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Alhambra Theatre
Doornfontein, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Samuel Victor MANN: Architect

Date:1919-21
Type:Theatre
Status:Extant
Street:Beit/Sivewright Sts


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26°11'39.83" S 28°03'31.04" E Alt: 1733m
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(The Star 28 Nov 1984 ill)

2012: The building is currently being used as a storeroom for theatrical props

Fri, 01/11/2013: "The Alhambra Theatre is situated at 61 Beit Street (corner of Beit Street and Sivewright Avenue) on stands 57 and 58 in New Doornfontein. The original theatre opened in 1919, with much later alterations and additions. This area was indeed prosperous around the turn of the century, containing the houses and the offices of the mining magnates. The theatre was originally a place for live shows as well as films, and the first ‘talking film’ was shown here.

By 1966 the Alhambra was terribly neglected and bought by JODS (The Johannesburg Operatic and Dramatic Society). Although the architect R W Anderson made some changes, the essential forms of the building remain. However, the venue proved unsuitable for the large-scale JODS productions, and by 1981 it seemed to many to be ready for demolition. But theatre impresario Peter Toerien came to the rescue, made more alterations and added offices in 1983.

The treatment of the main façade accentuates the entrance most effectively: a strict symmetry is adhered to and emphasized by means of a central arch above the entrance, the three circular openings, the three doors and the two urns delineating the actual entrance area. The exterior facing Beit Street has a rhythm set up by the window openings with their decorative bands underneath and pediments above. In spite of the tower on one side, the symmetry is reinforced by two semi-circular mouldings in the form of arches flanking the façade. The tower draws the attention of the corner.

In plan, the auditorium on the main level seats 300 people while a previous wardrobe store was converted into a bar. The simple plan extends to the upper level where the bar area becomes an intimate studio theatre (the Leonard Rayne) seating 160 people. This space was previously a rehearsal room and is reached via a staircase leading directly from the foyer. The partitions between the letter and bar are based on the arch motif.

Without unduly romanticising the architectural qualities of the building, one can acknowledge its presence as the only relic of a once grand area and applaud the fact that it functions successfully as part of the cultural life of the city." (Article accompanying a notice for sale)

2017: New hope for old theatres: Some fading heritage theatres are becoming venues for vibrant activity. Financial Mail: 5 October 2017.

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.