17 The Octagon, Dunedin
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
26th November 1987
Historical Significance or Value
The façade of the theatre was in existence by 1904 and is probably the original façade of a large rooming and shop building of the 1880s. The shops included Mrs Harrison's popular restaurant, and the rooms were let to middle-income workers. A bricked-up fireplace in a downstairs office indicates that part of the original building is still within the structure.
The land was owned in the 1920s by Mr F G Duncan, a Dunedin solicitor, who became chairman of the Regent Theatre Company which built the theatre auditorium behind the frontage. Though built to promote the new film industry, the stage was used immediately for visiting performers such as Clara Bow and for local groups such as the Otago School of Dancing.
The building fell into disuse with the decline in film audiences in the 1960s and was taken over by the Otago Theatre Trust in 1972. The Dunedin City Corporation and Kerridge Odeon, the recent owners of the building, helped substantially, but the main funding for refurbishing the building has come from the citizen of Dunedin by private subscription. The trust has developed the stage area to improve it as a venue for live theatre and kept the building in use. They have maintained and not modified the ornate interior and maintained the large seating capacity of about 1800 seats.
This is a building which the public of Dunedin have voted with their purses and feet to retain.
One of the best interiors of this period in Otago.
White, James Hodge
J H White (1896-1970) was born in Dunedin and educated in Tasmania but returned to Dunedin to undertake his early training with a local architectural firm. Having served overseas during World War One, White was awarded a British Army Scholarship and subsequently attended the London School of Architecture for three years. He graduated with honours, winning the gold medal of the International Victory Scholarship (1921). Following his return to New Zealand White undertook a study tour of the United States with fellow architect Horace Massey before settling in Dunedin, where he entered into a brief partnership with Leslie Coombes (1925-6). Coombes & White won the national competition for the design of the Southland War Memorial which was erected in Invercargill, but soon afterwards the partnership was dissolved and in 1927 White joined forces with another Dunedin architect, Eric Miller (1896-1948).
Miller & White became architects to the University of Otago, won the national design competition for the Auckland Residential Methodist College and also designed the Regent Theatre, Dunedin, the Willi Fels Wing of the Otago Museum (c.1929), and numerous other commercial, ecclesiastical and residential buildings in Dunedin. James White was the principal designer of the firm and it was in this capacity that he designed the St John Ambulance building in York Place and the New Zealand Road Services Passenger Station in Rattray Street (1939) which is also in the Art Deco style. After Eric Miller's death White entered partnership with Ian Dunn, who had been with the practice since 1933. The firm then became known as Miller, White & Dunn. This practice won the national competition for the design of the Canterbury Museum extensions in 1951. James White retired five years before his death in 1970 and today the firm is continued by his son Geoffrey in partnership with Rodney Dalziel.
The highly decorated theatre interior.
Materials of the interior are concrete, plaster and varnished wood. The wide fan-shaped proscenium allows excellent viewing from all parts of the theatre. The ornate plaster work of the ceiling and proscenium is matched by the elegance of design of the galleries and staircases.
ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION (Style):
1920-1930s Hollywood ornate.
The public part of the interior has been little modified since the Theatre Trust took it over, but the stage has been enlarged and the back stage area rebuilt to provide better accommodation for live performances.
Otago Theatre Trust
Trust records, publications by the Otago Theatre Trust.
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
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.