The history of Cardiff’s Capitol shopping centre

Thousands of people might walk past the Capitol shopping centre in Cardiff city centre each day, but only few will know of its fascinating past. Just a few decades ago a thriving music venue stood in its place which attracted some of the world’s biggest stars.

ITV’s history show Vanished Wales, which reveals the lost landmarks of Wales and is hosted by Adeola Dewis, has explored the colourful past of the long lost Capitol Theatre.

Speaking on episode one of the show, which aired on Friday, May 13, Adeola explained how for almost 60 years, the building delighted audiences of all ages. Opening in 1921, it was also Europe’s biggest purpose built cinema of the time.

Read more:The beautiful Cotswolds-like Welsh village demolished to make way for the M4

Colin James worked at the cinema and told the show: “We had a hat on and we had a red stripe going down [the suit] and a red stripe going around the hat, which was our uniform…. It was a wonderful building. We sat nearly 3,000 people there for the films. That was the meeting place for people. They really, really were thrilled with it.”

When wasn’t showing films, the Capital was hosting some of the biggest names in the music industry. Queen, Led Zeppelin, Elton John and Bob Dylan are just some of the stars people flocked to see at the venue.

The history of Cardiff's Capitol shopping centre
The Capitol was built in the 1920s

Even the Beatles played there three times during their career. Their first gig was in 1963, while their last theatre gig Britain was held in its second house in 1965.

Phil Davies remembers the 1963 gig very clearly. On the show, he said: “As an experience, it was just…I couldn’t believe I was seeing them. What I remember more than anything was the sheer noise – not the Beatles – but the girls older than me, and women, shrieking and falling on the floor. The place went absolutely nuts.”

The history of Cardiff's Capitol shopping centre
Bat Goddard

But it wasn’t just the big names that got to play at the Capitol. Local talent was also flaunted. Old time Cardiff rocker Bat Goddard is one of those lucky enough to have performed there. He told Adeola: “Arriving at that building, you couldn’t believe it that international stars had appeared there and you were going onto that same stage. I personally never suffered stage fright, but a lot of the youngsters did. They’d go on there and they’d freeze. They’d turn their backs to the audience…It was almost like, I suppose, auditioning for Hollywood on home ground. It was a vibrant time.”

The history of Cardiff's Capitol shopping centre
Capitol Exchange Centre, an indoor shopping centre – September 1997

The 1960s was the Capitol’s heyday, but a decade later saw its decline. The cinema was struggling and music venues were getting bigger and bigger, according to the show. In 1978 the Capitol closed its doors and never reopened.

For years, the venue stood empty as it rotted away. Despite a campaign to save it, it was finally demolished in 1983 before the shopping centre was erected in 1990. You can get more TV news by signing up to our WalesOnline newsletter here.

You can find the first episode of Vanished Wales on ITV Hub.

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