New Regent Street Terrace Shops
New Regent Street, Christchurch
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
28th June 1990
Lots 2-42 and Lots 44-79, DP 10026
New Regent Street runs between Gloucester and Armagh Streets in central Christchurch and is lined with two terraces of Spanish Mission style shops. The site now covered by New Regent Street and its terraced shops was once the location of the Colosseum, a building designed by Thomas Cane and erected in 1888. This building was first an ice skating rink, then a boot factory, taxi rank and finally, in 1908, Christchurch's first picture theatre. In 1929 a company, New Regent Street Limited, was formed to develop the site of the Colesseum. The company's architect, Francis Willis, who specialised in the design of movie theatres, decided that the street should be built in the Spanish Mission style. The Spanish Mission style developed in late nineteenth-century California and originally combined indigenous Indian mud brick construction with Spanish motifs. This combination translated successfully into concrete and stucco, and became popular in many countries after World War I. The buildings in New Regent Street feature some of the classic traits of the style, such as the shaped gables, medallions, tiled window hoods, and barley-twist columns.
The street was opened by the mayor of Christchurch on 1 April 1932. Only three of the forty shops were let at that time due to the Depression. The Depression also affected the construction of the street. It was one of the few large scale building projects in the South Island during this period, and many of the construction workers were experienced foremen who could not find other work. Eventually all the shops were let, and then later sold on individual titles. After World War II the street was declared a public road. Now the street is closed to all motor traffic except for trams and the buildings still house a variety of shops and restaurants. While the interiors and the ground floors have been much remodelled, the upper stories remain relatively intact.
New Regent Street is significant as the only commercial street in New Zealand to have been designed as a coherent whole. It is one of the best examples of Spanish Mission style architecture in New Zealand, and as a street made up of small speciality shops it can be read as a forerunner to today's shopping malls. Its distinctive style and colouring makes this street a notable part of central Christchurch's townscape.
Francis Willis read architecture at St John's College, Cambridge, before training as an architect and engineer with the Christchurch City Council. After travelling to Europe following World War One, Willis worked for the City Council and then established his own practice c.1925. During a career which spanned nearly fifty years, Willis designed a wide range of building types, including a number of Roman Catholic churches and local fire stations, but his speciality appears to have been the design of motion picture theatres.
Cinemas designed by Willis were erected throughout New Zealand for both the Amalgamated and Kerridge Odeon chains. The State Theatre (1934-5) in Christchurch was a particularly good example, revealing a readiness to experiment with decorative building design which distinguished his work from that of other local architects in the late 1920s and 1930s. Other notable Christchurch buildings designed by Willis include Santa Barbara, an art deco style house on Victoria Street and the Repertory Theatre (formerly the Radiant Hall, 1929). he is also well known for the design of the Spanish Mission style New Regent Street Terrace Shops (1930-32). During World War Two Francis Willis worked for the Public Works Department and in 1960 he was joined in practice by his son, Gavin. Francis Willis finally retired in 1969 at the age of seventy-seven.
New shop fronts have been built for over half the shops but the upper storeys remain much as they were when built.
1930 - 1932
30th August 2001
Report Written By
Geoffrey W. Rice, Christchurch Changing: An Illustrated History, Christchurch, 1999
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.