Arise St James

On May 13, 2011 by Eye on Auckland

Mayor calls for report on the restoration Of The St James Theatre.

Boarded up and neglected, the St James Theatre is one of Auckland’s best kept secrets. The Spanish Mission facade facing Queen Street is hidden behind a later addition that resembles something from the Stalin era, it is hideous to say the least. The interior of the theatre is awe-inspiring and should not be hidden from the public eye and that is why the mayor of Auckland has called for an urgent report on the restoration of The St James Theatre. It won’t come cheap but it is worth every cent. Not only will it benefit culture vultures, it will also enhance the character of Queen Street and Auckland’s architectural merit. Gems like these cannot be replaced, they should be protected and opened for the public to enjoy.

A refurbished St James could satisfy demand for for a venue of approximately 1500 seats but a recent report suggested that the Auckland Theatre Company requires a new downtown theatre to seat 600 people. They have applied for a grant to build a new theatre close to the new North Wharf development, attached to the new ASB Headquarters, and that will leave room for the St James Theatre to be used for Opera, Ballet and Commercial Shows. The building is currently owned by a private developer but we understand that he is willing to sell it to the Auckland Council. Another alternative is for The Edge @ Aotea Square to develop the much talked about National Convention Centre due to the fact that they are willing to restore the theatre if they win the bid. All done and dusted, St James could rise again.

Brief History:

The St James was built as a replacement for Fullers’ Opera House on Wellesley Street in 1928. It was designed for travelling vaudeville acts, continuing a tradition of musical and comic entertainment that Fullers had pioneered in New Zealand. Vaudeville was popular among working-class audiences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but was eclipsed by the arrival of talking pictures. The St James was built just before this change occurred, and was modified the following year with the provision of projection facilities. It has continued to be used for both live performance and film, seeing entertainment as diverse as the Bolshoi Ballet and wartime newsreel.

The original building is remarkable for its well-preserved interiors, and is an unusual blend of traditional theatre and American picture house design. Traditional elements include the three steep tiers of seating, boxes and high-quality acoustics in the main auditorium, while the influence of cinemas can be seen in the elegant entrance tower on Queen Street (now concealed) and large foyers for public congregation. The ornate Spanish Colonial-style interiors include statuettes, marble steps and elaborate lighting, which was a way of transporting the audience away from their everyday lives. Purpose-built cinemas were added to the original structure in 1957, 1966 and 1982, some with heritage value of their own. Shops were included along the main frontage at this time, similar to the nearby Civic Theatre.

The building is nationally significant as one of the best-preserved vaudeville theatres in the country, and illustrates important changes in popular entertainment during the early twentieth century. It is closely associated with the early motion picture industry in New Zealand, and subsequent developments in cinematic history. It has considerable aesthetic appeal, with many rare or unique elements in its intact 1928 interior. The building has additional value for its proximity to other places of public entertainment (see ‘Civic Theatre’ and ‘Auckland Town Hall’), showing the importance of Upper Queen Street in the cultural life of the early twentieth-century city. Its 1957 addition is significant as the first public space in New Zealand to be fully supplied with air-conditioning. The St James also enjoys high public esteem as a major place of recreation in Auckland.

13 Responses to “Arise St James”

  • Michael L

    Another crazy act by the Auckland Council. Who approved such obscene acts during the 70′s ? Were they all high on crack :lol:

    To hell with the Skycity Convention centre, give it to The Edge and let’s get our theatre back !

  • Geoff

    I used to go to some amazing dance festivals there, if it costs too much to restore, at least tart it up for a restaurant, concert venue or high end retail store. The Auckland Council should remove that crap hiding the facade of the buildings and restore the original facade. They owe it to Auckland after approving so many heritage demolitions. Dumb asses.

  • Nicco

    OK, Len Brown seems to have all sorts of visions for Auckland. But where are the results?

    Do we need yet another REPORT???

    I’m starting to lose hope with this mayor now. He seems to be doing exactly what he did at Manukau City Council. Report….Another discussion…press release “heritage is important bla bla”….another emergency report…

    One would think that after 6 months in power, he would have sorted it all out by now. But we’re still writing REPORTS?

    • James B

      This is about where I thought we would be in 6 months. Remember that the council can’t really do anything until the Auckland plan is finalised and they have an idea about what the future shape of the city will be. I also think that their was an expectation that the Edge would win the national convention centre bid as they clearly had the superior bid. Although given the government it seems likely they will go with a private sector bid rather than a council organisation.

  • Norman

    Unbelievable, I had no idea that such an awesome facade has been hidden from the public. It reminds me of the architecture that you see in Hastings. So sad :(

  • James

    The developer is very keen to sell and I agree with Eye on Auckland. The purchase is worth every cent and that part of Queen Street needs every bit of help that it can get.

  • Graham

    I hope that something gets done. It is real easy, award the Convention license to The Edge and forget about the rest, unless Sky City is willing to refurb the St James Theatre :)

  • Goody2shoes

    Any news on this ?

  • Sportslave

    I still have high hopes for this one. Let’s not throw the towel in just yet.

  • Live Show Systems NZ

    I have spoken to the owners secretary about purchasing the building, We have secured the money to restore the building, the lady said to me and my business partner that they are not in the position to sell the building at this time.
    My company is very interested in the building as we know the value it has in the entertainment industry in not only Auckland, but in the whole of NZ. It has had some amazing events through the doors and we would like to get this venue pumping the gigs through again.
    Any suggestions as to our next step?

    • Geoff Houtman


      There’s a Save the St James facebook page- start there- they’ll give you any contact you need.

      A year on; ATC sucked all the saving theatres money out for their new foyer on Wynyard, and Kim Jong Key is giving the Convention Centre to his friends in the Sky.

      Two strikes against the St James- what next?

  • Ask yourself where the money will come from to do this. No doubt the building needs looking after but who will pay.

    Auckland art gallery, Q theatre, Wynyard Quarter, Rugby world cup, proposed ATC – don’t forget to add how much it will cost to run these events and organisations over and above the building revamps.

    Another example of Auckland central sucking up the funds from the suburbs. Suburbs are being raped by the Auckland Central upgrade so that the rich can get richer while the suburbs get ignored. Oh by the way the majority of people live in suburbs in Auckland out of the central area.

    Askle yourseff is now the time for this to happen.

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