St James Theatre Update
After we published our proposal for The St James Theatre, we received some interesting information from Max Johnson and he has agreed to share it with all of us:
Hi there my name is Max Johnson and I have been carrying out a research paper on the St. James theatre complex for my Post-Graduate degree in Spatial Design at AUT that may be of some interest here.
I have spent the past few months sifting through building plans from various years of the complex and found that the original facade shown in the above proposals to no longer exists in that form. According to a proposed facade alteration plan carried out by Rigby Mullan Architects to the “Kerridge Theatre buildings” dated 17/6/49, says that the original facade was to have all “architectural projections” removed and to be replaced with tiles.
The conclusion I have drawn from this is that the ornate detailing was removed and some existing window bays were filled in. Then a more streamlined set of windows with timber frames and glazing were created that ran in 2 sets of 6 over the various floors. The plan deemed that the facade be clad in a 6″x 6″ blue Vitreous tiles, however upon closer examination of period photographs, this particular part of the proposal was not carried out.
The facade was modified to create a more “modern” look for the celebrations of HRH Queen Elizabeth’s arrival in December 26 1953. where she viewed a special screening of “Million Pound Note”. This included the covering of the iconic St. James tower. The cupola was removed and the remaining walls and windows were sheathed in a steel frame and wire mesh and then plastered over. Additionally the face of the tower was also sheathed with plaster.
This included the removal of the original longitudinal St. James sign and replaced with a more modern interpretation (later removed circa 1960s). Also the windows of the tower face were covered with a plaster wall that covered at least 80% of the windows.
In 1957 the Odeon theatre was added to the complex. It was the first of its kind to be fully air-conditioned. Of particular interest is the Odeon foyer. Designed by Rigby Mullan Architects and built by Fletcher Construction, the foyer demonstrated the latest in interior design. The foyer was adorned by a beautiful glass and tile mosaic that was created by Maurice K. Smith that is still intact today. Also worth mentioning is the Scoria walls that framed the external walls of the foyer still exist too.
The foyer is in a depressing, mildew-soaked state. The space has been currently converted into the “Net2″ 24hr internet cafe. The staircase that lead to the Odeon circle has been removed and covered. However the main staircase that descends from Queen Street is intact and is still sporting the fountain/pond area at the rear of the base of the staircase.
In 1966 the Westend cinema was added to the complex. To my knowledge, this cinema was housed above the Odeon. With this addition came the introduction of the current facade. In an attempt to create a more uniform look. This facade consists of aluminium sheeting and electric signs. Originally the aluminium sheeting was an ochre colour with blue signs and white lettering, however in the late 60s or early 70s this was changed to a more subtle sand coloured sheeting with red signage and white lettering.
Somewhere in the 90s-2000s the facade became an advertising space that sported billboards from Coca-Cola through to ANZ/National banks. Recently these adverts have been removed to reveal the aluminium 1966 facade. There are several cuts and incisions into the facade at points that reveal elements of the 1953 facade such as the windows. These windows seem to have intact glass panes but have wooden panelling inside.
Also out of interest, the adjacent Regent theatre was built in 1982 and was originally proposed as the “Embassy” theatre. The Queen Street facade of this building actually houses offices. Bank of New Zealand had an office in this building and was known as the “BNZ Town Hall” branch. The auditorium space sits nestled between these offices and the St. James theatre.
It is also interesting to note that the fire that was responsible for the closure of the complex on the 15th of May 2007 actually occured in the Westend area of the complex. I am unsure of the exact location of the damaged areas, but this may explain the boarding up of the Queen Street windows.
I hope that this information may help shed some light on any issues and I’m quite happy to answer any questions,
Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us Max, it is much appreciated.