Majestic Theatre

Tui Street, Taihape

  • Majestic Theatre. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Ethan Tucker. Taken By: Ethan Tucker. Date: 5/07/2009.
  • Majestic Theatre. Grocery and general store of G Worth, in the Majestic Theatre Building, c.1920s. The men in aprons (grocers from Worth's ?). Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wgtn, NZ, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7433 Date Entered 28th August 1998

Locationopen/close

City/District Council

Rangitikei District

Region

Horizons (Manawatu-Wanganui) Region

Legal description

pt Sec 8 Blk III Taihape Township

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical.

The majestic Theatre, Taihape, is the second picture theatre to occupy the site of the present building, The Nicholls brothers, who were responsible for building three picture theatres including the Majestic in Taihape, opened the Station Street Theatre on the present site of the majestic in 1912. This first theatre, so named because the railway station was, as it still is, at the top of the street (since named Tui Street), was apparently an adapted building showing silent films at the back of the Nicholls brothers store, in 1915 the Station Street Theatre was renamed the Kings Theatre, and it continued under that name until the place burnt down in march 1916. The present purpose-built theatre was opened the following year, 1917, under the name of the previous theatre as the Kings Theatre, and continued as the Kings until July 1929 when it was renamed again and became the present Majestic Theatre.

The majestic appears to have been a popular venue. It competed for patrons with four other places showing films in the early days of Taihape, but after the present building was opened in 1917, it had the distinction of being the only purpose-built picture theatre in town and one of only a small number of such theatres built in New Zealand at the time. The other movie theatres in Taihape, as elsewhere in New Zealand, seem to have been adapted or multi-purpose buildings like the earlier Kings Theatre.

The change of name to the present one in 1929 was due to a change of ownership and a refurbishment which led to the first 'talkie' being shown at the majestic Theatre, and possibly in Taihape, in April 1930. This even would have necessitated upgrading the cinema projector from a small silent films projector to a larger one that could play film soundtracks, and there is some speculation as to whether or not the present projection box and upstairs dress circle were not built at this time rather than in 1917. Neon lighting and air-conditioning were installed between 1935 and 1937, and in 1943 the projection equipment was changed again to two 35mm projectors which appear to have remained in the theatre until it officially closed in 1991.

Throughout its lifetime the Majestic Theatre was associated with typical or representative events characteristic of a country cinema. The central location in the North Island of the theatre on the Main Trunk Line probably earned it the title "New Zealand's finest country cinema", an epithet which remains painted on the east wall of the building today. Shepherds and drovers would come into town leaving their horses tethered outside the Majestic Theatre and taking their flea-infested saddles inside with them. Trains would stay at the station at the top of the street until the pictures were over so that patrons would not miss the train home. Friday night movies and Saturday afternoon matinees for children have also become legendary, while local lore remembers Mrs. Webb who played the piano for the silent movies, and Mrs. March who played the piano to raise money for the war effort in 1943.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Architectural:

The Majestic Theatre, Taihape, was designed in the Inter War Stripped Classical Style of the period 1915-1940. Style indicators are:

- Symmetrical facade.

- Divisions into vertical bays.

- Occasional use of correct classical details.

- Vestigial classical columns.

- Vestigial Classical entablature or cornice.

- Vestigial classical base (i.e., in architectural terms the ground floor forms the base of a classical design which is developed on the first and second storeys of the facade).

- Vestigial classical portico (centre bay with doors and round window).

- Simple surfaces (i.e., plain plastered wall surfaces on the main facade only. These were originally incised to resemble stone blocks).

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Events:

The Majestic Theatre appears to have been associated with what may be regarded as being the usual kinds of events a country picture theatre might be expected to have had in lifetime of eighty years. The events are not special or outstanding in themselves although they have local significance as part of the lore of Taihape. The showing of the early New Zealand feature film 'Hinemoa' in 1915 is of some note

although one would expect this film to have been shown at other country theatres at the same time. A feature film called 'Brothers' was produced and filmed by Australians around Taihape in 1982, and is claimed to have had its world premier at the Majestic Theatre in Taihape. The New Zealand Film Archive had no information on this production. The New Zealand Film Festival however, rated the film as being not in any way significant, and it has apparently never been shown in New Zealand since.

Persons:

None of any apparent major significance apart, perhaps, from well known artists and entertainers travelling through to give one night performances at the theatre. The Nicholls brothers appear to have had the present Majestic Theatre built in 1917 to replace an earlier one on the same site owned and run by them called the 'Station Street Theatre' (later called the Kings Theatre) which burnt down in 1916. The Nicholls brothers were local businessmen noted as being entrepreneurs chiefly, one suspects, for their devotion to setting up venues for showing cinema pictures in Taihape. The Nicholls brothers were ultimately responsible for having three picture theatres, including the present Majestic Theatre, built in Taihape between the years 1912-1917. Local lore also remembers characters such as Mrs. Webb who played piano for the silent movies, and who later formed an entertainment venue in Wellington for Soldiers, and Mrs. March who raised money for the war effort by playing the piano at the Majestic in 1943.

Ideas:

The Majestic Theatre is representative of a standard range of ideas that one would expect to be associated with a vintage cinema, i.e., the place is representative of the silent era of films as well as the 'talkies' of the 1930s, and it is also representative of the era of relatively modem film projection techniques (the last installation of modem film projectors appears to have taken place in 1943 with the installation of two Kalec

GK40 35mm projectors which still survive.) As a country, or rural cinema, the Majestic may also be seen to have been a significant social centre and gathering place for people in the district to meet each other and exchange news and gossip, not to mention other traditional pursuits such as courting. The Majestic appears to have been more popular as an entertainment venue than the other picture theatres that existed at various times in Taihape. The communications aspect with the outside world through newsreels has already been mentioned above.

Perhaps the most interesting idea associated with the history of tile Majestic Theatre in recent times, and one which may be considered to be outstanding and somewhat unique in the history of cinema theatres in New Zealand, was the innovative project initiated by the Taihape Youth Enterprise Scheme between 1992 and 1994, where senior students from Taihape College reopened the theatre, which had been closed for nearly two years, and managed it for just over a year. The students were awarded second prize in the Aoraki National Award for innovation for this project.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

DATE: 1917

ARCHITECT: Not Known.

STYLE CODE: 62: Inter War Stripped Classical.

DESIGN:

The Majestic Theatre Building was built of conventional brick and plaster construction, and was designed in the Stripped Classical style that characterised a number of contemporary theatres built during and after the First World War.

Details of the construction and fittings of the place are as follows:

- Triple brick walls with no cavity, unreinforced except for eight rolled steel joists running the full height of the walls (four a side) placed along the exterior and interior surfaces of the auditorium in the 1950s so as to form a sandwich with the walls in between.

- Plastered wall surfaces inside and out. Originally the main exterior wall surface was incised to resemble stone blocks. Vestiges of this incising are still faintly visible on the parapet, but historical photographs in the Taihape Museum show that this detailing originally covered all of the main facade. The side and rear walls of the building, then as now, were plain unplastered brick.

- Six inch floor boards in the auditorium. These are original and appear to be Rimu.

- Small stage of approximately seven feet in depth with a plain brick wall approximately three and a half metres back behind the cinema screen frame. The brick wall has two sash windows at either end to provide ventilation. The smallness of the stage indicates that the Majestic was never intended to be anything other then a cinema theatre although live shows had been staged at the majestic from 1925 to 1984.

- Upstairs dress circle with four inch floor boards of Matai, suggesting that the present dress circle was a later addition to the building possibly dating from the 1930s. The projection box is integral with the construction of the dress circle and contains conduit wiring and bakelite switches contemporary with the 1930s and 1940s.

- Some theatre seating remains inside the Majestic. This consists of the standard rows of tip-up seats contained within cast iron frames. Although these frames are decorated at the aisle end with a half relief design of a laurel wreath, and are gilded, they do appear to be original c.1917-20 period seats but possibly date from the 1930 or 1940s.

- A corrugated iron covered truss roof, with a ceiling of20 x 75mm tongue and groove Rimu covered with scrim and paper held up by battens arranged in squares. The ceiling is raked up at the rear of the building which suggests that either this was done when the upstairs part was built, or that the upstairs part was not a later addition but part of the original design of the place. No original plans of the Majestic Theatre have been located to establish precisely what the original design of the place was in 1917.

The form of these theatres, however, had a standard plan consisting of a foyer or entrance lobby, large auditorium, stage, seating for large audiences, and lighting to match. Neo-classical styles of architecture were favoured during the period in which the Majestic Theatre was built. In stripped or abstract form these styles remained popular throughout the 1920s until around about 1930 when the Art Deco style took over with such lavish designs as can be found at the Municipal Theatre in Napier (1937-38, Category I.)

The architectural quality of the Majestic Theatre is minimal, and is to be found on the exterior of the building rather than in the interior which is devoid of any decoration or architectural detailing of note. The facade, nevertheless, has pretensions to quality and exhibits a typical stripped Neo-c1assicism with an ordered symmetrical facade in Neo-Baroque style consisting of three vertical bays. The central bay has a pair of double fire exit doors of plywood on the first floor opening out on to the balcony. Below is the main entrance and above the balcony fire doors there is a prominent round window on the second storey which has a functional relationship providing ventilation to the projection box inside. There is no way of knowing if this was an original function, but the round window is in itself a characteristic detail of Neo-Baroque styled architecture. The two flanking bays have paired windows on the first and second storeys, and decorative segmented mouldings on the top above the second storey.

These features balance the design of the facade since they take the form of a classical Serlian Motif of three bays. The motif is reinforced by the use of correct classical pilasters on the ends of the facade in true giant order style i.e., running through two storeys to a plain parapet at the top bearing the date" 1917" in the centre of the parapet. Original photographs show clearly that the windows in 1917 were multi-paned with mullions but the photographs are not sufficiently detailed (since they concentrate on the ground floor shops) to show if there were fire doors above the balcony which would suggest that the dress circle was an original feature. These windows also had in 1917 plastered architraves and surrounds with mock key-stone window heads. All of these features, including the multi-paned windows, are gone.

The present-day lack of moulding details, classical columns or half-columns, architraves or window surrounds, classical window heads, and very plain plastered wall surfaces in all the bays of the main facade, establish the Majestic as being very much a stripped classical building, but having even less architectural design quality today than it did eighty-one years ago. It is however distinguished from certain other contemporary c.1910-1917 picture theatres by not having the projection box hanging out of the front facade on the first or second storeys, indicating (in the case of these latter buildings) that the place was not originally designed to be or intended to function exclusively as a picture theatre. This latter phenomenon may be seen on the Royal Picture Theatre, Raetihi, and there is no doubt that the projection box is an unsightly addition that spoils the architectural design of the facade on that building. The Neo-classical facade of the Eltham Town hall has been treated in a similar fashion. All of this indicates that the Majestic Theatre was purpose-built as a cinema and not as a multi-function venue for stage as well as cinema performances. However this needs to be qualified by consideration of the fact that stage performances were put on at the Majestic Theatre although the narrow width of the stage shows that it was not designed for this purpose.

The entrance lobby of the Majestic Theatre appears to have been modified, again possibly in the 1950s, and no original features, such as a 1917 ticket box, remain. The original glass doors may have had some decoration which would have been in an Art Nouveau style for that period; at some point in time these doors were covered over with plywood, but have since been removed when the theatre became redundant. In a comparative sense therefore, the foyer of the Majestic does not have any special architectural design features either in the lobby or auditorium like the St James Theatre in Dunedin (1928, Cat.I) or the Regent Theatre, Palmerston North, (1930, Art Deco style Cat.I).

In summary, the chief design significance of the Majestic Theatre lies in the fact that its design and plan, which is that of a small theatre built for silent movies, is essentially unaltered and remains the same today as it was in 1917 when the place was opened.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:

The Majestic Theatre clearly has had a significant role to play in the local history and sentiment of Taihape and in the surrounding Manawatu/Wanganui region. Locals today recall older community members who "vividly remember the days when people from town and surrounding areas would congregate at the Majestic Picture Theatre to

not only see a movie, but catch up on all the local news at half time."

A petition from the wider Taihape community, plus a separate petition from Taihape College was attached to the registration proposal for the Majestic Theatre. The former represents approximately 400 signatures of the citizens of Taihape objecting to the proposed demolition of the theatre. The latter contains the signatures of approximately 150 students of Taihape College concerned that "the Taihape community will lose a valuable asset." A letter from the Deputy Principal of Taihape College emphasises the community's concern with the welfare of modern Taihape youth and states that:

"The theatre has historical significance to many and it is important that young people develop in a world where the past is remembered by being used, admired and complemented upon rather than by hearing about it or seeing an empty space and wondering what was there".

These petitions were organised by the Majestic Rescue Group of Taihape. The measure of public esteem and support in Taihape for retention of the Majestic Theatre may be judged from the fact that the Majestic Theatre Rescue Group were able to raise by street appeal a considerable sum of money to aid in the retention of the theatre.

A petition from the Maori community of Taihape to refurbish and reopen the Majestic Theatre was also included with the registration proposal for the theatre. Fifty-five signatures of Kaumatua and Kuia were appended representing the Maori community and other Maori who very much support setting up the Majestic Theatre again. There is considerable concern over the welfare of youth in present day Taihape and the Maori community believe that the Theatre can serve a useful purpose in this regard.

Trudy Wickliffe states:

"We the Maori Community in conjunction with our Pakeha Community wish to voice our support to save the Majestic Picture Theatre not only for the viewing of movies, but also for community use and therefore provide stimulation and entertainment for our youth of Taihape not to mention community and quality family time."

(j) The importance a/identifying rare types of historic places:

There are 38 registered theatres in total. A sample of still extant contemporary and near contemporary registered theatres, which also functioned as opera houses, town halls and cinemas, is as follows:

Paramount Theatre, Wellington, 1910, Cat.I; St James Theatre, Wellington, 1912, Cat.I; Royal Picture Theatre, Raetihi, 1915, Cat.II; Eltham Town Hall, Eltham, 1910, Cat.II. All of these buildings are in the Stripped Classical style of the period.

Near contemporaries that are in the Stripped Classical/Art deco style of a slightly later date are:

Capitol Theatre, Auckland, 1922-23, Cat.II; Opera House, New Plymouth, 1923, Cat.II; De Luxe Theatre, Opotiki, 1926, Cat.II; Crystal Palace, Auckland, 1928, Cat.II.

Most towns in New Zealand boasted having a picture theatre by 1930 but the Majestic Theatre is important in being an early picture theatre which, in terms of date range, places it in the same period as contemporary theatres such as the St James Theatre in Wellington, 1912, the St James Theatre in Dunedin, 1916, His Majesties Theatre

Building, Auckland, 1902 (since demolished), the Paramount Theatre, Wellington, 1917, and the Royal Picture Theatre in Raetihi, 1915. Not all of these buildings were purpose-built picture theatres, particularly those built just prior to and during the First World War since cinemas were not yet a universal form of entertainment in New Zealand at that time. Some, like the Royal Picture Theatre in Raetihi, or the Eltham

Town Hall which is also a picture theatre, fulfilled multiple roles as stage theatres, town halls, cinema theatres and even, in the case of the Royal at Raetihi, as a temporary church for local congregations.

Comparatively speaking the Majestic Theatre, Taihape, compares with the first group both in an architectural and in a functional sense. The Majestic, however, was originally designed as a purpose-built picture theatre exclusively for the purpose of showing silent movies. This makes the place rare in not being designed as a multi-venue theatre, and for being one of only two theatres left that we know of that were designed and built in this way. The other, the Paramount Theatre in Wellington, is much modified and adapted and is not in near original condition.

The facade of the Majestic Theatre, has also retained a better architectural integrity than its nearest contemporary, the Royal Picture Theatre in Raetihi, due to not having the projection box added to the exterior of the main facade. However in relation to the what the quality of the Majestic Theatre facade was in 1917, the present day

appearance of the Majestic Theatre is somewhat less in quality than its original design due to the removal of certain Neo-classical details identified above under 23(2) (g). Nevertheless, from a purely functional point of view, and also from the point of view of the history of cinema in New Zealand, the Majestic Theatre is distinguished as being a unique and rare survivor representative of the silent era with only a slight

upgrading having taken place to cater for talking pictures from 1930 until the closure of the theatre in 1991, and strengthening requirements in the 1950s.

Linksopen/close

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1917 -

Completion Date

1st June 1998

Report Written By

Wayne Nelson

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Central region office

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.