The Liverpool Olympia was built in 1905 For Moss Empires Ltd by architect Frank Matcham as a purpose-built indoor circus and variety theatre. The theatre was a response to the enormous success of Thomas Barrasford’s Royal Hippodrome Theatre (4,000 capacity, built 1902, demolished 1984) which stood a very short distance away; the Olympia never managed to meet the success of the Hippodrome, and never managed a profit.
It is one of very few of its kind left in the country. Performing animals would appear in the auditorium by being lifted from the basement where they lived. Evidence of the lift mechanism and living areas for elephants and lions can still be found under the theatre. The roof space still holds pulley and wheel mechanisms used by trapeze artists (including the famous Henderson family). The ornate interior still reflects the building’s past with elephants, lions set into Indian wall Panelling.
The auditorium is one of the largest in Liverpool; in its heyday, it could accommodate 3,750 people in the stalls and on 3 balconies. The unusual proscenium stage was at the same level as the stalls, with an orchestra riser against the back wall. The stage had a 15-metre (49 ft) wide Proscenium, was 12 metres (39 ft) deep, and had a height of 21 metres (69 ft). The Olympia was designated by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building in 1975.