Historical Significance or Value
The Regent Theatre is an important cultural facility for Greymouth and the West Coast. When it was built in 1935 it was one of the most up to date theatres of its type and was, and still is, the largest theatre on the West Coast. .
The Theatre is built in the Art Deco style, which gained popularity in the years between the two world wars when numerous cinemas and theatres were built in New Zealand. This style of architecture is not common on the West Coast, but it is also seen in the Regent Theatre (Cat.II) in Hokitika, about 40 minutes drive south of Greymouth.
The period in which the Regent was constructed saw the beginnings of the modern movement. It was a period of rapid change and a more successful break from the periods and stylistic influences of the past. Art Deco, the style of the Regent Theatre was an early and significant, although small, part of the modern movement, described by Jencks as part of the Intuitive Tradition (I Bowman and J Price, 2003).
The Theatre still has many of its original fittings and designs and is still used today as a multi-purpose venue for theatre, live shows and films, as it was originally intended.
It is one of the few remaining theatres in New Zealand dating from the 1930s that has not been remodelled into a multi-plex cinema.
The Regent Theatre in Greymouth has enormous social and cultural significance for the West Coast as it is a 'cultural centre'. It reflects attitudes and behaviours that characterise the community - as a place for social gatherings (live shows, cinema, eating and drinking in The Regent Marble Bar) it has a place of attachment for the community that is of a longterm nature. It is a landmark in the centre of Greymouth. It is a place that the community has and still does utilise for a majority of the community functions. For example school shows, operatic society functions and local live shows, conference and cinema viewing. The Regent also attracts a large amount of both National and International Shows. Some recent examples include Nairobi Trio Jazz Band, Freddie Mercury Tribute, The Bee Gees Tribute, Barber of Seville Opera, Patsy Rigger and the Irish Rovers. The Grey District Council recognizes that the Regent Theatre plays an integral role in the community as a centre for both recreation and the arts (West Coast Theatre Trust newspaper cuttings).
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The Regent Theatre reflects the social history of the 1930's era of New Zealand. At the time it was built, going to a show or to the cinema was a vital social pastime. The Regent was still a focal point for entertainment until about the early 1970s. With the advent of television, later pub opening hours, and eventually video, the popularity of theatres declined. Now they are making a come-back and the Regent is once again providing a key entertainment service to the local community and visitors.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:
The Regent Theatre is a symbol of social history, live theatre, film and architecture. A number of original features are intact, notably much of the exterior, auditorium ceilings and wall panels and many internal fittings and lights.
(d) The importance of the place to the tangata whenua:
The building is located on Mawhera Incorporation leased land (Maori Land), as is much of the centre of Greymouth.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:
The Regent Theatre is the biggest community facility on the West Coast. A wide range of organizations utilise the Theatre, such as schools, the Operatic Society, orchestras, conferences and tourists (the Information Centre). The Regent Theatre is in essence a 'town hall' and multi-use facility for Greymouth. Because of the large size Greymouth can attract both national and international calibre shows to the town.
When the Regent Theatre opened in 1935 it was a 'state of the art' theatre. This was an important cultural identify for Greymouth at the time. It created a place where both live shows and 'talkie' movies could be shown. Numerous well-known entertainers (national and international) have performed at the Regent The Greymouth Operatic Society used it extensively from 1945. Some recent performers include the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Nairobi Trio Jazz Band, Freddie Mercury Tribute, The Bee Gees Tribute, Barber of Seville Opera, Patsy Rigger and the Irish Rovers.
The Regent Theatre is also a symbol of the community of Greymouth being determined to retain a community facility. The Theatre was under threat in the 1970's and the local community of Greymouth formed a Trust which bought the building (with the guarantee of four local business men.. The determination to keep this facility operating for Greymouth is evident.
(f) The potential of the place for public education:
The building itself can educate locals and visitors alike about an architectural style of the period and, through interpretation/signage, can illustrate an important part of our social history - which is a continuum from an earlier era.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:
The Regent Theatre is designed in the Art Deco style of architecture of the 1930s. It is from a specific era of New Zealand architectural history which is not common on the West Coast. Despite the changes it has gone through, not least of which have been the devastating floods, its architectural character has survived. The overall external appearance is little changed and the building still makes the same major contribution to the streetscape, on this prominent town centre site, that it did when first completed. Internally the most significant portion is the auditorium itself and the stage components. In the auditorium the art deco styled plaster work which decorates the walls and ceiling has survived, as have many of the original light fittings.
Often the first cinemas were tents, halls, or converted shops, but from 1910, cinemas began to be purpose built and a new building type emerged. Most city theatres of the twenties were both cinemas and venues for live performances, as with the Regent, but later buildings were constructed exclusively for cinema (I. Bowman & J. Price, 2003).
The Regent name was closely associated with both Hoyts Theatres Limited (a significant cinema chain from the late 1920's) and J C Williamson. J C Williamson (NZ) Ltd built theatres and leased them to Hoyts Theatres Limited, many of whose theatres were named 'The Regent'. J.C. Williamson (NZ) Ltd was founded in 1926 and F. Beaumont Smith was sent from Australia to establish a New Zealand chain of cinemas. (I Bowman & J Price, 2003).
The construction of the Regent Theatre in Greymouth was begun in 1933, on the site formerly occupied by a merchant's warehouse (Historic photos [attached] [sourced from History House, Greymouth). The Regent was completed in 1934 and was officially opened on 19 February 1935. It constituted the latest addition to the J.C. Williamson Picture Corporation's chain of theatres, extending from Whangarei to Invercargill. The Regent at Greymouth embodied the latest ideas in modern theatre design at the time. Artistic internal furnishings and decorations were a feature of the theatre. Luxurious carpets were supplied by Ballantynes of Christchurch, and graced the foyer, stairways and aisles. Mr H J Dreyfeldt of Wellington carried out the internal decorations. Mr Williamson of Christchurch was the builder and Mr L L Miles of Wellington was the clerk of works. Mr J Emsworthy was the first manager of the theatre. (Greymouth Evening Star, February 19, 1935) The architect, Mr Lewellyn Williams of Wellington designed numerous theatres around the country, mostly in the Art Deco style. The Regent was built of a revised 'stadium' type, the circle being rather more accentuated than in the usual theatre of that type (Greymouth Evening Star, February 19, 1935).
When it was built, the theatre was equipped with the latest model Zeiss projectors and Realtone Audio wide-range equipment. This was supplied by the Cinema Supplies Co, of Wellington. Two changes of "talkie" programs per week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, was the initial policy of the lessees and the films were drawn chiefly from United artists (Greymouth Evening Star, 19 February 1935).
The Greymouth Operatic Society was formed in 1945 and they have used the Regent Theatre for many successful performances since that time (Kerridge, p.136).
Kerridge Odeon owned other venues in Greymouth including the Opera House. In the mid 1950s new projection systems for movies were introduced and eventually the medium arrived in New Zealand. Cinemascope and Wide Screen could not fit into the Opera House because of stage width problems. The Regent was on the list to have a new screen and projectors but at that time Amalgamated Theatres were the only ones changing to 'scope' and as they did not have a theatre on the West Coast, it seemed the West Coast would miss out. At that time the Regent Theatre in Hokitika was screening Cinemascope to many people and a large number travelled from Greymouth for this new experience. About six months later the Opera House got a new screen to show Cinemascope movies. When it was destroyed by fire on Sunday February 9, 1958, it was replaced with the St. James. In the meantime while the new St. James was being built, cinema was given a new focus at the Greymouth Regent. The first movie screened under the new policy was 'High Society' which starred the late Grace Kelly (Kennedy, T. p. 28).
The Regent appears to have continued to have good patronage through until at least the 1960s (Kennedy, p28). Locals saw the Regent as having "class", with an option of "de-luxe seating" (two front rows of the circle which were slightly dearer than the ordinary circle seats and had more leg-room. (Kennedy, p28). Many locals had "permanent reserves", that is, the same seat in the same row every Friday and Saturday night for years (Kennedy, p28). In the 1950s and 1960s dances were held after the movies. Movies were even shown on Sunday evenings at 8.30pm after church services were over (Kennedy, p28).
Over time there was a decline in theatre and cinema attendance. Pub opening hours were extended from the late 1950s and television arrived in the 1960s, which proved to be competition to the theatre-cinema. The Kerridge Odeon Corporation consolidated its activities on the St James in Greymouth - a purpose built cinema it could run much more efficiently than the Regent. They wanted to cease use of the Regent and their proviso that no cinematography be allowed in the building in the short term future limited the possibilities of the Regent Theatre as a viable entertainment centre (Chairperson's address, Sept 1996). Eventually the Regent appears to have closed.
In 1972 the Regent Theatre was sold to Matai Industries backed by the Norman Kirk's government and fronted by Kevin Meates. Matai Industries used the building as a factory warehouse for 3 years. At this time they stripped much of the interior fittings and removed the seating, but left the decorative features intact.
In the 1970s an enthusiastic group of locals formed the West Coast Theatre Trust and put forward their own money to purchase the theatre building in 1975. They then arranged major refurbishment work to restore the theatre's condition and enable it to be used for live shows. In 1987 the cinema component was also reintroduced, enabling the theatre to revert back to its original theatre-cinema function. The theatre is now a multi-use facility for live shows, films, conferences and leased office space. Additionally, part of the foyer incorporates the Greymouth Information Centre.
Mr W Williamson of Christchurch was the contractor who carried out the architectural plans and Mr LL Miles of Wellington was the clerk of works.
Mr Henry J Dreyfeldt of Wellington was the Theatre Decorator and Mr WL Whittington of Christchurch was the electrical engineer contractor. The plastering contractor was EJ Hatherley of Christchurch and Ayling and King from Christchurch installed the heating and ventilation. Ballantynes of Christchurch supplied the interior decorations of the Theatre (Greymouth Evening Star, February 19, 1935).
The exterior of the building is an interpretation of Art Deco, a style associated with glamour, stylishness and modernity. It employs clean simple lines and a bas relief decoration using geometric shapes.
The front part of the building has windows on 3 levels. It is concrete plaster painted white and has relief decoration of simple geometric lines. The other elevations are red brick and have minimal fenestration.
The building is composed of 5 main elements:
1. Foyer area, which includes the rental space for the Information Centre and the main ticket office;
2.The Theatre auditorium, and the Theatre back stage which includes the fly tower and dressing rooms;
3. Projection room on upper floor at the front of the theatre;
4.Commercial office space, on the North side of the building (currently being leased by Bernina Sewing Centre and Muritai Training Centre Centre.
5. 'Trowbridge Room', recent addition to Theatre (on the north side) which is used predominantly for smaller functions
(please refer to photographs attached and floor plans that identify the 5 elements)
There still remains a large amount of the original Art Deco furnishings in the main auditorium, for example lighting and detailed wall panels (please refer to attached photographs).
CURRENT PYSICAL CONDITION:
Generally well maintained. Some major work needed to repair leaks in the roof and for earthquake strengthening.
The Art Deco decorative detailing of the interior are a special feature of the building.
1933 - 1934
Formally opened 19 February 1935
Stripped of its fittings and seats and a mezzanine floor was inserted, without damaging original decorative scheme.
The raked seating format was reinstated and the general internal format was regained, though access to the upper levels of theatre now comes via a central internal staircase rather than the original stairs from the foyer.
Work was undertaken to redevelop the foyer. The Regency Room was redeveloped.
Trowbridge room was built
Flood damage was repaired, which included a new concrete floor that replaced the original wooden floor damaged in floods, and at that time new toilets were built.
Further foyer redevelopments were undertaken including the setting up of the Information Centre here.
Nibble Nooks coffee bar (a branch of Kerridge Odeon) was placed in the foyer
A new sound system was installed
Numerous changes have been made to the windows and doorway fronting the ground floor spaces.
Brick, steel and cement
1st September 2004
Report Written By
Duncan, 1988 (2)
Alastair Duncan, 'Art Deco', Thames and Hudson, 1988
Grey District Council
Grey District Council
Draft Strategic Development Plan 2002-2012. On www.greydc.govt.nz/council/publications/strategic%20Plan.pdf
Greymouth District Council
Greymouth District Council
Building and Resource Consent File
Greymouth Evening Star
Greymouth Evening Star
from scrapbook held by the West Coast Theatre Trust
C Jencks, Modern Movements in Architecture, Pelican, 1973
T Kennedy, Memories: Recollections of My Life and Times on the South Island's West Coast. Greymouth, New Zealand. Greymouth Evening Star, 1990.
Peter Kerridge, Glimpses of Greymouth and district: a 1993 record of the development of Greymouth and district over the past one hundred and twenty-five years and some of the activities and achievements of its citizens, councils and community organisations, 1868-1993, Greymouth, 1993
Tony Simpson, The Sugarbag Years: A People's History of the 1930's depression in New Zealand, Godwit, 1974
West Coast Theatre Trust
West Coast Theatre Trust
Chairpersons address to the 20th Annual Meeting, Saturday 16 September 1996; Newspaper cuttings in scrapbook held by the West Coast Theatre Trust.
Ian Bowman, and Joanne Price, 'Regent Theatre Hokitika Conservation Plan', May 2003
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern 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.