Watch: Auckland’s lost cinemas – retired projectionist lists 29 screens gone

Auckland’s central city area has lost 29 cinema screens due to building demolitions and closures in the last few decades, a retired theatre worker estimates.

Murray Thompson of the North Shore has made a film to show the exterior and interior grandeur of some of the theatres in the central city area which are now all either gone or shut.

Most of the screens were lost during a 40-year period of intense change.

“This area of Auckland was once considered New Zealand’s golden mile of cinemas but today, very little remains of the past,” said Thompson who now runs The State, a private 12-seat members’ only theatre in Devonport.

He has been a projectionist all his life in New Zealand and Sydney, spending his earlier years at the now shut historic St James Theatre on Queen St.

His film shows images of the lost screens around Queen St and Karangahape Rd areas.
The images came from the Auckland Museum and private collections.

“The start of really big losses of screens was from 1954 to 1999,” he says.

Very little remains of the once-grand picture palaces.

“The Civic Theatre is the sole survivor capable of screening film,” Thompson said of the 29 screens.

“The St James Theatre remains under threat, shut and work stopped there for the last four years,” he said of that project which once hoped to re-open the 1920s building.

The three-minute 50-second film starts with the Grand which then became The London Theatre and then the Oxford, showing interior images of a majestic waterfall curtain, once the hallmark of such cinema temples.

It then moves on to Everybody’s/New Roxy on Queen St, showing pillars and palms, then to Queens/New Hippodrome/Roxy.

Other Auckland theatres which feature are the Odeon, Vogue, Westend, Fullers Opera House, Embassy, Regent, His Majesty’s, Plaza, Princess, King George, Embassy, National, Century Globe, the St James Theatre and others.

The lost screens were in the city including the Karangahape Rd area. Many changed their name over the years due to film policy changes, new ownership or after refurbishments.

Each screen is listed with the street name, opening and closing dates plus demolished or used for a different purpose.

Below is the list of the 29 closed or demolished screens of Auckland city, including the Karangahape Rd area but excluding New North Rd, Ponsonby Rd and Symonds St. Many changed their names due to film policy changes, new ownership or after refurbishments. The screens are listed from the top of town/Karangahape Rd area to the bottom of town near the ferry building:

Alhambra/Grafton/Tivoli, Karangahape Rd: opened 1914, closed 1963. Demolished.

Kings/Prince Edward/Playhouse/Mercury, France St off Karangahape Rd: opened 1910 by Fullers and the first purpose-built theatre designed by Edward Bartley, of Devonport. The name was changed in the 1920s to the Prince Edward and the entrance shifted to K-Rd, the site of Norman Ng’s fruit shop. The interior ceiling can be seen today. In the late 1940s it became the Playhouse and was converted to the Mercury in 1967. The theatre is still intact but needs refurbishment and a future plan for its survival.

Arcadia/Star/Vogue, Karangahape Rd: opened 1914, closed 1954. It became Para Rubber and today is a nightclub.

Classic Cinema, Upper Queen St: opened in 1974 and became the Classic Comedy Club in 1997. Originally intended to screen classic films but within a few years, the policy changed due to lack of interest.

Civic Newsreel Theatrette/Civic Theatrette/De Paris, Queen St, opposite St James’s main entrance: boomerang shape with exits out to Wellesley St, later became the first main TAB in Auckland. Dates unknown.

Civic Theatre, corner Queen St and Wellesley St: operating today after opening in 1929 so not in the list of 29 lost screens.

Wintergarden, Queen St: Built under the Civic Theatre in the original Civic Wintergarden. opened 1975, closed 1998, became part of the Civic’s restoration.

“New” Regent,Queen St: opened 1982 as part of the Theatre Centre. It was originally to be called the Embassy.Closed July 1999. Demolished 2016.

St James Theatre, Queen St: opened 1928. It was designed for vaudeville and the first film, screened in December 1929. That was The Gold Diggers of Broadway, which was in sound. In December 1957it became part of the Theatre Centre. Stage attractions ended in December 1979. The St James Theatre Centre (St James, Westend, Odeon and Regent) opened in December 1984. In 1993 it became the Village St James Theatre Centre and closed in July 1999.The stalls foyer was renovated, the stalls seats removed and the floor levelled for a live theatre opening in September 2000. Closed in May 2007.The entrance lobby, buildings on the adjacent sites (Odeon, Westend and Regent) were demolished by late 2016. The stalls floor was removed and remains empty and decaying.What was left of the tower has been covered and stands alone.

Odeon/Vogue, Queen St: opened 1957, the city’s first new cinema for more than 21 years. It was also the country’s first public building to be fully air conditioned. It was renamed the Vogue in 1988. Closed July 1999. Demolished 2016.

Westend,Queen St: opened 1966 within the new Theatre Centre. Closed 1999. Demolished 2016.

Fullers Opera House, Wellesley St: opened 1886, demolished 1926.

Embassy, corner Wellesley and Lorne Sts: opened 1936, closed March 1960 for a month, reopening with equipment for the presentation of 30mm, 70mm, 65mm or TODD-AO. Kerridge Odeon’s 70mm roadshow house. Closed and demolished 1979.

Regent, Queen St: opened 1926. The first real talkies screened here and at the Stand across the road. Closed and demolished 1974.

Cinema 1 and 2,Queen St: opened 1974, closed and demolished in 1990. This small complex was built to replace the old Regent a few doors away.

Mid-City 4, Queen St: opened 1984, closed 1999. Still sits empty today.

Strand/Mayfair/Cinerama, Queen St: opened 1916, closed 1959. Transformed into cinerama and reopened with a three-projector presentation with a massive curved screen. Closed and demolished 1984.

His Majesty’s, Queen St: opened 1902, closed and demolished 1987.

Majestic, Queen St: opened 1925, closed and demolished 1961. Rebuilt for Kerridge Odeon as the 246 Queen St shopping centre with head office on the seventh floor. Originally to be called the Colosseum in 1925. Opened as the largest theatre in New Zealand with 2000 seats.

Princess/Plaza, Queen St: opened 1913, closed and demolished 1983. Amalgamated Theatres’ showplace for 70mm films and the first in New Zealand. The Sound of Music ran for 77 weeks, the longest run of any film in New Zealand.

King George/Embassy/National/Century, Queen St: opened 1912, closed and demolished 1984. Some say it was one of the best examples of art deco architecture at the time of its closure and possibly one of the best of its type.

Globe/Hippodrome, Queen St: opened 1912, closed and demolished 1927.

Queens/New Hippodrome/Roxy, Queen St: opened in the early 1900s, closed 1967. First 3D screenings in NZ. Louis Vuitton shop today.

Everybody’s/New/Roxy, lower Queen St: opened 1915, later turned into Woolworths, which burned down in 1935. Replaced by the Roxy. Closed 1956. Building restored and parts of the theatre are still intact within the Imperial Arcade.

Customhouse Cinema, Custom St: opened 1982, closed 1987. Installed the first completely automated projection plant.

Grand/London/Oxford, downtown Queen St: opened 1914, closed 1968. Became The Pink Panther Club, demolished 1972.

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