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Capitol Theatre
Tshwane (Pretoria), Gauteng

Percy ROGERS COOKE: Architect
AS JOFFE and CO: Engineer
REID and KNUCKEY (PTY) LTD: Contractor
John RALSTON: Architect



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25°44'50.12" S 28°11'12.08" E

John RALSTON was responsible for the architectural design and detail with Percy Rogers COOKE, interior design by A Sandor KONYA (SAB Nov 1931:15 ill; Cinema, Theatre & General Construcion Nov 1931:33)

Now derelict, except for the foyer the interior has been demolished. At one stage it was used for parking.

Programme of the opening of the Capitol Theatre (see above)

by P. Rogers Cooke
Member of The Society of Architects, London
And of the Acoustical Society of New York

Architect, African Theatres Limited

IN offering this luxurious Theatre to the citizens of Pretoria, African Theatres, Limited, present the second of their Super Atmospheric Theatres, the first being the Alhambra Theatre, Capetown, which was opened at the end of 1929.

I HAVE been often asked the question, "What is an Atmospheric Theatre?".... Because.... there seems to a little uncertainty on this point, I think it may be of some interest to explain how this type of theatre came into being and what it actually is.... A few years ago a famous architect was travelling through the South of Spain, when one night he came across a theatrical entertainment held in the street of little town in which he found himself.... At one end of the street was a stage, whilst on chairs placed in the middle of the thoroughfare the audience sat in the cool of the Spanish evening.... Overhead the stars were shining softly whilst on either side the dimly lighted windows of the houses formed a setting to a scene of extraordinary beauty.... The architect, Mr. John Eberson, was delighted with this unusual effect and it immediately occurred to him that a theatre might be conceived which would convey to an audience the picture of a Spanish street, nor was it long before this idea bore fruit.... The first theatre of this kind which I saw was in California, where the proscenium represented a rustic bridge and the side-walls Spanish houses, the gaily-curtained windows of which looked down into the stalls.... The roof gave a perfect illusion of the sky, studded with stars and faintly obscured by drifting coulds, whilst a cool breeze gently stirred the foliage and flowers which formed part of the decorative effect.... This brief glimpse formed the inspiration for the design of the Alhambra Theatre at Capetown in which the motif followed was that of the Moro-Spanish period…. The Capitol Theatre has for its model the Italian Renaissance style, at which time Italian Architecture and the Fine Arts were at their zenith.... Its seating capacity is 2,500.... I need say little as to the effect which the Atmospheric Theatre presents.... You, who form this audience to-night, can judge for yourselves.... You will, however, perhaps forgive me for reminding you that we are all nothing more than grown-up children at heart and the sense of mystery and adventure which is present when we step from those humdrum surroundings, which we so well know, into all the wonders of another country and a by-gone age, is one which appeals with delightful insistency to even those amongst us who may have thought that childhood’s days are gone for ever.

Purposes of the Capital Theatre

In designing the Capitol Theatre, three main purposes have been borne in mind – the presentation, firstly, of the perfect sound pictures; secondly, of bio-vaudeville and dramatic performances; and thirdly, of orchestral and organ music.

By special treatment in Sabinite Acoustic Plaster of the huge domed ceiling and the walled surfaces, all acoustic errors have been corrected whilst a special electrical installation of loud speakers.....

Dust Removal

The provision for the removal of dust, dirt and debris throughout the Capitol is unusually efficient. This essential for health and comfort has often been neglected or inadequately made. No army of cleaners with brooms and brushes could clean this theatre, nor could independent vacuum cleaners. It is necessary to remove over a hundred pounds weight of dust daily from the carpets and chairs of a modern theatre of these dimensions. In the Capitol, a multiple-turbine exhaust cleaning plant has been installed, with a capacity of 28 ordinary vacuum cleaners. By means of this plant, the whole of the Orchestra Stalls, Circle and Foyers can be swiftly and thoroughly cleaned.

All the dust is drawn to a large chamber at the stage end of the theatre. Special aluminium tubes take care of the dust in chairs and curtains.


The Architect wishes to emphasise a point which may be overlooked. If success has been achieved in the design and beauty of the Capitol, the result has been obtained by the combined effort of many men of varied gifts and training.

The Architect wishes to express his indebtedness to Mr. John RALSTON for the architectural design and detail; to Messrs. A. S. Joffe & Company, of Johannesburg, Consulting Engineers, for the design of all reinforced concrete and steel construction; to Mr. A. S. KONYA, for the design and supervision of the decoration; to Messrs. J. Jeffreys & Co., of London, Consulting Ventilating Engineers; and to Messrs. Reid & Knuckey, the General Contractors, for their excellent knowledge and workmanship, and for their unvarying courtesy.

The list of Sub-contractors is too numerous for individual mention, but all have made valuable contributions to the construction and equipment of the Capitol Theatre.


Built in 1931, the Capitol Theatre was one of the first atmospheric cinemas to be built in South Africa, with a seating capacity of more than 2240.

The theatre was designed by Percy Rogers Cooke in an Italian Renaissance style and officially opened by the then prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, General J.B.M. Hertzog.

The theatre is situated on the site of the original President Theatre in Parliament Street, opposite Church Square.

Capital Theatre boasted a Wurlitzer organ, star-spangled ceilings and a grand foyer of over 200 feet (70 Meters) in length.

Closed on 26th October 1974, the theatre was stripped of its furnishings and converted into a parking garage by the Pretoria City Council.

(Posted on the Old Pretoria Facebook page by Pieter Bell. Submitted by Annelise Lange)

Some of the seats were used when the Old Market in Johannesburg was converted into the Market Theater.

Writings about this entry

Swart, Johan & Proust, Alain . 2019. Hidden Pretoria. Cape Town: Struik Lifestyle. pg 150-157