Topic: Starland Theatre

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Starland Theatre was an early Christchurch cinema built in 1916

The Starland Theatre was situated at 705 Colombo Street. The theatre opened during the First World War, a time which saw an increase in people attending movie theatres, resulting in the need for more to be built.

Starland Limited Company was formed in August 1915. One of the founding members was Charles William Hervey, who had recently resigned from his role as secretary to New Colosseum Limited, another picture company which managed Everybody’s Theatre.

Hervey’s aim was to have a “Christchurch owned” company. The provisional directors were William Broadway, a confectioner, David Redpath of J.A. Redpath and Sons, and Vincent M. Beebe, all of whom were citizens of Christchurch. They did not issue a public prospectus in order to prevent non-Christchurch citizens from purchasing shares. Hervey was adamant that any prospective investor had to be associated with Christchurch.

A site on Colombo Street was chosen where it was hoped that the theatre would attract the patronage of people who were shopping in the central city. Tenders for the construction were advertised in September 1915.

The theatre was designed by John Steele Guthrie. The builders were B. Moore and Sons. The fibrous plasterwork of the interior was carried out by Wilson and Son and the Etheley Brothers.

The exterior of the theatre was built using Oamaru stone and featured a large arched stained glass window. On the ground floor, entered from the street, was the vestibule which was decorated in marble with granite pillars. A marble double staircase led from the vestibule to an upstairs foyer which was illuminated by the front window. The ceilings of both the vestibule and the foyer were decorated with fibrous plaster. The marbled staircase continued from the foyer into the cantilever dress circle.

The ceiling featured a large dome which was illuminated at its base by lighting and further fibrous plasterwork.

The projector was a unique design in New Zealand in that it was situated between the ground floor and the dress circle. This allowed for an accurate focusing of the film. The screen was also tinted to prevent glare. The orchestra consisted of a piano accompanied by an organ, violin and cello.

Overall the theatre could seat up to 590 people and featured double seats.

The theatre was set to open on 29 May 1916. When Superintendent Warner of the Christchurch Fire Board made an inspection of the building he found that it did not meet the requirements. The international minimum width of a theatre passageway was 3 feet 6 inches, while the side passageways in the theatre were 2 feet 10 inches. The superintendent felt that this was made all the more relevant by the fact that the ground floor seating lacked a central passageway. The theatre did not also have hand rails installed on the steps in the dress circle. The theatre also lacked a fire hose.

The theatre management made attempts to comply with these standards by removing a row of seats to allow for a wider passageway, but failed to install the fire hose. Although the management had arranged for the superintendent to visit on the day of opening, prior to the public being allowed into the building, he failed to appear. The managers opened the theatre but on the following day received a letter stating that a certificate would only be issued once the standards had been met. Although the management proceeded to apply for a certificate on 5 June, the city council filed charges against the theatre for opening to the public without a license. At a court hearing the verdict was in favour of the council.

In September further improvements were made to the seating of the theatre. In October a new picture company, Crystal Palace Limited, took over the management of the theatre in order to advertise William Fox films. The directors of the new company were Walter Hill, John T. Sutton, George H. Scales and Vincent Beebe. The company also prepared itself to manage two other theatres in Christchurch. Crystal Palace Limited also altered the theatre by enlarging the screen.

The Starland theatre closed in July 1918, replaced by the newly opened Crystal Palace theatre in Cathedral Square. Afterwards the building housed shops, including Waterworth’s Cameras, and a billiard parlour. In 1962 the building was auctioned off and eventually replaced by Air New Zealand. 


‘A New Theatre’ Sun, Volume II, Issue 465, 6 August 1915.

‘Starland’ Press, Volume LI, Issue 15379, 9 September 1915.

'Public Notices’ Sun, Volume II, Issue 510, 28 September 1915.

‘Starland’ Sun, Volume III, Issue 715, 26 May 1916.

‘Starland’ Press, Volume LII, Issue 15601, 27 May 1916.

‘Starland’ Sun, Volume III, Issue 717, 29 May 1916.

‘Theatre Opened Without a License’ Evening Post, Volume XCI, Issue 130, 2 June 1916.

‘Withheld Certificate’ Star, Issue 11724, 14 June 1916.

‘Starland’ Star, Issue 11807, 19 September 1916.

‘The “Movies”’ Ellesmere Guardian, Volume XXII, Issue 3837, 30 September 1916.

‘Starland’ Star, Issue 11840, 28 October 1916.

‘Crystal Palace’ Press, Volume LII, Issue 15751, 18 November 1916.

‘Closing of Starland’ Sun, Volume V, Issue 1391, 29 July 1918. 

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Starland Theatre