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His Majesty’s/St James Wellington NZ

                                                     By Tony Froude
            The city of Wellington New
          Zealand, like Melbourne Australia, is
          proud of its reputation as the arts centre
          of the country. Thanks to support by the
          City Council, sponsors and the public,
          Courtenay Place Wellington can boast a
          re-vitalised theatre district: the St
          James (1912), The Opera House
          (1913), Paramount Cinema (1917)
          and the Embassy Cinema (1924), are
          all within two blocks of each other.
            In the same area, a newcomer, the
                                            A drawing of the restored theatre. The building alongside has been recycled as foyer
          Downstage Theatre (1980), is also
                                            spaces. Image:
          contributing to a vibrant art scene.
            The oldest of these theatres, and  In 1911 the Wellington City Council  Christchurch. This was a significant act
          possibly the best loved, is the St  declared the building a fire risk. It was  of faith in White, and it was to be well
          James, which was built as His     demolished after the final screening of  rewarded.
          Majesty’s Theatre.                The Battle of Trafalgar.              White enjoyed the theatre as
            The theatre stands on a site with a                                entertainment, and he had become a
          long history of public assembly, ritual                              first-hand observer of the deficiencies
          and entertainments. The original                                     of the buildings of the day.
          building opened as the United                                           After Christchurch more theatre
          Methodist Church in 1879, was taken                                  work enabled White to practice his three
          over by the Temple Lodge and renamed                                 design essentials: ‘…a clear vision line
          the Choral Hall in 1896.                                             from every seat in the auditorium;
            After a major refit in 1899, the Hall                              perfect acoustics, and a scheme of
          was purchased by John Fuller Snr.,                                   ventilation that will ventilate. Given
          scion of the family who would become                                 these three factors in anything like
          famous on both sides of the Tasman for                               perfection, combined with comfortable
          their vaudeville and cinema operations.                              seats with ample leg- room, you have
                                                                               the basis of a good theatre.’
            Vaudeville practice at that time was
          to include an occasional movie in the                                   When Fuller’s announced that they
          program. Examples screened at the  The 1899 His Majesty’s            would build ‘the biggest and best
          Choral Hall included Robinson Crusoe  Fullers temporarily moved the  theatre in New Zealand’, White would
          (1903), The Melbourne Cup (1904),  cinema operation to their skating rink  be given the freedom to test his design
          and The Russo- Japanese War (1905).   up- town while the new theatre was  principles 'in anything like perfection.’
            In 1908 Fullers leased the building  under construction. The architect was  Fullers already operated 64 theatres,
          to Messrs. Lindley and Donovan who  Henry White, a man with definite ideas  but this one was to be the ‘flagship’ of
          ran movies six days a week, making  about theatre design.            the circuit. The final cost was 32,000
          them the first permanent cinema      In 1899 John Fuller Snr. had    NZ pounds, which in 1912 was a lot of
          operators. They renamed the hall His  commissioned the 23-year old engineer  money.
          Majesty’s.                        and architect to build a theatre in
            Initially the going was tough;
          vaudeville had a very strong hold on
          the public's discretionary money.
          Business picked up after they obtained
          a 1,000-foot film starring a certain
          Gladys Smyth who, so one story goes,
          later became Mary Pickford.
            On the strength of their good
          fortune with this film, the partners
          decided to team up with Wests to build
          New Zealand's first purpose-built
          cinema down the road called the Kings.
            When that cinema opened, the lease
          on His Majesty’s reverted to the
          Fullers, who retained the name and
          continued to screen movies there.   Image:

          6   2006 CINEMARECORD
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