Mercury Theatre

Mercury Lane, Auckland

  • Mercury Theatre. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: craigsyd - flickr. Taken By: craigsyd - flickr. Date: 10/12/2008.
  • Mercury Theatre. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 20/10/2010.
  • Mercury Theatre. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com - https://www.flickr.com/photos/geoff-inoz/.
    Copyright: geoff-inOz. Taken By: geoff-inOz. Date: 11/11/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5296 Date Entered 13th December 1990

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City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)

Region

Auckland Council

Legal description

Pt Allot 8 DP 7095 Lot 2 DP 59384

Summaryopen/close

DESCRIPTION:

Kings Theatre was commissioned by John Fuller, a Briton, who competed with Henry Hayward to provide Auckland's first purpose-built cinema. Films had been shown since the late nineteenth century at various halls throughout the country, also occasionally in "live" theatres such as His Majestys and the Opera House. Both Hayward and Fuller were itinerant film exhibitors. The Kings Theatre, as it was known, opened on 28 November 1910 at a cost of £7,777. It was constructed with a stage in case the equipment failed for some reason.

The Kings remained a cinema for six years. It was used as a playhouse for fourteen months and then reverted to its former function until 1926. In that year John Fuller and Co. Ltd combined with New Zealand Picture Supplies to renovate the theatre. It was renamed the Prince Edward. It was quickly pressed into action as a theatre when Fuller's Opera House in Wellesley Street West was burnt out in December 1926. A year later it was operating as a cinema again and did so until it closed, rundown, in 1947.

Robert J Kerridge, later knighted, was a comparative newcomer to the Auckland scene who after the Second World War had acquired several major theatre companies including the Fuller-Hayward Theatre Corporation. Kerridge renovated the Prince Edward in a very short time and re-opened the theatre for live shows under the new name, The Playhouse. The theatre now had a resident company, the New Zealand Theatre Company.

In the early fifties, plays, musicals and reviews were performed interspersed with films. In 1956 the original entrance in France Street was restored. In 1967 the Playhouse closed, but opened a year later under new management, The Auckland Theatre Trust Board as the Mercury Theatre. It has continued as a theatre under this name for the past twenty-three years.

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Historical Significance or Value

The Mercury Theatre was the first purpose-built cinema in Auckland and one of the first in New Zealand. It has had a lively history in its eighty years and has survived to this day in part because of its flexibility as a performing venue. As Auckland's leading theatre over the past two decades it has had a major role in the city's dramatic arts.

ARCHITECTURAL QUALITY:

Mercury Theatre is a now increasingly rare example in New Zealand of the Edwardian Theatre. The fine facade, complete with its balustraded parapet, is complemented on the interior by some ornate detailing, in particular the auditorium plasterwork and Dome Room. The Mercury or Kings as it was then, was Auckland's earliest purpose-built cinema and survives as an important example of the transition between theatre and cinema. The design dispensed with boxes in favour of a linking stair between the stalls and circle. This was an early feature of cinema design which highlighted the growing popularity of moving pictures. Despite modifications to the interior it remains a worthy representative of Edwardian theatre design.

TOWNSCAPE/LANDMARK VALUE:

Although sited in a relatively narrow street, Mercury Theatre, with its distinctive Baroque facade, makes a vigorous contribution to this area of Auckland city.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bartley, Edward

Edward Bartley was born in Jersey in 1839, and educated in the Channel Islands where he learned techniques of the building trade from his father, an architect and builder.

Bartley immigrated to New Zealand with his elder brother Robert, also an architect, while still in his teens. They eventually settled in Devonport, Auckland. Initially Edward was in the building trade but later he practised solely as an architect. He was at one time vice-president of the Auckland Institute of Architects and was also Diocesan Architect for the Church of England.

Amongst Bartley's most notable works were his ecclesiastical buildings including St John's Church, Ponsonby (1881), St David's Church, Symonds Street (1880), Holy Trinity Church, Devonport, and the Synagogue (1884). He was also responsible for the Opera House (1884) and Auckland Savings Bank, Queen Street (1884).

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

ARCHITECTURAL DESCRIPTION:

This Edwardian Baroque theatre is three storeys in height. On the exterior applied decoration is confined to the principal facade. The sides and rear are plain brick with regularly spaced rectangular windows.

The symmetrical main elevation has a verandah supported by heavy consoles and ties. The ties are fixed to plaster lion-head mountings. The top half of this facade is dominated by the Baroque ornamentation which is corbelled from the springing line of the second storey arched windows. Pedimented bays frame a middle section with an arrangement of pilasters, half-columns and scroll-brackets. A balustraded parapet caps this facade.

The auditorium, although altered over the years, retains some important features. The horseshoe shaped circle has an ornately decorated plaster balcony comprising horizontal bands of scroll pattern, acanthus leaves, patera, cartouches, and tied bay leaves. Triple arches each side of the stage and flytower are mounted by two medallions. These arches are ornamented with egg and dart beading and have keystones. Decorated busts once sat within the arches. Corinthian capitals with a figurehead support the arches. The third pilaster of this set is broken below the capital and is instead supported by a plaster acanthus leaf. The remainder of the walls have been soundproofed. Although the vestibule has been converted to a theatrette, the beamed ceiling of the auditorium still remains.

Worthington Bar, part of a later addition, has a black and white tiled floor with a Star of David pattern. A marble staircase and steel balustrade leads to the Dome Room, also an addition, so named because of its elliptical glass leadlight. Harp motif plaster work decorates the walls. The Dome Room lies at the end of the Karangahape Road entrance arcade. Within this arcade the black and white tile floors still exist.

The cast iron columns supporting the circle and a pressed metal ceiling, now exposed, are all that remains of the original lobby and foyer.

MODIFICATIONS:

1926

- New entrance added on Karangahape Road

- Dome room added

-Permanent, fireproof projection box installed at rear of circle

1956

- Theatre remodelled

- France Street entrance restored

1968

- Cinema converted to live theatre

- Proscenium arch plasterwork removed

- Rear of the circle converted to separate auditorium

- Booking office and kiosk added

Notable Features

Decorative plasterwork of the auditorium.

Dome Room, in particular the leadlight dome.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1910 -

Modification
1926 -
New entrance added on Karangahape Road - Dome room added - Permanent, fireproof projection box installed at rear of circle

Modification
1956 -
Theatre remodelled - France Street entrance restored

Modification
1968 -
Cinema converted to live theatre - Proscenium arch plasterwork removed - Rear of the circle converted to separate auditorium - Booking office and kiosk added

Construction Details

Load-bearing walls, brick, plastered on main facade. Circle, kauri beams on steel joists and cast-iron columns. Roof, timber trusses. Stairs, reinforced concrete.

Information Sources

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

28 November 1910, p7

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1902

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.2, Christchurch, 1902

p315

Dominion

Dominion

29 July 1911

New Zealand Architectural and Building Review

New Zealand Architectural and Building Review

10 June 1926 p10

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

29 November 1910

Progress

Progress

1 June 1910 p278-279;

1 April 1910 p206

Weekly Graphic and NZ Mail

Weekly Graphic & New Zealand Mail

13 April 1910, pp 16 & 33 (photographs)

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council

Auckland City Council Minute Books (ACC-ACCMB)

& Files: Sheppard Collection, Architecture Library

Atwell, 1980

D Atwell. Cathedrals of the Movies, London, 1980

p69

Walker, 1980

B Walker (ed), Frank Matcham, Theatre Architect, Belfast, 1980

P88

Harrison, 1974

P Harrison. 'The Motion Picture Industry in New Zealand, 1896-1930', M.A. Thesis, Auckland 1974

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is 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.