Arcadia Picture Theatre

84 High Street, Dannevirke

  • Arcadia Picture Theatre. 2006. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Paul Bland. Taken By: Les Veuves - Paul Bland.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7569 Date Entered 10th September 2004 Date of Effect 10th September 2004


Extent of List Entry

Registration includes the building, its fittings and fixtures and the land comprised in Certificate of Title HB B4/74.

City/District Council

Tararua District


Horizons (Manawatū-Whanganui) Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 4132 (RT HB B4/74), Hawkes Bay Land District

Location description

The theatre is located on the main street of Dannevirke, in the heart of the shopping centre.


Completed in 1919, just ten years after New Zealand's first purpose-built cinema, the Arcadia Picture Theatre in Dannevirke is one of the country's few remaining representatives of the era of the silent film.

In 1912 the first movies shown in Dannevirke were screened and hosted in the Town Hall. When a fire in 1917 destroyed large number of buildings in the town, local businessmen made plans to construct a purpose built picture theatre on the main street on a site formerly occupied by the Bank of New South Wales.

Plans for the cinema were completed for the 'Arcadia Picture Theatre Company', a group of local businessmen, by Jorgensen & Allen, A.A. N.Z.I.A Registered Architects on 8 December 1917. Constructed by J. R. Hamilton under the supervision of A. R. Allen, the building is an early example of the Spanish Mission style that became popular in the Hawke's Bay after the 1931 earthquake. Constructed from fire-proof brick clad in stucco, the key characteristics of the style expressed in this landmark building include a stepped roof line and flat roof, the use of red Marseille tiles, the incorporation of a balcony, symmetrically placed long windows topped by bracketed window hoods, and the cream stucco finish. The interior of the building features elements of the Art Deco style. The auditorium was constructed to hold 818 seats and had a screen measuring 7.3m by 5.5m. The elegant refreshments rooms had seating for 80 persons.

The theatre was closed for the first time for refurbishments after the 1931 earthquake, when it was adapted for 'talkies'. It reopened as the 'De Luxe'. Both the 'flicks' and the refreshment rooms, which were also used to host functions, were a success and endeared the building to the community. The De Luxe continued to run throughout the 1960s, when the introduction of television prompted the closure of many theatres throughout New Zealand. In 1987 a fire prompted its management to adapt the theatre to met contemporary tastes. The auditorium was divided into two, creating a more intimate atmosphere in 1988, and the building was renamed 'The Regent'. The refreshment rooms, which had been extensively damaged in the fire, have since been converted into apartments. The building continues to serve the local community as a movie theatre and, as such, it is New Zealand's only provincial theatre from this era to have remained open continuously other than for refurbishments since its construction.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Arcadia Picture Theatre was one of a number of early theatres constructed near the beginning of the twentieth century to show silent films in New Zealand. It is one of the few that have remained standing. The first purpose built theatre was constructed in New Zealand about 1910, approximately 14 years after the first moving picture was shown in the country. The earliest purpose-built theatres were constructed in New Zealand's main cities, where the population and proximity of film distribution centres ensured their commercial success. A number of these early central city theatres have survived. Two examples of such theatres, both of which are registered by the NZHPT, include the Municipal Theatre in Hastings (built 1915, Cat I #1096), and the Paramount Theatre in Wellington (built 1917, Cat II #4160). As the popularity of film increased, theatres were constructed in major provincial centres. However, the introduction of the talkies, and the decline of the popularity of the film from the 1960s led to the closure and demolition of a number of these old-style theatres. The oldest known remaining theatre of this type is the Royal Theatre at Raetihi (built 1915 Cat II #7437), followed by the Majestic Theatre in Taihape (built 1917 Cat II #7433). The Arcadia Picture Theatre was constructed in 1919, just 9 years after the first purpose built theatre. Designed prior to the introduction of 'talkies' in 1929, the Arcadia's link with the silent film era remains evident through its original orchestra pit, which was used to create the music that originally accompanied the films. The theatre's age, and continuing presence in this agricultural centre of southern Hawke's Bay, makes the building an important part of the history of the area and an integral part of the history of the New Zealand film industry.

The Arcadia Picture Theatre was designed in the Spanish Mission style, a style of architecture that became popular in Hawke's Bay after the 1931 earthquake. One of New Zealand's earliest examples of buildings constructed in this style is the Municipal Theatre in Hastings, which was completed in 1914 (Cat I #1096). The Arcadia Picture Theatre, designed by local architects Jorgensen & Allen, is also an early example of the style. The exterior of the Arcadia Picture Theatre is similar to the Municipal Theatre. Key characteristics of the style expressed in the building include the stepped roof line and flat roof, the use of red Marseille tiles, the incorporation of a balcony, symmetrically placed long windows topped by bracketed window hoods, and the cream stucco finish. The interior of the building features elements of the Art Deco style. The geometric tiled dado, for instance, is a significant feature of the foyer of the theatre.

The Arcadia Picture Theatre has been adapted over the years in response to changes in the film industry. It was adapted for the 'talkies' during renovations after the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, and again in 1988 to create the more intimate theatre then popular. It is a good example of the preservation effort that has been given to maintaining the physical features of these early theatres, whilst meeting the changing demands in the auditoriums and seating space for patrons.

The Theatre also has aesthetic value. Located on Dannevirke's main street, the theatre is an important part of a continuous streetscape of commercial buildings. The two-storey structure rises above its neighbours, and stands out on the street. The upper levels of the building's façade have remained unchanged since their construction in 1919, and the building is considered by locals to be both a special feature and an historical landmark.

The opening of the Arcadia Picture Theatre in 1919 was a grand occasion for Dannevirke. Hundreds of people attended the event, which was covered in the local newspapers, and was portrayed as proof of the progress of the township. The building has played a significant role in the history of Dannevirke. The theatre served as an important gathering centre. As well as attending screenings of the latest 'flicks', the community gathered in the auditorium to attend plays and productions by the local high school and travelling theatre companies. The tearooms and cabaret centre upstairs were also important for both local people and visitors. They provided refreshment areas for those attending the movies, while families and other groups hired the rooms for functions such as weddings and dances. While the balcony, from which people can take in features of the town, remains, much of the refreshment room area was burnt out in the fire in 1987.

The Arcadia Picture Theatre, as with so many picture theatres built in New Zealand, provided a means of escaping from the isolationism imposed by the physical distance between New Zealand and the rest of the world. Through the medium of newsreels, visuals of important events were communicated to the community. Movies revolutionised entertainment and were seen as part of a 'cultural re-colonisation' of New Zealand by American influences.

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

The Arcadia Picture Theatre is both rare and unusual in that it has functioned continuously as a provincial cinema since it was opened in 1919. This fact stands as testimony to the importance placed by the local community on the building and the entertainment it has provided for 85 years.

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

The construction of the theatre, and the early use of the Spanish Mission style is a result of a desire by its creators to create a building that stood out, would be admired by the community, and proclaimed the progressive nature of Dannevirke to all visitors.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

The Arcadia Picture Theatre is New Zealand's only provincial theatre to have run continuously since the era of the silent film. It was constructed in 1919, just 9 years after the first purpose built cinema, and 10 years before the introduction of talkies. Of the few purpose-built theatres from this era still remaining, the majority are located in cities. With the exception of the Dannevirke theatre, all those remaining in provincial areas have stopped screening films at some period in their history. Pressures on the film industry and cinemas were particularly intense following the introduction of television and in many places smaller cinemas were constructed, forcing the large, single screen style theatre to close down. The Arcadia is unusual in that, rather than closing down, it was reinvented for each era of New Zealand film history.Throughout its 85-year history, the theatre has only ever been closed for refurbishments. Starting out as the Arcadia, the theatre became the 'De Luxe' following its adaptation for the talkies, and the 'Regent' following its conversion into an intimate theatre.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Jorgensen & Allen, Architects

Original Jorgensen & Allen, Architects Alterations (1934) Llewellyn E. Williams, Architect & Structural Engineer J. A. Louis Hay, Supervising Architect

J.R. Hamilton (late of Beagley & Hamilton), Builder and Contractor, Napier and Dannevirke.

J. R. Hamilton

J.R. Hamilton (late of Beagley & Hamilton), Builder and Contractor, Napier and Dannevirke.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

In 1919 the Arcadia Picture Theatre opened for business on the main street of Dannevirke.

The original settlement of Dannevirke was located between Napier and Wellington in a densely forested area known as the 'Seventy Mile Bush'. The bush hindered communications between the two major settlements. From 1870, Scandinavian immigrants were bought to the area under Sir Julius Vogel's Immigration Scheme (1870) to clear the area for farming and residential development. Saw milling boosted the population of the town and in 1885 Dannevirke was declared a town district and a Town Board was elected.

The Board focussed initially on the provision of facilities such as water supply, drainage, and gas. The first calls for the construction of a theatre were voiced in 1905, and by 1911 the newly constructed town hall provided the first performance venue in the small township. For a short time it remained an unrivalled provider of entertainment, and on 11 May 1912 the Borough Council sanctioned the screening of cinema films in the building. However, rivals to the Town Hall were rapidly introduced with screenings of travelling cinema shows being held in the Drill Hall, and in Gordon Street's newly opened 'Palace' cinema. In 1917 fire destroyed a large number of buildings in the town, and local businessmen made plans to construct a purpose built picture theatre on the site on the main street formerly occupied by the Bank of New South Wales.

Plans for the Dannevirke's cinema were completed for the Arcadia Picture Theatre Company by Jorgensen & Allen, A.A. N.Z.I.A Registered Architects on 8 December 1917. Under the supervision of architect A. R. Allen, the building was erected by contractor J. R. Hamilton.

Designed in the Spanish Mission style, the flat roofed building was constructed from fireproof brick, and clad in cream roughcast, which contrasted with the ornamental sea-green tiles and red brick panels. Patrons entered the building through a central arcade, of which ornamental tiles were a feature. From the arcade they could either mount the elegant curved staircase to the refreshment room on the first floor, or travel straight through to the auditorium. The refreshment room occupied 1350 square feet (175 square metres). Capable of seating up to 80 people, the room was finished in plaster and furnished in oak. The auditorium boasted a screen 24 feet wide by 18 feet high (7.3m x 5.5m) and had 480 seats downstairs and 338 seats in the gallery. At the front of the auditorium was the orchestra pit, for the local orchestra that accompanied the silent films shown until the early 1930s.

The completed building was seen as a mark of progress in the town. Before opening night, the Dannevirke Evening News reported that 'if any special proof of confidence in the future development of Dannevirke were asked for, the answer would be the Arcadia Theatre, for it is on a scale far beyond anything already in existence in the town, and the company which owns it contains the names of many shrewd men of means who would not invest in any wild-cat venture'. The men associated with the construction and management of the Arcadia Picture Theatre were local farmers and business people, and prominent citizens of Dannevirke. Members of the Board included Secretary Mr A. N. Mathieson, Chairman Mr C. Smith, a farmer based in Takapau; Mr M. Joblin, a farmer of Waipukurau, and Mr N.L. Gurr, an agent of Dannevirke and a number of others.

The theatre was completed in 1919. Named 'The Arcadia Picture Theatre', the venue was officially opened by the Mayor on 14 January. The Bush Advocate reported: Never has Dannevirke seen such a crowd assemble for a picture show as that which gathered in the streets last night for the opening of the new Arcadia theatre. The Municipal Bank played several selections, the police force were in full force and controlled admission at the gates admirably, letting those with reserved seats go in in batches. Every seat was filled long before 8pm. The ANZAC Orchestra played in the theatre, which was decorated with Dorothy Perkins roses. The Mayor, Mr A. E. Ransom and Mr J. Goggin, Chairman of Arcadia Picture Theatre Company, were on stage. Mr Ransom, in his address, said that it gave him much pleasure to see such a fine building and such a large crowd in it. The film screened on opening night featured Douglas Fairbanks in 'A Modern Musketeer'.

By the twenties there was a theatre in every hamlet in New Zealand. In 1920 there were 820 new feature films available for rental. Licensing was introduced in 1928, and by 1929 there were 612 licensed cinemas in the country. That same year, 'talkies' arrived in New Zealand, to tremendous acclamation, and cinemas were adapted to provide this revolutionary new form of entertainment.

To keep up with the developments in the film industry, the Arcadia Picture Theatre, one of the early 'silent' film theatres, would require a major overhaul. The theatre was damaged in the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake and the need to restore the building prompted plans to update the theatre at the same time. J. A. Louis Hay, F.N.Z.I.A, was hired to supervise architects Llewellyn & Williams in restoring and upgrading the structure. Hay, an internationally acclaimed architect of the Modern Movement, was heavily influenced by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Hay's work typically combined elements of Art Deco, Art Nouveau and the Chicago School, styles that became synonymous with the 'golden age of film'. The work on the theatre was completed in 1934. The building was then leased to Dannevirke Amusements Ltd, and the theatre was reopened as 'The De Luxe'.

From the 1960s the central role that the theatre had played in the community's cultural life began to lessen. With the arrival of television in 1963 and the extension of pub opening hours four years later, cinema attendances dropped.

In the 1980s smaller, multiplex theatres began to cater for the smaller audiences. Large, single screen cinemas like the De Luxe became dilapidated and run down, and many were forced to close. While minor changes had been made to the De Luxe, which was sold to Dannevirke Amusements Ltd in 1966, the theatre remained largely intact until a severe fire in 1987 damaged the front upstairs section of building. Used as refreshment rooms and as a cabaret and dance hall, the elegant area had formed an integral part of the entertainment provided to patrons. The year after the fire, the building was sold, and an application was made to renovate the theatre. Part of this application involved the creation of a partition wall. The wall would divide the auditorium into two parts, halving the seating and creating the more intimate theatre space then fashionable. The original screen was to be relocated forward onto the new partition wall. The changes were completed in 1989. The building was reopened and given its third name 'The Regent'.

In recent years the future of the theatre appeared to be under threat when its owner put the building on the market. The location of the structure on the main street of the town meant that the site was of interest to developers, and community members became concerned that the theatre would be demolished. The building was saved from such a fate in 2002 when a new owner, who was dedicated to the theatre, purchased it. The new owner renovated the structure. However, the former refreshment rooms, extensively damaged by fire and no longer considered to be an essential part of the entertainment package, were adapted into apartments. Closed only for renovations throughout its 85-year history, the building continues to operate as Dannevirke's theatre, and stands as a reminder of the early history of both theatre and the town.

Physical Description

Located on Dannevirke's main street, the theatre forms part of a continuous streetscape of commercial buildings. The two-storey structure rises above its neighbours, which, together with the cream stucco finish, makes this building stand out on the street. The rectangular structure features a gabled roof and the building is made from local bricks and is finished in cream roughcast. It is ornamented with sea-green tiles and red brick panels. The walls are finished in granite cement. The front elevation is 56 ft (17.07m) wide.

The front elevation is symmetrically designed and is decorated in the Spanish Mission style. The lower section of the front elevation is sheltered by a new verandah, which features a centrally placed, Art Deco style arch. A band of shallow windows allows light into the building above modernised shop frontages located on either side of a 12 ft (3.66m) wide arcade, which provides access to the building interior. A tile dado on the walls, which also feature fibrous ornamental cornices, echoes the tiled floor of the arcade. The wooden Art Deco style doors at the entrance to the theatre replaced the original iron gates. Above the verandah, the upper section of the front elevation remains largely unchanged. Characterised by its strong Spanish Mission style elements, the section is symmetrically designed, and has a balcony and three-dimensional, sculptural motifs that emphasise the vertical. Two rectangular bays flank the centre portion. The two bays feature projecting double bay windows hooded with a canopy of red tiles, while the recessed centre portion features two French doors. The doors open onto a balcony which features an ironwork fence in a continuous starburst design. The use of leadlights on both the windows and the French doors connects the two portions and emphasises the strong vertical lines across the structure.

The interior layout has been altered over time. The ground floor layout was designed around a central arcade that led towards the auditorium. At the front of the building two shops flanked this arcade. While this layout, and much of the original arcade has been retained, the shop fronts have been modernised. Behind the shops and on either side of the arcade there was originally space for a workroom, two strong rooms, a storeroom, and two offices on the one side and a yard on the other. At the end of the arcade a vestibule led towards the 480-seat auditorium, and a grand staircase featuring the continuous starburst design, led to the first floor landing. The auditorium has been altered. A wall was built across the space, halving the number of seats available. On the first floor there was a 'luxurious lounge', a sweets stall, a ladies cloakroom, and two entrances to the auditorium with a gallery that was capable of seating 338 people. A further flight of stairs led to the photographer's studio, and a tearoom that featured French doors that opened out onto the balcony. Originally capable of seating up to 80 people, this area was burnt out by fire and has since been converted into an apartment.

Construction Dates

1917 -

Original Construction
1918 -

1919 -
Formal opening

1934 -
Theatre damaged by earthquake

1934 -
Alterations to 1st floor, wired for sound, renamed De Luxe Theatre

1944 -
Re-roofing, alteration to walls around stairwell

1958 -
Alteration to stair

1987 -
Fire damages front upstairs section of building

1988 -
Application to: erect structural roof framing; demolish strong room (approved)

1990 -
Application to repair earthquake damage to parapet (approved)

2004 -
Upstairs converted into apartments

Construction Details

Stucco, brick and concrete.

Completion Date

1st October 2004

Report Written By

Rebecca O'Brien

Information Sources

Bush Advocate

Bush Advocate

'Town Hall', Bush Advocate, 11 May 1912; 'Arcadia Picture Theatre; A Fine Building', 22 October 1918

Dannevirke Borough Council

Dannevirke Borough Council, Dannevirke Borough; Sixtieth Anniversary 1892-1952, Wellington, 1952

Dannevirke Evening News

Dannevirke Evening News

'The Arcadia Opened', 15 January 1919

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this 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.