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Capitol Theatre (Currently Legends - a Gay Club)

I had heard that Legends (a gay night club in Pretoria) had moved to No. 1 Parliament Street, near Church Square in Pretoria. To think a gay club could operate openly in such a previously staunch symbol of Afrikaaner power shows just how things have changed in South Africa! The Theatre was built in 1931 and has no presence to speak of from the outside. But inside it is a marvel of over the top design with huge false columns and a remarkable arched concrete roof to give the impression of an open sky (not dis-similar to some newly constructed very kitsch casinos in Gauteng) and depicts the Roman Capitol. Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take my camera into the club...but I found the place fascinating. It last operated as a cinema in 1974 and has been empty since, except as a car park during the day! (And now a gay night club by night!).

 

It was designed by PR Cooke.

COOKE, Percy Rogers

Born: 1880 05 26

Died: 1958 05 14

Was born in Bristol in England, the son of the Reverend J Furman Cooke. He was educated at the Wesley Methodist Colleges in Bristol and in Sheffield, going on to attended the Crystal Palace School of Engineering and training as an engineer. Around 1903 he he came to South Africa and was employed as an engineering assistant by the Town Engineer in Johannesburg. By 1906 he had been appointed second engineer with Germiston Municipality where he remained until 1909. He married in 1907 and in 1910 left the public service to open his own practice in Germiston, while living at Littlethorpe House in Malvern in Johannesburg in 1911. His 1911 Licentiate papers for membership of the RIBA were signed by JS BOWIE who confirmed that Cooke had been 'engaged on architecture' for five and a half years. It seems that for a short time Cooke had worked in association with Bowie. Cooke's address was in Germiston by 1914 when he was nominated to the Council of the Association of Transvaal Architects and in 1914 he formed The Germiston Players, an amateur theatrical company and in 1916 contacted IW Schlesinger, the Director of African Theatres Ltd, in an attempt to secure The Globe theatre in Germiston for the company. This may have been the beginning of Cooke's association with Schlesinger. He won (from whom? n.d.) the competition to redesign The Grand Theatre in Benoni, which led to his designing small theatres in Brakpan, Springs and Witbank. In 1917 Cooke was appointed representative of the Association of Transvaal Architects Practice Committee in Germiston and moved to Johannesburg in 1920. According to Cooke (Outspan 12 Oct 1956), Schlesinger commissioned him to design a synagogue in Doornfontein and a new wing for the Jewish Home for the Aged next to the synagogue. In 1926 Schlesinger commissioned Cooke to design a cinema-de-luxe in Smith Street in Durban. This was to be known as the Prince's Theatre (1932-33). Cooke was appointed architect to the African Consolidated Theatres at about this time and in 1927 was sent to Europe and to the United States of America by Schlesinger to investigate modern theatre design. In New York he met Thomas LAMB who taught Cooke 'the secrets of atmospheric theatre with an illusion of sky and stars' (The Capitol Theatre 1931). Cooke stated that he designed the Alhambra Theatre in Cape Town in Lamb's office. He paid a further visit to the United States in 1930 to consult the acoustics authority, Professor Sabine (who he eventually tracked down in London) prior to designing the Colosseum Theatre in Johannesburg. Cooke was elected a member of the Acoustical Society of America at this time. His association with Schlesinger led to the design of some remarkable theatres and cinemas in South Africa in association with an accomplished team: HW SPICER, W TIMLIN and AS KONYA among others. The atmospheric theatres in South Africa, in particular The Colosseum, Johannesburg, were amongst the few examples of this type of interior in the world and are now rare. Cooke was among the pioneers of cinema design in South Africa but KALLENBACH, KENNEDY & FURNER were also in the field at the same time, and the differences in the approaches of the two firms to cinema design make for interesting comparison. P Morton Shand, author of Modern Theatres and Cinemas (1930) probably spoke for the modernism of cinemas such as those designed by Kallenbach, Kennedy and Furner when he described the atmospheric theatre as 'this nauseating stick-jaw candy atmospherics' or 'outside-in' interiors' (Shand 1930:19). Cooke's only surviving theatre of this kind is the former Prince's Theatre, now the Playhouse, in Durban. (Wolsley SPICER's role in the design and execution of these theatres was considerable. Cooke and Spicer worked in association with each other several times but did not enter into a partnership. They designed a house for L Miller (co-founder of the OK Bazaars) in Parktown in 1933.) c1935 Cooke was asked to design the headquarters of the Electricity Supply Commission (ESCOM) in Johannesburg, but for some reason he left the project when the building had reached foundation level (completed by architects at the University of the Witwatersrand headed by Professor GE PEARSE).

Cooke was in partnership with FL DREYER in Johannesburg by 1945. Among their buildings is the Central House building (1948) in Pretorius Street in Pretoria. Cooke died at St James's Mission in Magaliesburg near Krugersdorp; his home was in Parkwood, Johannesburg.

LRIBA 1911; MRSA, Lon; Mem Acoustical Soc of New York. (AB&E Feb 1927; Afr Archt Feb 1914:314; Brown 1969; Building June 1922:45; Cinema, theatre and general construction. Nov 1931:32-33; LRIBA papers (1911; McTeague 1985; The Capitol Theatre, 1931; TAD MHG 3327/58; Greig 1971; Outspan 12.10.1956; SAWW 1916) Publ: Conditions of building industry in America, SAB Feb 1928:37; The charm of lovely suburban gardens, The Star 5 Sep 1928 suppl:12; Amateur acting brought me to theatre architecture, Outspan 12.10.1956 (portr).

[Entry extracted from electronic document lodged by Joanna Walker in the archives of the Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria]

 

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Taken on March 23, 2008
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