The jewels are sparkling once more in Wellington's top theatres

After being found to be earthquake prone in 2015 and closed to the public for several years, the St James Theatre in Courtenay Place, Wellington, has been strengthened and restored to its former glory.

Golden ceiling of the St James Theatre with red seats and arches.
The strengthened and reburbished delights in the St James Theatre. Photo: Stuffexpand/collapse

Similarly, just down the road in Kent Terrace, another famous heritage landmark, the Embassy Theatre, has re-opened after the completion of restoration work in the theatre foyer with funding support coming from former Wellington Mayor, Dame Kerry Prendergast and her husband Embassy Theatre trustee Rex Nicholls.

For many decades these theatres have proven to be the jewels in the crown of the city’s top film and performance entertainment venues.

Designed and built in 1912 by Henry Eli White, the Category 1 heritage listed St James Theatre is also home to the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Work to strengthen the St James started in April 2019 as well as other improvements including upgrades to staging, lighting, sound, air conditioning, rigging systems, fire protection, and mechanical and electrical systems.

The $42 million earthquake strengthening work and refurbishment involved the preservation and protection of the decorative interior and other significant heritage elements. Wellington City Council worked closely with Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and conservation architects to ensure the heritage values were upheld and adhered to. Construction was led by Maycroft Construction Ltd.

Mayor Andy Foster says the St James Theatre has played an integral part in our history over the past century. “It accents old-world glamour with modern technology, and will once again bring dance, drama, opera, comedy, and music to Wellingtonians and thespians from far and wide to the capital.” A world favourite, a revised musical stage production of Les Miserables will be on at the St James this month and into September.

Rex Nicholls and Kerry Prendergast provided in excess of $1m as a loan to the Embassy Trust to restore the entrance to the treasured Category 1 listed Embassy Theatre back to the way it was in the 1920s.

The theatre has played host to many film and arts festivals, and international movie premieres including Lord of the Rings, which brought 120,000 people out to the theatre in Courtenay Place.

- David Watt

It accents old-world glamour with modern technology - Mayor Andy Foster