St James Theatre
77-81 Courtenay Place, Wellington
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
27th June 1985
All Plans A 880 & 890
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is the original citation considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration (updates to the information are shown in square brackets).
St James Theatre, Wellington
Built in 1912, this theatre was designed by Henry E White, a distinguished theatre designer whose buildings are well-known landmarks in Australia and America.
Seating up to  people, this grand theatre is one of the few remaining examples in New Zealand of this type of public building. Constructed of plastered brick and concrete the building is both inside and out ornately designed. The interior has an elaborately plastered ceiling with a shallow dome as well as some of the most impressive theatre boxes in New Zealand.
St James Theatre is a splendid and rare example of early 20th century theatre architecture and is one of Wellington's most distinguished buildings.
White, Henry Eli (1876-1952)
White was the son of a Dunedin building contractor and spent his early years learning a wide range of trades including bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, joinery and painting. His first major project was in 1908, a tunnel on the Waipori River hydro-electric scheme. He developed a fascination with theatre design and educated himself in its principles while also attending Art School night classes. With the contract to build His Majesty's Theatre, Wellington, for (Sir) Benjamin Fuller in 1912, White moved his thriving practice to that city where he also built the Midland Hotel. White's reputation as a popular and innovative theatre designer grew to the extent that he became one of the most prominent in Australasia. He was to design over 130 theatres as well as a number of commercial buildings. Among his most notable designs were (builder of) The Press Building, Christchurch (1908), architect of His Majesty's Theatre, Wellington (1912), now the St James, and at the time the largest theatre in Australasia, the now demolished Midland Hotel, Wellington, (1916) The Strand, Christchurch (1917), the Tivoli, Brisbane, and his masterpiece, the State Theatre in Sydney. Much loved by audiences for its excessive Art Deco ornamentation, its interior made lavish use of marble, gold and ivory decoration, and featured paintings, sculpture and exotic objects (such as the 'Fujiyama cameo', removed during the Second World War).
The Depression marked the end of White's architectural career. He won a competition to design a college at Auckland, but plans were shelved; he closed his office and lost money through farming in New Zealand. By 1937 he had returned to Sydney. Although a cement manufacturing project near Bathurst fell through, dolomite was discovered on the site and during the Second World War his company supplied it for windows and light bulbs made in Australia. White spent much time sailing and big-game fishing.
Survived by his wife and two sons, he died on 3 March 1952 at Kings Cross, Sydney, and was cremated with Anglican rites. He had reputedly earned over £1 million in architectural fees, but was not an astute businessman; his estate was sworn for probate at £1147.
Source: Registration Report for St Anthony's Convent (Former), Register No. 4345, February 2013.
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Australian Dictionary of Biography
White, Henry Eli (1876-1952), http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A120523b.htm
NZHPT Heritage Order (23 September 1986)
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.