Topic: Liberty Theatre

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The Liberty Theatre was an early Christchurch cinema built in 1917.

On 1 September 1915 the wooden section of Warner’s Hotel in Cathedral Square, which had formerly been the Gaiety Theatre, was demolished to make way for the erection of a new picture theatre.

The new theatre building was designed by architects Sidney and Alfred Luttrell. During the construction, an accident occurred in 1916 when Alexander Roger Thomson was electrocuted after touching a live wire while standing in wet cement. The incident led to a court case in December of that year where Thomson was awarded compensation.

The theatre opened on 9 September 1917 with the name ‘Liberty’, a reference to the war effort which was still taking place at the time.

The exterior of the theatre was brick with pre-modernist features. The main façade was taken up by eight sets of window bays which reached to a height of three storeys. A neon sign with the name of the theatre was set atop the parapet.

The ground floor contained the ticket boxes and a double marbled staircase which led upstairs to a foyer. Doors on either side of the staircase allowed for entry to the stalls. Doors in the upstairs foyer led to the dress circle. Overall the theatre could seat up to 1400 patrons. The dress circle also featured private boxes. The furnishing and upholstery of the theatre was carried out by A.J. White.

The screen in the auditorium was originally 800 by 900 square feet and before this was an orchestra stand. After officially opening, the orchestra was to be led by Florence Scapini.

At the time of its construction the Liberty Theatre was the largest picture theatre in the South Island.

The theatre was officially opened on 8 September 1917. As part of the opening ceremony, a troop of boy scouts from Sydenham paraded through the auditorium bearing the flags of the allied nations and accompanied by the national anthem of each nation represented. The first films to screen were Clover’s Rebellion and The Rink.

The Liberty had the distinction of being the first theatre in Christchurch to screen a ‘talkie’. The film “Mother Knows Best” was shown, accompanied by footage of King George giving a speech at the opening of Tyne Bridge.

In June 1939 the theatre management was taken over by Amalgamated Theatres Limited. To mark the occasion the film “Tailspin” was shown.

In 1953 the theatre was renamed ‘Savoy’ and underwent renovation. The glass on the exterior façade was removed and filled in, a new screen was installed and the seating was expanded to accommodate 1120 patrons.

In 1977 the Savoy was upgraded to become a twin cinema. The dress circle level was turned into Savoy Two, while the stalls were refitted with a new screen to become Savoy One. The theatre was renamed the Savoy Centre.

In 1993 the building’s time as a cinema came to an end with the closure of the Savoy. 


Resources

Round the Square: a history of Christchurch's Cathedral Square

‘General News’ Press, Volume LI, Issue 14345, 31 July 1915.

‘Stalls Gossip’ Taranaki Daily News, 18 September 1915.

‘The “Liberty” Theatre’ Sun, Volume IV, Issue 1110, 1 September 1917, Supplement.

‘Amusements’ Star, Issue 12102, 3 September 1917.

‘Amusements’ Star, Issue 12105, 6 September 1917.

‘The Liberty Theatre’ Sun, Volume IV, Issue 1116, 8 September 1917.

‘Supreme Court’ Sun, Volume IV, Issue 1190, 4 December 1917.

‘First “Talkie” features’ Press, Volume LXV, Issue 19638, 6 June 1929.

‘City Theatres’ Press, Volume LXXV, Issue 22734, 12 June 1939.

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