of the Corlett Cinema on Corlett Drive near Louis Botha Ave (Source: Google Earth)

Of interest is a recent find from an April 1973 tourism guide showing the cinema and theatre shows at the time complete with addresses and phone numbers of the venues.

Cinemas & theatre shows in Johannesburg 1973

Cinema & theatre shows in Johannesburg 1973


Tea Room Cinemas

Tea Room Cinemas

Tea Room Cinemas

I discovered that there were also Tea Room Cinemas in Johannesburg and will post pictures as I find them.

Before any theatres, the first professional entertainment in the growing town was that of the Frank Fillis Circus which staged its first show of a fortnight run on 24 August 1887 on Marshall Square. ‘Payable gold’ states the first recorded professional performance given by Fillis’ circus was the middle of September 1886 in Ferreira’s Camp. Magnates & Mansions states the circus arrived on 22 July 1888. Fillis also presented ‘Dick Turpin’s ride to New York’ the following day. The circus proved so popular they erected a more permanent structure around 1889/90 – a tent-shaped wood and corrugated iron structure seating 800 that stood 15 metres high in Jeppe Street between Harrison and Loveday Streets (two other sources put it in Bree Street) that cost 8000 Pounds. Bell Rose was mistress of the ring.

Fillis Circus

Fillis’s Circus

Fillis circus middle right

Looking down Simmonds Street toward Braamfontein showing Fillis’s Circus on the right

Fillis Circus - Rose Bell

Rose Bell – Mistress of the ring (Source: Johannesburg 100 Years)

Fillis Circus programme

Fillis’s Circus Programme

In 1975 Andre & Philo Pieterse built a 3000-seater entertainment tent at Bruma called the Film Trust Arena. Its first show was the imported ice show ‘Disney on Parade’. It may have also been used as a circus venue.

It’s also worth noting that the original Wanderers Hall at the sports ground in Braamfontein also hosted many theatrical and musical performances.


Benjamin, A, 1979. Lost Johannesburg. Johannesburg: Macmillan

Fraser, M, 1985. Johannesburg Pioneer Journals No.16. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society

Van Rensburg, C, 1986. Johannesburg – One Hundred Years. Johannesburg: Chris Van Rensburg Publications

Van Der Waal, G-M, 1986. From Mining Camp to Metropolis. Pretoria: Chris Van Rensburg Publications

Carrim, N, 1990. Fietas-A social history of Page view: 1948-1998. Johannesburg: Save Pageview Association

Bawcombe, P, 1973. Johannesburg. Johannesburg: Village Publishing

Robertson, C, 1986. Remembering Old Johannesburg. Johannesburg: AD Donker

Stoloff, C, 1947. Old Theatres of Johannesburg. South African Architectural Record

Smith, A, 1976. Johannesburg Firsts. Johannesburg: Africana Museum (unpublished)

Cohen, F. The Man Who Tamed the Mountain. Private Press. Zelda Street.

Musiker, N & R, 2000. A Concise Historical Dictionary of Greater Johannesburg. Capetown: Francolin Publishers

Chipkin, C. M, 1993. Johannesburg Style-Architecture & society 1880s-1960s. Cape Town: David Philip

Jewish Affairs Vol.61, Number 4, Chanukah 2006. South African Jews in the theatre. Aricles by Belling, Englander, Knight, Tucker, Baneshik, Swerdlow, Slier, Robinson, Musiker and edited by David Saks.

The site Cinema Souvenirs was invaluable, especially for info and pictures on the lesser-known theatres and cinemas in Johannesburg. Unfortunately, it appears to have been taken down.

Cinema Treasures provided useful additional information.

The recent update in November 2014 was thanks to Percy Tucker’s out-of-print memoir  ‘Just the Ticket’. It’s an amazing and detailed book covering Percy’s 50 year love affair with theatre and his involvement with an early manual incarnation of Computicket and his part in implementing and running Computicket when it launched in South Africa in the 1970s.

Additional old photos and information on Brooke, Reps, 20th Century, Empire and His Majesty Theatres came from Howard at

Thanks to and those that commented on the site for the Ster City information.

Bruwers heritage assessment of Anstey’s Building confirmed the Orpheum connection.

This entry was published on July 29, 2013 at 9:25 pm. It’s filed under Johannesburg and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

119 thoughts on “Theatres in early Johannesburg

  1. Pingback: Doornfontein part.3 (Eastington & The Turrets) | Johannesburg 1912

  2. This is what I needed somebody with in depth knowledge about The City. I also do abit of my own research since I stay right in the cbd but Thank you for this abundance of information.

  3. I was amazed at your website and theatre/movie house history. I can say proudly that I visited and performed at the Brooke Theatre (sadly I don’t have a photograph – bow brownie B&W in those days – was built on a church and graveyard) almost all the movie and theatre venues depicted after 1951 till now over the years. I was looking for the history of then the Sound of Music musical production started in South Africa: Brian Brooke was the 1st, then how many other productions have since been performed and where in South Africa to date?

    Well done on your brilliant research – BRAVO!

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for the great comment! I’m no expert on the actual productions so have no idea…

      • Percy Tucker says I have written in my autobiography ‘Just the Ticket” extensively on the Brooke Theatre and I even have a copy of Brian Brooke’s autobiography ‘My Own Personal Star’. ‘The Sound of Music’ was presented at the Brooke Theatre starring Heather Lloyd-Jones in 1964. I have also recorded the history of SA entertainment from 1935 to 2003 which I have on CD and which was broadcast in 2003 and 2004.

      • William Popper on said:

        This is so interesting. I am researching family history. My great grand parents ran two “bio-scope cafes” , the Elite in Pritchard Str and and Town Hall in President.
        Their Company was registered in 1919 but they may have been trading earlier.

        Also in 1912 they were living in Moseley Buildings in President Str – Do you have any pics or info about any of this this?

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Hi William,
        THanks for reading. I do have something on Moseley Building which I’ll mail to you as well as some reference to the bioscope cafes.

      • There was a cinema in Braamfontein named the Pigalle which incidentally in its last days was managed by the great actor/manage/director Andre Huguenet. It was sad to see such a great figure of SA Theatre in evening dress standing outside the cinema waiting for the few customers to come in. After such an illustrious career he died penniless.

  4. Great history!! I wonder if you have more info on Ben and Frank Wheeler who was involved? I am researching the WHEELER families in South Africa. Regards Richard Wheeler

  5. Themba on said:

    This is a great site. It is always useful for history to be documented.

    The Alexander Theatre mentioned above was never legally a ‘theatre’; it was never zoned as such and thus operated illegally.

    It is now used, again, illegally, to host ‘non-theatrical’ events which is another term for night-club/concerts or general noise polluting.

    It was never granted permission to undertake these events because has flats and offices at all sides.

    • I think your information is incorrect.The whole history of the Reps Theatre ( its original name) is in a book called ‘They Built a Theatre’ by Arthur and Anna-Romain Hoffman published by Ad Donker in 1980. The theatre opened in 1952.

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Hi Percy, I got the opening date of the Reps theatre on 7 November 1951 from your book. I’ll keep an eye out for ‘They built a theatre’

      • Re The Reps Theatre. The date is my book is correct It was 7th November 1951.
        Why I wrote 1952 is stupid because I only went to the theatre in March 1952 after I returned from my theatre trip overseas and I apologise for the error.

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Please don’t apologise! You’ve given the piece a massive endorsement and taken the time to look at the details. I appreciate that immensely.

  6. Reblogged this on JEAN COLLEN ON WORDPRESS and commented:
    This is a marvellous article about theatres in early Johannesburg. I am sure it will be of interest to the many people who have followed my post on “life in Kensington and Johannesburg fifty years ago”.

    • Marcia Rykov on said:

      I enjoyed reading about your life in Kensington fifty years ago as I lived in Cyrildene in the 1950’s which was a wonderful suburb. I would love to see some pictures of that once beautiful city and also some pictures of Hillbrow in the 1960’s if anyone has any of these treasures?
      Thanks in advance.

      • Thank you for your comment about my article on life in Kensington, Marcia. As you know, Cyrildene is the adjoining suburb to ours. It has changed character over the years and is now inhabited largely by the Chinese community these days. I would also be interested in seeing photos of Hillbrow in days gone by. My husband and I lived in a flat there in the seventies when we were first married and have happy memories of our life there. We returned to Kensington in 1974 and have remained here ever since.

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        I have found a number of pictures of Hillbrow from the 60s and 70s as well as a few from the really early days. Interestingly, Hillbrow has the least amount of early pictures of the suburbs I’ve been focusing on. I’ll show all when I get to the post (which will be after Braamfontein is complete)

  7. I am delighted to have discovered your post which gives such a comprehensive overview of theatres and cinemas in Johannesburg from the very early days. What a shame that so many of these buildings have been demolished.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks Jean!
      It is a shame but it’s interesting to see how many are still around (although re-purposed for other uses with their history waiting to be uncovered). I’ve been following your blog for a while after reading the Kensington post. I grew up there from 79-87.

      • Thank you for your reply. How interesting that you grew up in Kensington. I look forward to reading more of your blog now that I’ve discovered it.

    • I’ll look forward to reading your next post, Marc. You are certainly doing the history and suburbs of Johannesburg proud with your fascinating blog.

  8. What a great article. I have a fb group called Kensington Kids, and would to link the group up to your site.

    I remember going to some of these old cinema’s in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoons, particularly the Monte Carlo, it was a long walk from the bus terminus, and not a good idea in winter, there was hardly any sunlight in the city in the late afternoons.

    Thanks for stirring up these long forgotten memories

  9. Gerard on said:

    Do you have any info on the Andre Huguenet Theatre in Hillbrow…now called the Hillbrow Theatre. Thanks

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Gerard,
      I’ve come across the name but no information. I often add new pictures and update as I find missing pieces and will keep a look out for this one. Do you know the address or street it is in?

      • The Andre Huguenet Theatre was opened in 1977 by Pieter Toerien in Kapteijn Streeet Hillbrow.It was named after the famous Afrikaans actor Andre Huguenet. It was incorporated into a space in a building housing a German old-Age Home. Later when Pieter opened his own theatre The Alhambra, Tim & Cathy Plewman took it over. The theatre was unused for a few years and then re-opened as The Hillbrow Theatre.
        I have written in my auto-biography the history of SA Theatre from 1935 to 1997. I also recorded this on CD which was broadcast with interviews by every known theatrical personality on Radio Today in 2003/2004

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Hi Percy,
        Thanks for the info. Would you mind if I used it on this blog and can you tell me where can I purchase a copy of your auto-biography?

    • My reply to your question is written in full. I have no idea why it didn’t fit in to your reply column.

  10. Gerard on said:

    Dear Percy

    Thank you so much for your response and information on the former Andre Huguenet Theatre. I work at the theatre running the Hillbrow Theatre Project. I should have contacted you years ago. I have tried to make contact with Pieter Torien this year to find out some of the history and to get archive material. I have found the old Andre Huguenet sign which I have hung in the foyer.

    I will look for a copy of your auto-biography and would love to get a copy of CD of interviews.

    Best regards

    Gerard Bester
    Creative Director – Hillbrow Theatre Project
    Manager – Hillbrow Theatre Community Centre
    Tel: 011 720 7011
    Facebook: Hillbrow Theatre Project (Community Page)

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Gerard,
      Thanks for the info. I’ll be in contact soon as I would love to see the theatre and take a few pictures for the blog.

  11. Absolutely amazing research. Well done. I wish we could distill the heritage and use the essence to reinvigorate the theatre in Jozi.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for the comment!
      Regular movie houses are in danger of closing due to poor attendance. It appears to be a combination of not-so-great-films, price, access to digital TV with on demand services and streaming. Why go out when one can stay at home? I suppose much like how the introduction of TV in 1976 was to have an effect on traditional theatre over time. Records have made a small comeback. Like theatre, they never really went away, they were just hiding. Could there be a niche revival of traditional theatre? I think so, so long as the content is compelling and exciting/good enough for people to want to go and experience it.

  12. So many of the theatres and cinemas bring back memories. No mention of The Adam Leslie Theatre where I was in “Mr Skinflint” and “They Sing Cole Porter” in the early 1970s.
    Adam`s shows were so topical, incorporating news of the day, and he and Joan Blake were a formidable combination. All a very interesting read.

    • I wrote the whole history of the Adam Leslie Theatre in my autobiography ‘Just the Ticket!’ published by Jonathan Ball in 1997 and which however is now out of print. There are also pictures of the theatre in the book. I also wrote Adam’s whole history in ‘Jewish Contibution to SA Theatre’ which was published in the magazine Jewish Affairs in 2006. In fact all the biographies of Jews in SA Theatre are in this magazine. Percy Tucker

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for reading it! Good point on the Adam Leslie Theatre…I did a whole piece on it as part of the Doornfontein history here:
      I will add it to the theatre piece.

      • My autobiography published by Jonathan Ball is unfortunately out of print and all the records were burnt in a fire at JB. I am trying to find a method of putting over 600 pages of the history of theatre in SA and 150 pictures onto the internet but haven’t found a solution yet !!!!

      • bewilderbeast on said:

        I can reply to you but not to Percy. Maybe you could suggest to him he use for his records. I find it excellent.

  13. Diani Gernandt on said:

    Wow, such detailed facts, such precious historical information and archives. Thank you! As a theatre performer I salute you!

  14. Cory Voigt on said:

    Thankyou so much for this! I was going to ask if you spoke to Percy Tucker, but of course he is in touch. Jewish geography aces Boere geography! And also glad he mentions the wonderful Jewish Affairs issue which highlights the Jewish involvement in SA theatre. I never knew The Gem in Kensington was anything other than a moviehouse. I lived in Belgravia in 1973 and remember climbing the stairs up to Kensington to go to movies. Later on the Classic Motorcycle Club used to meet over the road at the Oribi Hotel

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks Cory!
      I’ve been in touch with Percy and am trying to track down his book to read all about it. I did some work on the history of Belgravia in some earlier posts on this site and would like to hear thoughts on what it was like living there back in the 1970s.

  15. Nigel Plumley on said:

    What a wonderful site and lots of memories brought back. I grew up in Johannesburg,use to go into downtown on a Saturday with my Dad who went off to work, and I’d go to a movie in the morning and then another in the afternoon.Remember all the interiors, magical places…the splendour of the night sky in the Colosseum, the mermaids recessed on the walls of the Monte Carlo…remember seeing Elvis Presley up on the screen at the Metro, and many audience members swooning every time he sang…Ben Hur at His Majesty’s.And before that the manager of the Astra in Orange Grove was a family friend….with my sister when we were small all through the 50’s we’d sit in the last row and watch Saturday afternoon matinees.So many wonderful memories

  16. Marc, thank you for this wonderful site. I stumbled across it while looking for information on Heather Lloyd-Jones, whom I knew. In the early 1960’s, when I was still in primary school, a group of us little girls used to catch the bus and go and see matinees at the Colosseum, Empire, Metro and His Majesty’s. A movie ticket cost one shilling, and it was safe enough for children that young to make the journey, without adult supervision, and go and see a movie. It was a magical, wonderful world. I went to high school in Kensington, and we frequently went to the Gem. As a young adult I patronised the Royal Theatre in Orange Grove, the Piccadilly in Yeoville, Cinerama, Ster City and the Carlton Cinema. I had an enjoyable stroll through old Johannesburg, the beautiful, inspiring city of my youth. I am going to share on Facebook, people need to know about this. It would make a superb book.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Anne Marie, thanks for sharing your memories of the old theatres and cinemas! There is a really good book on the old theatres that I’m reading at the moment (hoping to find a few extra facts for the post). It’s called ‘Just the ticket’ By Percy Tucker. I’ve only just started it but he appears to be the person who started Computicket and it’s full of detailed information of theatres from the 1940s right up to the 1990s. It is out of print but managed to track a copy down via Bookdealers.

      • Cory Voigt on said:

        I believe Percy is still alive and living in Sea Point. We corresponded by email 2 or so yrs ago. Excellent book ,anyway.
        Also check out JEWISH AFFAIRS.In 2006 they published an issue on theatre in
        Jewish SA,edited by Percy

        Cory Voigt

        Sent from Samsung tablet

        Johannesburg 1912 – Suburb by suburb research wrote:
        Marc Latilla commented: “Hi Anne Marie, thanks for sharing your memories of the old theatres and cinemas! There is a really good book on the old theatres that I’m reading at the moment (hoping to find a few extra facts for the post). It’s called ‘Just the ticket’ By Percy Tucker.”

      • I am still very much alive and living in Sea Point. Am still very involved in the performing arts and I sit on the Board of the Cape Town City Ballet. I hopefully can answer any questions about theatre in Johannesburg in the 20th Century.

  17. Marcia Rykov on said:

    Thank you so very much for the incredible pictures and wonderful memories of a special time in my life. I was fortunate enough to have spent many wonderful hours enjoying films at The Metro, 20th Century, Colosseum, Empire, Plaza, His Majesty’s etc up until 1964 when I left South Africa. It is sad to know that these beautiful buildings have been demolished as they gave us so much pleasure and joy as we all dressed up in our best outfits on a Saturday evening to go downtown and see a movie. Thank you again for this site which I was lucky enough to find. Would love to see more pictures of the once beautiful Johannesburg.

  18. I’d like to know when the Brooke Theatre closed.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Ivan,
      It appears to have closed around July 1980. According to Percy’s book, the last play staged was Pyjama Tops which ended it’s run on 19th of July 1980. The theatre was demolished to make way for an office block

      • Percy Tucker on said:

        The Brooke Theatre closed on July 19th,1980 with a production by Pieter Toerien of ‘Pyjama Tops’.

  19. ‘Old Johannesburg’. Interesting, we are up to the Brooke Theatre closing in 1980. I suppose that is old, we have an older Datsun in daily use, and I have just sold my 1964 motorbike
    Klip in die bos; can anyone contribute about African/Bantu/Black theatres in early Jozi? I drove past the old Dorkay House last week, and at least the façade and lettering still is up. And did they not have theatre at the Bantu Mens’ recreation Center a few doors up?

    • Percy Tucker on said:

      The Brooke Theatre in Johannesburg closed on July 19th 1980 with a production of ‘Pajama Tops’ by Pieter Toerien.

      Percy Tucker

  20. Pingback: History of theatres in Johannesburg | Marc Latilla

  21. Lorna Moir on said:

    What wonderful memories. I was Lorna du Preez who lived in Kensington – went to Jeppe Girls – Of course all these “bioscopes” and theatres were the fabric of our lives. Thanks for interesting comments – those were good days – too long ago (born 1935)
    but it is so nice to hold on to the memories. If you recognise my name – I send my love – I remember you well! Maybe you were a date of mine at the Regent Cinema on a Saturday night or a bought me chocolates at the Colosseum or Empire – glorious times and theater and movies. Where is Kathy Phillips that lovely soprano that worked with me at JCI?

  22. ERIC COHEN on said:

    My name is Eric Cohen I lived in Orange Grove Joburg in Orange Grove we had the Royal ,the Astra and the Victory Cinema in the 60s the Astra was turned into a Ster Cinema and the Royal into Cinerama does anyone rember

  23. I remember them all as the company which I founded ‘Computicket’ used to do all their advance bookings. I was a director of the first ‘Cinerama’ opposite Ster City. The Royal Cinerama was the 2nd to open but eventually they ran out of product.

    • Percy, Do you remember what was previously on the site of Cinerama in Claim street? My research indicates either a Presbyterian or Dutch Reform Church. Thanks, Marc

      • Sorry I don’t know the answer. I was born in Benoni and only came to live in JHB after I opened my first business called ”Show Service’ in Eloff street. After school I studied at Wits and was an accountant before I decided that I really belonged to the show business world.

  24. Hi there, Thank you for this post! I am researching burlesque and cabaret in the country.
    Do you perhaps know of the history of Burlesque dancing in South Africa?
    Kind Regards, Miss Oh!

  25. David Shapiro on said:

    No mention of the old “Yeoville Bioscope” known also as the “Bughouse” in Bedford Road ,just of Ralegh street ,Yeoville ,I used to pay 6 pence for the Saturday Matinee,Used to swop comics before the show and at interval.Remember at one time the manager was Uncle Harry , Used to wear a dress suit even inthe afternoon (Matinee )shows

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks David! It’s the first time I’ve heard of that one. I’ll add it shortly.

      • Marcia Rykov on said:

        Yes it was the Picadilly in Yeoville. Saw many great movies in this little theatre or as we used to say the “Bioscope” in the mid to late 50’s………Thanks for the memories!!

    • I remember a cinema in Yeoville – I think it was called the Piccadilly. It often showed films which were not seen on the usual cinema circuit.

    • I remember the Bughouse well, they had two shows some nights, a morning show on Saturdays and a matinee on Wednesday and Saturdays. It was possible to see four shows on a Saturday, I think I once did.
      The seats were wooden and the floor uncarpeted. As kids at the Saturday morning show we would stamp our feet at the exciting parts especially during skiet and donner parts.
      I remember admission to matinees was a zack (sixpence).

  26. An article on the College of Music, which became the Adam Leslie’s Theatre in 1967, appears in “Between the Chains”, the Journal of the Johannesburg Historical Foundation, volume 12, 1991, pp. 22-23.

  27. The Doornfontein History Project has a well-researched article on the Alhambra Theatre if you’re interested.

  28. In c. 1956 I went to the Apollo Bioscope in Beit Street, Doornfontein, to watch a Tarzan film. Although apartheid was in place then, only the coloured community frequented the bioscope as Doornfontein was then inhabited by that community.
    You do not seem to have anything on the Astra Biscope on the south-eastern corner of Louis Botha Avenue and 17th Street, Orange Grove. As with the Royal Cinema a little further away, we used to swop comics while waiting in the queue to buy tickets that cost sixpence.
    In 1961 I attended Damelin College in Plein Street. Next door was a, I forget the correct term, “tea-room bioscope”. The college principal, Dr Kriel, warned all pupils that anyone caught attending the bioscope would “summarily be expelled”!
    Another well-known cinema, extant until recently, was the Victory in Louis Botha Avenue, owned by Mr Bernicchi.
    The Fine Arts Theatre in Grant Avenue, Norwood, was where I saw the most angelically beautiful girl selling tickets; her aunt acted as policeman right behind her, c. 1971. By some good fortune she became my wife in 1977 (not the aunt!). Bernicchi also owned this cinema.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for sharing your memories Alkis! That’s a lovely story about how you met your wife

      • Jeff Isaacs on said:

        Hi Alkis, If I may share some memories regarding the Astra Biscope. 1965 / 66/ 67 on Wednesday afternoons matinee’s were provided for and attended mainly by the school kids from the area. Orange Grove School ( mine ) and H A Jack. Highlands Boys High and Northview if they managed to get out of school in time. If my memory serves me correct the entrance fee was 15 or 20 cents and this was the perfect place for all the eleven, twelve and thriteen year old’s to smoke. In fact the bioscope was filled with so much smoke the film could not be viewed. Saturday morning shows we preceded was a local band on the minute stage for approximately twenty minutes. Cigarettes and sweets were purchased across the road from the Astra Cafe. Around 1970 the Astra became a Ster Cinema, upgraded projectors and sound system.

  29. Having only now gone through all the comments above, the term is “cafe bioscope”. The only one I attended in the late 1950s was next to Stuttafords in Pritchard Street, where I was served a fizzy drink during the show, when it was dark and could not see the state of cleanliness of the glass it was served in, which felt grubby and sticky,
    I particularly liked the Piccadilly in Yeoville as it showed cases that the Scotland Yard had solved before the main features.

    • Marcia Rykov on said:

      I too enjoyed the Piccadilly! Had relatives who lived on the corner of Hopkins street just up the road. My favorite was the Metro downtown on Bree street where we always visited the Gaggia coffee bar for a cuppuccino after a show.

      Does anyone have pictures of Hillbrow in the 1960’s?

      • Marc Latilla on said:

        Thanks for the memories Marcia! Hillbrow is but two posts away and I’ll share everything I have. I have pictures from 50s – 80s (but not nearly enough) and a few from the early 1900s

      • Marcia Rykov on said:

        Thank you Marc………Looking forward!!

  30. Marisa Rothbauer on said:

    Thank you for all the history about cinemas and theatres in Johannesburg and surrounding suburbs. I did not notice anything about The Apollo, Beit Street, Doornfontein, I used to go there in the 1950s. There used to be a cinema in Jorrisson Street, Braamfontein, could not see in your history what it was called. I seem to remember that it closed in the late 1960s.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks For reading Marisa! I only mention the Apollo once in the piece just above the Alhambra picture. There is very little info available on some the older theatres and cinemas, so when I find something new I add it. I will over time try and post pictures and/or more info on all the buildings. On the Braamfontein cinema, could it have been either the Albert or the Gaiety?

  31. majestic theartre fordsburg miss8ng here

  32. Basil Ladakis on said:

    My youth was defined by going to the movies in joburg. Watching Vanishing Point at the Cinerama; Close Encounters of the Third kind at kine centre 1; Enter The Dragon at Highpoint. To name a few. Thanks for this extensive research.

  33. Katherine Munro on said:

    I enjoyed your original posting about the Theatres of Johannesburg . I read it a while ago and then came back to it having found an excellent article by Cyril Stoloff on the Old Theatres of Johannesburg written in the Student Forum of the South African Architectural Record vol 32 , May 1947 . Are you aware of this source ? Stoloff should be recognized for his pioneering efforts . He included a map of the Johannesburg city Theatres between 1887 and 1920 and covered the following Theatres : the Globe, the 1 st Empire, the Gaity , Palladium , his Majesty’s , Theatre Royal , Second Empire , Standard , Orpheum , Bijou , Oxford, Astoria, Carlton , Tivoli, Grand and Vaudette . He discussed all ( some briefly ) in his article . Stoloff drew on the Africana museum , African Consolidated Theatres archives ,and his own photographs which are now an historic source . Stoloff was also interested in the architects of Theatres .

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks for the kind words! I’m not aware of it. Is there some way I could access it? I recently got hold of an insurance map of JHB which shows exact positions of various buildings and businesses (1898 I think) and will be using that to validate some of my info. It includes theatres and public buildings. I spend a lot of time adding to and re-writing the old posts. Doornfontein is getting a re-vamp at the moment!

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  35. Marc, you are a star. Like so many other people I have rejoiced in the memories that you have evoked for us all and I salute you.

    My “bioscope” visits as a lonely and unhappy boy in the late 1950s lifted me out of my misery for 1½ hours every week – the gay persecution was dreadful. My havens were the Odeon and the Parysia in Rosebank and later, too, the Curzon and Clarendon in Hillbrow. Palaces of enchantment.

    Thank you so much.

  36. Marcia Rykov on said:

    Hi Marc, been a while since seeing any new posts?? Do you or does anyone have any photos of Hillbrow in the early 1960’s? I am most interested to see Koetze, Pretoria and Twist Streets. Hope you are well and working on something wonderful for us to enjoy!! Thanks again for all you do!!…..It is a real treat!

  37. Wonderful, really enjoyed this page, I was looking for the theater that I saw Nico Carstens playing his accordion in, in the late 60’s or early 70’s, because I believe he passed away today. I think it was His Majesty’s but could have been the Colleseum? such a lovely atmosphere it was..I loved the aura of those days…:) thank you for this informative page.

  38. Pingback: Julia | In search of Harris

  39. Fantastic blog,everytime I read it I wish I could travel back in time to see these places in their prime.I adore your blog because I’m a sucker for history

  40. Fabulous reading and memories. Thank you

  41. Absolutely incredible article. Wow, I was born in the wrong generation and I cannot believe how many theatres popped up and were demolished or burnt down. I had the privilege of photographing inside The Alhambra Theatre on Sunday, It has not been used for 20 years and it was a pleasant surprise to find it in very good condition. Thank you for the extremely interesting article.

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Thanks Meghan! I saw some of the interior pictures on FB from the weekend. They look amazing – like a time capsule. I hope to see it for myself sometime

  42. Thanks for this amazing pages.
    Looking to find info of a Store that was in President Street called Paramount Stores

    Specifically looking for the History of a token I have , Text on it reads – ‘Paramount Stores Johannesburg’ 10% Discount Tokens” Circulation in 1931 … Hoping you would have some more info.

  43. Graham Dickason on said:

    An amazing and valuable collection, to be treasured. A great city arose from the gold discoveries, populated from all corners of the globe.
    I remember during the war years (WWll) that the re-building of His Majestys was stopped and at street level, all boarded up. After the war when it was finished and re-opened with the panto Robinson Crusoe, we all thought we were literally seeing a palace.

    • Percy Tucker on said:

      Sorry I sent you a copy of the Bijou Cinema without checking that you already had one.


      Percy Tucker

  44. Clifford Deintje on said:

    Thank you so much for bringing back all those awesome memories of old Joburg. Seems like only a few years ago I was watching the ‘flimsy in the dark with such relish and anticipation.

  45. Leo Lipschitz on said:

    Hi Marc
    Really enjoyed this amazing journey .It is surprising how many of the places and shows I remember.
    Nice to be reminded.
    You mentioned the installation of cineama organs in some theaters, but no – one has mentioned the drama of the Mighty Wurlitzer covered in coloured lights , like a giant juke box rising through the floor of the stage of the Plaza bioscope with John Massey ( I think) playing tremendous chords .
    What about Charles Manning and the Coloseum orchestra ?
    Nothing like his impassioned conducting the Can Can music Orpheus in the Underworld, with his athletic lunges and strides about the stag , and that long white hair tossed backwards and forwards !
    You also got more for your money with African Mirror and Ons Nuus newsreels as well as the trailers of Forthcoming Attractions.
    African Mirror was also a part of Johannesburg with studios in Killarney
    TV news has certainly killed that sort of magazine program as entertainment , and the only supporting program today is a series of adverts and, of course, Forthcoming Attractions.
    When I was ( a lot) younger there were still people around that referred to Britain as ‘Home’ and there would be applause in the cinema when a member of the Royal Family appeared .
    In those days there was only ONE Royal Family .
    Of course , at the end of the show everyone stood for a few bars of ‘The King’ and a clip of a waving Union Jack, before leaving .
    I also seem to have missed mention of a small theatre in DE Villiers Street – apologies if I have missed it . The name escapes me but I still have vivid memories of seeing ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ by Pirandello with powerful performances by Siegfried Mynhardt and Bernadine Groenewald .We were in the second row and the action included the audience so It made a terrific impression . I was about sixteen at the time and was the guest of an older cousin .
    I also saw Hamlet there and to my surprise found myself being taken home on the back of an enormous motor bike driven appropriately by one of our schoolmasters who had been a Cheetah Pilot in Korea .
    Graham has mentioned the Pantomime Robinson Crusoe . For me the highlight was The Storm Scene where the stage action was suddenly replaced with a dramatic large screen movie picture of a storm – tossed raft.I still think that it was very ingenious for the time.

    Please feel free to edit my spelling and errors of fact.

  46. Percy Tucker on said:

    As my 90th birthday present and to thank all those wonderful people who create entertainment and to anyone interested I scanned my book which has been out of print for about 20 years and now is can be read free of charge at The book “Just the Ticket’ is nearly 700 pages so we had to divide it into 3 sections. I believe it can also be purchased from Amazon at a small fee. It will give all the answers to some of the questions in this wonderful website. Percy Tucker

  47. Merle Jacobs on said:

    This is an essential website for any tourist guide in Johannesburg who likes research & to expand their knowledge of the city’s past. I use it a lot. Thank you!

  48. Jeff Isaacs on said:

    Wow, Totally Breathless. Outstanding research and accuracy. I recall so much and so many of the venues featured here. You mention ” Le Club”, the one owned by Mannie De Canha?
    I was involved in the installation of the sound and lighting. Also revamped his brothers club, The Goblit in Hillbrow in the mid 80’s. Thank you for an awesome trip down memory lane.
    Jeff Isaacs

    • Marc Latilla on said:

      Hi Jeff, the Le Club I know was in Market Steet near Small Str. It was owned by Frank and Josie. Previously it was Decodance run by Shayne Leith. Below it was King of Clubs

  49. Kobus Bosman on said:

    Paramount Stores discount tokens – President Str – JHB – Can somebody help with any information as we are conducting all SA tokens history for future generations.

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