Topic: Majestic Theatre (Majestic House), Christchurch

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The Majestic Theatre was an early Christchurch cinema which opened in 1930.

The Majestic Theatre was built on the corner of Manchester Street and Lichfield Street opposite the site of the former clock tower. The tender for the construction was awarded to P. Graham and Son, while the plans were designed by the building firm Sidney and Alfred Luttrell. The building shows the influence of the Chicago Skyscraper style of architecture, which the Luttrell brothers had used for other buildings. The theatre was to be the final ‘Majestic’ built as part of the Majestic Theatre programme and was modelled on the Majestic Theatre in Auckland.

Excavation work for the foundations started on 18 December 1928. The building was the first in Christchurch to feature a complete steel frame. This was surrounded with ferro-concrete. Designed as a complex, the building was to house not only a picture theatre but also shops on the ground floor and offices on the first floor of the Manchester Street side.

To enter the theatre, patrons passed through one of three plate glass swing doors on Manchester Street. These were surrounded by what was considered at the time of its construction to be the most extensive use of granite found in any Christchurch building. Within was a ground foyer with walls that were decorated with fibrous plasterwork, two ticket boxes, a candy counter, and stairs to the first floor circle lounge. At the end of the foyer were the doors which led into the stalls of the auditorium.

The upstairs circle lounge was also richly decorated with plasterwork. From there patrons could enter the dress circle. On each side of the dress circle a private door allowed access to one of two vestibules. These vestibules could also be accessed via a private stairway. Each vestibule contained two stage boxes which were decorated in the manner of a Spanish shrine.

The auditorium was styled overall with a Moorish element. Originally it was designed to accommodate a top gallery but this was never completed. The balcony railings featured blue lights, while the domed ceiling featured a sunburst effect and grills concealed lamps which allowed the dome to be illuminated by different colours.

Although the theatre was built at the time when films with sound were becoming popular, an orchestra pit was still set before the stage. The removable screen meant that the stage could also be used for live performances.

The theatre was designed with fire safety procedures in mind. The stalls featured six exits, while the dress circle had three. A fire proof curtain could be lowered to separate the stage from the auditorium in the event of a fire. The need for fire safety was made evident when a manager decided to perform a fire eating act during the intermission and accidentally set the theatre curtain on fire.

A feature of the theatre was the telephone and telegram service offered to patrons. Should patrons be expecting an urgent call or telegram, they were able to register their name and seat number at the front desk and a staff member would then find them if the need arose. There was also an onsite nurse to assist when required.

The theatre was officially opened on 1 March 1930 by the mayor, John Kendrick Archer. The first film to screen was “Welcome Danger”. Prior to this a clip was shown featuring Hollywood stars congratulating Christchurch on its new cinema.

Following a fire in 1946 the theatre was renovated by Harry Francis Willis. Since it was still able to be used as a venue for stage performances, the theatre was the site of the final concert held by the Beatles during their 1964 tour of New Zealand.

In 1970 the building was converted into a nightclub, Moby Dick’s Nite Spot. It was damaged by fire once again in 1976 and closed. In 1978 it was purchased by the City New Life Centre for use as a church.

The building was demolished in 2014 after sustaining damage during the Canterbury Earthquakes.


Resources

Robert Jackson. The Cinema in Christchurch.

Wayne Brittenden. The Celluloid Circus: The Heyday of the New Zealand Picture Theatre

Majestic Theatre John Fuller & Sons Ltd. Ground Floor Plan. Christchurch City Libraries.

Majestic Theatre John Fuller & Sons Ltd. First Floor Plan. Christchurch City Libraries.

‘New Theatre’ Press, Volume LXIV, Issue 19494, 15 December 1928.

‘New Majestic Theatre’ Press, Volume LXIV, Issue 19497, 19 December 1928.

‘The Talkies’ Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 19858, 20 February 1930.

‘The Majestic’ Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 19862, 25 February 1930.

‘The Majestic’ Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 19865, 28 February 1930.

‘The Majestic Theatre’ Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 19866, 1 March 1930.

‘Huge Building’ Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 19866, 1 March 1930.

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