Heritage: Cinema on K Road

Cinemas of Karangahape Road.


Moving pictures were first shown at the Opera House in Wellesley Street in 1896, just six months after the first screenings in Paris that year.

Initially Films were shown in any large room available so often existing theatres and lecture rooms were used but just about any hall was likely to be pressed into use as well.

Lectures utilising projected still images had been common for several decades, Magic Lantern shows were popular and were often of an educational nature rather than entertainment per se.

For example clergymen often gave lectures about the Life of Christ involving a slide show with Views of the Holy Land or raised funds for overseas missionary work by similar views of exotic locations such as Africa or the Pacific Islands.

Early films were very short (and of course, silent) but to begin with the novelty appeal of watching moving images was often enough to attract an audience rather than the actual stories being told.

Note this notice from 1915 in which eleven cinemas in Auckland are mentioned after the two live theatres but apparently the vague description of "Continuous Pictures" is felt sufficient.


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Cinemas in Auckland 1915.

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As films were very short showing a range of topics, trying to appeal to a broad range of tastes was very common

"Continous pictures" would generally involve at least one each of the following; Drama, Travelogue, Newsreel, Documentary, Animated short, and Comedy.

Often Vaudeville Theatres included films as part of an evening's lineup, indeed some found films so much easier to organise than live performers that some changed from organising live theatre to specialising in film..

In the 19th century there were a succession of theatres and hall constructed in central Auckland mostly in the Queen Street valley - it wasn't until the second decade of the 20th century that cinemas appear to started operating in the K Road area.

By the end of the 1920s, almost 40 cinemas were operating in central and suburban Auckland, some in converted structures and many in purpose built buildings.

Initially prints of films could be imported by any exhibitor, often leading to parallel "premieres" of the same film by rival companies.

In 1911 leading exhibitors, such as Fullers' Pictures and Hayward's Picture Enterprises, started to obtain exclusive rights to certain films and screened them in the chains of theatres under their control and rented them to independent exhibitors.

This established a pattern of cinema organisation and picture distribution which continues in an altered form to this day.

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The Tivoli Theatre, Karangahape Road.

Alhambra/Tivoli.

Alhambra/Tivoli 1913-1976 (demolished)

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The Tivoli was probably the third purpose built cinema in Auckland - the first being the 1911 Lyric on nearby Upper Symonds Street (demolished) and the other the Victoria in Devonport of 1912 (which is also the oldest cinema in the southern hemisphere in continous useage).

Although the status of the Queen's Theatre and the Globe (both on Queen street) remain unclear - they certainly showed films but it is unclear whether they were specifically designed as cinemas.

For a while the Alhambra/Tivoli was operated by Thomas O'Brien, who went bankrupt after opening the Civic in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression.

Opening as the Alhambra, the Theatre was located near the Grafton Bridge corner and its success was probably directly related to the 1913 Auckland Exhibition and the vast numbers of people who visited it.

The use of giant horseshoe windows appears to be unique but may be derived from fairground architecture.

There was a strong connection between early film and such places of public amusement such as Coney Island in New York, indeed the 1913 Auckland Exhibition in the Domain also showed this influence.

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Alhambra 1915. Early films were silent and very short -often a selection was played in a continous cycle - people did not necessarily stay for the full line-up but might come back several times - hence the expression "this is where I came in last time".

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By 1915 it had been renamed the Grafton and finally in 1917 the Tivoli (derived from a famous amusement park in Copenhagen)..

It appears to have also operated as a Dance Hall which was quite common - many early cinemas were built with flat floors for this reason.

Theatres with raked seating were less versatile than a hall with a flat floor as their sloping floors couldn't be used for dancing or other uses (such as charity fetes).

But conversely the sightlines of the stage from the seats were inferior to a purpose built theatre and as proper cinemas appeared venues with flat floors were at a definate disadvantage.

Later cinemas also tended to have better acoustics which became extremely important after 1927 - many venues found it was too difficult to alter their interiors to remove echos.and other faults.

Although it was rewired for sound the Tivoli lost patronage from the 1930s onwards to the larger and newer venues being built.

The new line of Theatre/Cinemas such as the St James, The Regent, the Civic and the Majestic all had raked seating with better sightlines, acoustics, bigger screens and more lavish decor.

For a while an amateur dramatic group the Grafton Players were based here but by the 1970s it seems to have survived mostly screening children's films on weekend matinees and cheap B-grade films at night.

In the early 1980s the entire block bounded by K Road, Symonds st, City Road and Liverpool St was razed in order to create a large development which included the Sheraton Hotel (now the Langham).

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The Newton Palace Picture Theatre, Karangahape Road.

The Foresters Hall, Newton Palace, The Palace.

The Newton Foresters Hall/Newton Picture Palace/Polynesian Ballroom/Ibiza.

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This building was constructed as a Foresters Hall in the 1880s. The hall occupied the upper floors leaving the ground floor avaiable for retail shops.

The Foresters were one of several fraternal societies which were very popular in the 19th century, it had been formed in Britain in 1834 as the Ancient Order of Foresters.

It initially involved men dealing directly with cultivating timber (and of course cutting it down) but the organisation's membership probably expanded to include other men who worked with wood: ship builders, carpenters, joiners, cabinet makers, box makers and carriage makers.

These were all industries located around Karangahape Road - indeed before it was filled in to create Victoria Park Freeman's Bay was the landing spot for logs with the shoreline full of ship builders and lumber yards..

The hall had a flat floor and was used for dances and political meetings (Ellen Melville - the first female City Councillor gave some of her first speeches here).

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Ellen Melville 1882–1946 Lawyer, local politician, feminist, women's activist.

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Like many such halls it became used for the screening of films, which were at the time silent.

Halls of all types including Church Halls in small communities were pressed into temporary or regular use but after the coming of sound in the late 1920s their acoustics often let them down.

The Newton Picture Palace as it became known certainly suffered from this - rebuilding the interior of such a hall was quite costly and in this case the combination of the flat floor and the fact that patronising it meant climbing several stories meant it simply wasn't feasible to reconfigure the interior for sound.

This was the last cinema in Auckland to screen silent films - ending its role as a picture theatre in 1931.

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The building in the late 1940s.

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After that point the large space on the top floor became a Dance Hall, morphing into a series of nightclubs during the rest of the 20th century.

In 2011 the space was reconfigured as an office complex putting an end to about a 130 years of public entertainment on this site.

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A recent view of the building.

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The King's Theatre, Upper Pitt Street.

King's Theatre/ Prince Edward Cinema/The Playhouse/The Mercury Theatre.

The 1910 Kings Theatre/ Prince Edward Cinema/ Playhouse.

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This is now Auckland's oldest surviving Theatre, although ironically it has a very small stage compared with virtually any of the other venues extant or demolished.

It was thought for many years that this was the first purpose built cinema in Auckland but that status belonged to the (now demolished) Lyric of 1911 on nearby Upper Symonds Street, followed by the extant Victoria of 1912 in Devonport.

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The Upper Pitt Street facade. (this street was renamed France Street during WW1 and Mercury Lane in the 1990s)

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The confusion probably came about due to the fact that a film was shown on opening night in 1910 but plans in the Council Archives show it wasn't until 1914 that it was modified to include an actual projection room at the back of the circle.

On New Years Eve in 1911 it (and the Globe on Queen Street, a theatre now demolished) screened parrael imported copies of the first colour film ever seen in this country (not just a coloured in black & white film)

In 1926 (following the fire at Auckland Opera House in Wellesley Street) the Fuller Corporation renovated this theatre to be their flagship venue in Auckland in the face of competition from the new St James Theatre.

This new role resulted in a new entrance from Karangahape Road being built.

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The new Karangahape Road entrance of 1926.

The 1910 portion of the building was designed by Edward Bartley (who died in 1919), the addition was by Daniel Boys Patterson who was the main designer employed by Fullers from abut 1913 onwards.

When it reopened as the Prince Edward Theatre it appears to have continued presenting a mixture of live vaudeville acts and Motion Pictures.

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Auckland Star, Volume LVIII, Issue 52, 3 March 1927, Page 24.

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At the same time as the theatre was relaunched as the Prince Edward the Radio Broadcasting Company of New Zealand built their Auckland Studio opposite the theatre in France Street.

Surviving 1YA programmes from the 1920s show that music from the theatre was broadcast - usually the live orchestra playing the overture before a film.

Doubtless many of the vaudeville performers which appeared onstage each evening at the Prince Edward also performed in the 1YA Radio studio directly on the other side of the street on the same night.

Just before the second war the theatre had another name change - the Playhouse - this probably indicates a renewed emphasis on live drama.

Interestingly the first performance of what would become the Royal New Zealand Ballet took place here - this is remarkable largely because the Theatre had (and has) a very small stage, too small one would have thought, for ballet..

In 1959 The Playhouse closed it's doors and the 'new" entrance was sold off as a separate property - becoming Norman Ng's Fruit Shop.

The theatre itself remained empty for several years before being purchased by the Mercury Theatre Trust in the 1960s.

Since they left in 1991 it has been opened by a Pentacostal Church although it has been available from time to time for music events and performances.

There is a full page on the history of the Mercury Theatre here.

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The Druids Hall, North Street.

Galatos, Galatos Street.

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The Druids Hall/Galatos 1917

This building was built as a hall for the local Druids Society around 1908 at what was then number 3 North Street.

The Druids were one of a number of fraternal societies which burgened during the 19th century. Grey Lynn Druids.

Before the creation of the Welfare State and important advances in industrial laws brought about by the combined Trade Unions fraternal societies were very popular and very important.

They acted partly as Social and Networking Organisations, helping their members in time of trouble or unemployment, including raising funds for funerals.

Some (such as the Druids) ostensibly had broader spiritual ideals while others merely acted as private men's clubs as an alternative to Public Houses..

The Ancient Order of Druids (AOD) is a fraternal organisation founded in London, England in 1781 - Druids.

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In its original form it was a plain wooden hall with a pitched roof resembling closely a basic church hall of the period - the wooden structure can clearly be seen from the eastern side of the property.

The designs by the architect Edward Bartley for this structure exist in the Auckland City archives.

The building was set back from the road, behind a picket fence (again very much like a church hall of the period) - at some point a two storied addition was built on the front directly abutting the street boundary.

It was, like many similar Society halls, often rented out for dances and other events, including possibly the screening of the new moving pictures.

If it was in use as a cinema it probably found itself outflanked by the purpose built venues which began appearing almost immediately.

In fact in 1914 one was built virtually adjacent to the North Street Druids Hall - the rear facade of the Arcadia Theatre on Karangahape Road is located on North Street opposite the Druids Hall.

By the 1930s the hall appears to have been operated mostly as a Cabaret, although it is unclear as to whether it had a licqour licience.

In the late 1940s the venue recieved a new strung dance floor, which was regarded by dancers as one of the best in Auckland.

As virtually all of its competitors have been demolished or put out of commission this venue can still presumably claim to be the best dance venue in the city.

After the Second World War North Street was renamed Galatos after a battle on the island of Crete where New Zealand armed forces were involved.

The two storied addition to the front of the building probably dates from the 1930s - probably as a direct result of its new role as a Dance venue.

At some point the street frontage was altered by cement render applied to it masking its wooden construction to give an appearance of a rustic adobe building.

This new finish was presumably felt appropriate for a venue which in the 1990s (and now renamed Galatos) was often used for Salsa and other South American dances.

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The Arcadia, Karangahape Road.

The Arcadia/Star/Vogue.

The Arcadia/Star/Vogue 1914-1955.

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This opened on June the 18th 1914 as the Arcadia, probably making it the fourth purpose built cinema in Auckland - it did have a full scale stage with a scenery loft accessible from the street behind - North Street (now Galatos) so it is likely it presented vaudevuille acts as well as moving pictures.

The architect for the first building was probably Daniel B Patterson although this was not a Fullers property.

In the 1920s it appears to have been renovated, possibly by the architect A. Sinclair O'Connor, who may have been a relative by marriage of the owner.

During the redevelopment of the adjacent property for Joseph Zahara's Bon Marche Department Store the cinema's tiny frontage was incorporated into the longer Art-Deco facade of that business.

It was renamed the Star at this point.

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The newly renovated Vogue in 1940.

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In 1939 there appears to have been another renovation, this time of the interior which recieved a late streamline art-deco decor - again this may have been designed by A. Sinclair O'Connor who may have previously renovated the building around 1924.

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21 November 1940.


As the Vogue, the cinema continued in operation until 1955 when it closed - this is an interestingly early date - fully five years before the advent of television.

Following the closure the building was a carpet and linoleum showroom, a warehouse for Farmers Trading company and finally by the early 1980s a branch of Para Rubber.

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Para Rubber circa 1980.

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Para Rubber dealt not only in rubber goods such as gumboots and raincoats but also inflatable beach items, garden furniture, parasols, tarpaulines, camping equipment, and plasticware.

Around 1990 the empty building was renovated as a nightclub called DTM - it has been used as a series of nightclubs since that time but musch of the surviving art-deco detailing has been unfortunately removed since 2000.

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The Empress, Great North Road.

Empress/Avon/Irish Society Hall.


The Empress/Avon/Irish Hall (demolished)

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This building was built in the mid 1920s opening as the Empress.

It was a reinforced concrete building in the neo-greek style similar to adjacent buildings and possibly by the same architect. Several architects were working in Auckland designing buildings in this style though only a comparatively small number worked on cinemas including Daniel B. Patterson and A. Sinclair O'Connor.

By 1927 Sound had come in - this highlighted the shortcomings of many theatres and halls, some of which did not lend themselves to easy or economical renovations to include recorded sound.

Most older halls with flat floors found themselves outflanked by new establishments mostly because venues with raked seating simply gave better sightlines to all their patrons.

The Empress dates from just before the advent of sound but as it appears to have been the venue for many vaudeville shows and public lectures presumably its acoustics were tolerable.

Professional & Amateur Vaudeville Trials 1925.

Sunday Evening Lectures 1926.

Vaudeville 1928.

Empress Theatre Orchestra broadcast on 1YA 1927.

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Auckland Star, Volume LVIII, Issue 261, 4 November 1927, Page 18

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The Empress apparently had a working stage and certainly presented vaudeville acts to the public.

From the Edwardian period onwards it was common for films to be included as part of such a line-up but by the early 1930s moving pictures had become the main attraction with live acts being relegated to being an opening act in most venues.


Auckland Star, Volume LIX, Issue 287, 4 December 1928, Page 5.

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By the late 1930s they tended to dissappear altogether although the larger cinemas often kept up the habit the longest - providing glamourous chorus girl numbers or illuminated pipe organ recitals to amuse patrons before the main feature began.

The Empress is mentioned in the 1920s for it's magic acts - in 1927 it made the news when an animal act had problems.

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Auckland Star, Volume LVIII, Issue 92, 20 April 1927, Page 8.

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It was renamed the Avon in October 1940.

Auckland Star, Volume LXXI, Issue 249, 19 October 1940, Page 20.

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After it closed as a cinema the building was purchased by the Auckland Irish Society who ran it as a community centre and cultural venue.

The ground floor possibly rebuilt as a flat platform to allow for dances and indoor fetes, the upper circle of raked seating was untouched.

The building was sold to new owners around 2005 and subsequently demolished.

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