A million dollar restoration project for Embassy Theatre

Wellington’s landmark cinema, Courtenay Place’s Embassy Theatre, opened in 1924, is to receive in excess of a million dollars as a loan to the Embassy Theatre Trust.

The Embassy Theatre in Wellington with shadows.

Former Wellington Mayor, Dame Kerry Prendergast and her husband, property developer and former city councillor, Rex Nicholls, are loaning the funds to restore the entrance to the treasured theatre.

The Category 1 heritage listed Embassy Theatre, has had a wonderful history providing a wide variety of entertainment in the capital city for close on 100 years. The theatre has played host to many film and arts festivals, international movie premieres, and as recent as the early 2000s, with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which brought 120,000 people out to line Courtenay Place.

Lower Hutt lawyer and New Zealand arts stalwart, the late Bill Sheat, who passed away in January last year, was a long time chairman of the Embassy Theatre Trust, of which Rex Nicholls has also been a trustee. Bill and his trustee colleagues put much energy into saving and restoring the Embassy Theatre over many years.

The Embassy Theatre Trust was formed in 1995 to save and restore the building. The Trust, with the help of Wellington City Council, eventually purchased the property in 1997.

Between 1998 and 2003, the Embassy was refurbished with parts of the building being sympathetically restored, and the auditorium modernised to cater for the demands of current theatre goers.

Bill Sheat had his funeral service in the Embassy Theatre in January last year and, in recognition of Bill’s deep interest in musicals and acting, was a real theatrical show by all accounts. For the several hundreds who attended Bill’s service, including me, it was a wonderful tribute to an outstanding arts leader.

Rex Nicholls is very clear on their new objective. “We are lending this money to the Trust to rebuild the entrance foyer the way it was back in the 1920s and we want to put a big digital ad up on top of the building to help pay rent for the theatre.” Just a further step in a long programme of restoration work for the Embassy.

The Embassy Theatre is a special feature looking down Courtenay Place, attracting huge numbers of people travelling through the area, and by night an entertainment drawcard for thousands of city residents and visitors.

- David Watt