Victoria Theatre

48-56 Victoria Road, Devonport, Auckland

  • Victoria Theatre, Devonport.
  • Victoria Theatre auditorium.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 16/12/2006.
  • Fuller-Hayward seating in the Victoria Theatre..
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 16/12/2006.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7712 Date Entered 22nd June 2007 Date of Effect 22nd June 2007


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes all of the land in RT NA567/76 (as shown on Map A in Appendix 3 in the Registration Report) and the theatre building, its fixtures and fittings thereon.

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Legal description

Pt Allot 20A Sec 2 Parish of Takapuna (RT NA567/76), North Auckland Land District


The Victoria Theatre incorporates the remains of a very early purpose-built picture theatre and was one of the first in New Zealand to incorporate a shallow stage, an important development in cinema design. Initially constructed in 1912, the brick building is located in Devonport, a major seaside resort and suburb on the northern shores of the Waitemata harbour. The resort began as a naval port in the 1840s, but by the turn of the century was equipped with many of the accoutrements of a pleasure town as large numbers of people came to visit from nearby Auckland and elsewhere. The earliest picture theatre in the settlement was in a converted timber hall, run by an American migrant, John Benwell. This was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve 1911, just days after pictures were first shown there. Benwell soon commissioned a new brick structure, better equipped to deal with highly flammable cellulose nitrate film. 'Benwell's Picture Palace' opened in October 1912, when a programme of pictures was screened accompanied by a five-piece orchestra.

Designed by the Auckland architect, John Walker, the theatre was a rectangular brick structure with a Free Classical style facade. Internally, it incorporated a directional auditorium and a shallow stage or platform on which the screen was located. Erected just two years after the first purpose-built movie theatre was opened in New Zealand (in Wellington's Dixon Street), the latter was a new design element, reflecting a shift away from dual purpose theatres that had a full theatre stage to accommodate both live entertainment and new cinema technology. The theatre also incorporated a plushly-equipped 'dress circle' located in an upstairs balcony, and two shops in the front part of the building. Further shops were housed in a lower extension to the north. The offices of the North Shore Gazette & Victoria Theatre Courier, which heavily promoted entertainment at the picture theatre for more than 20 years, occupied one of these tenancies. The complex was built by Edward James for ₤6,500.

Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the theatre was purchased by Fuller-Hayward, one of the early acquisitions of a new company that formed New Zealand's first nationwide cinema chain. Audiences boomed, partly in response to filmed footage of the conflict. By the late 1920s, however, other cinemas had become established on the North Shore, and new technology in the form of 'talkies' had arrived. Again at the forefront of change, the Victoria Theatre was remodelled for modern film and sound in 1929 to a design by Daniel Patterson. Patterson's alterations greatly increased the size of the Victoria Theatre, transforming it into a modern cinema in the popular Art Deco style that dominated Europe and America in the 1920s and 1930s. Modifications included extending the height and width of the previous building, and considerably altering its interior. Although undergoing a decline from the 1960s, the building has been kept open, in part due to vigorous public campaigns. Transformed into a three-screen cinema in the 1980s, the theatre has recently been purchased by the North Shore City Council to prevent it from complete closure, potential conversion to inappropriate uses or potential demolition.

The Victoria Theatre is aesthetically significant as a prominent and familiar Devonport landmark, which incorporates Art Deco motifs and elements particularly in its internal décor. It is architecturally important as New Zealand's earliest surviving purpose-built cinema that is believed to have been constructed with a shallow platform rather than a full stage. The place has strong historical value as a very early picture palace associated with the emerging shift from live theatre to technologically-produced forms of recreation. It is also associated with changing patterns of ownership, alteration and use that demonstrate major developments in New Zealand cinema over more than 80 years. The theatre has cultural and social significance for its associations with public entertainment, and as a major place of gathering for almost a century. Campaigns to save the building from neglect and demolition demonstrate the very high public esteem in which it is held. The theatre has technological value as an example of an early purpose-built cinema from the silent movie era that was adapted to accommodate the technology of talking pictures. It is a significant part of a well-preserved cultural and historical landscape in Devonport, which encompasses numerous heritage structures of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century date.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Victoria Theatre is historically significant as an early surviving picture theatre, constructed just two years after New Zealand's first purpose built cinema - Kings Theatre (opened in Wellington in 1910 and demolished in 1986). As the oldest surviving example of a cinema originally constructed with a shallow platform, the building is closely associated with an important step in the transition from live theatre to entertainment produced primarily by technological means. This is in turn connected with changes in twentieth-century society, including the centralized production and mass distribution of saleable commodities, such as entertainment. The Victoria Theatre is also of significance as one of the earliest suburban cinemas to have been constructed in Auckland, reflecting the spread of movies and newsreel as a popular source of information and recreation.

The place has historical significance for its decades-long association with two of country's largest picture theatre chains; initially with Fuller-Hayward (an amalgamation of two early New Zealand cinema and picture-distribution interests); and subsequently with New Zealand's Kerridge-Odeon Corporation, the largest theatre organization in the Southern Hemisphere.

Patterns of ownership, alteration and use of the Victoria Theatre demonstrate development and change in New Zealand cinema spanning more than 80 years. The theatre opened early in the silent movie era, and the introduction of film with sound in 1929 led to its redesign. Like many other large cinemas, the Victoria Theatre was subsequently adapted into two (and later three) theatres, for the showing of art house movies in 1990. It was the first cinema in New Zealand to be granted a liquor licence for a bar for cinema patrons.

The Victoria Theatre is also of historical value for reflecting Devonport's growth as a popular seaside suburb and leisure resort close to central Auckland. It particularly represents increasing variety in entertainment supplied to residents and visitors in the early part of the twentieth century.

The Victoria Theatre is of architectural significance for incorporating elements of a very early purpose-built picture theatre, constructed of brick in 1912 to deal with the specific requirements of early cinemas.

Remodeled in 1929, the place has architectural significance as a cinema of stripped classical design in New Zealand and for its surviving Art Deco character. It is important as a work of the noted Auckland architect Daniel B. Patterson, an architect of regional significance who designed the remodeled cinema of 1929. The Victoria Theatre also incorporates the remnants of a rare large-scale work of the architect John M. Walker, designer of the original theatre building in 1912.

The building is of technological significance as an example of an early purpose-built cinema from the silent movie era later adapted to accommodate the technology of talking pictures, which commenced in New Zealand in 1929. It appears to have been at the forefront of developments in cinema technology.

The building has some aesthetic significance as a prominent and familiar Devonport landmark, and for its contribution to the urban character of the seaside settlement. The Victoria Theatre has aesthetic significance for the Art Deco motifs and elements of it internal décor.


The Victoria Theatre has cultural significance as an early cinema built for the entertainment and information of Devonport's theatre-going public. In its early years it was also a venue for cultural events including local concerts and contests, and has more recently also been used for similar purposes.


The place also has social significance as a major place of gathering and interaction for the local community for almost a century. As evidenced by numerous recent campaigns to save the building from neglect and demolition, it remains of social value.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Victoria Theatre has high significance for reflecting important aspects of New Zealand cinema history, notably the early development of silent movie-going from 1912, two years after construction of the first purpose-built cinema in the country; the introduction of 'talkies' in 1929; and the development of intimate 'art house' movie theatres towards the end of the twentieth century.

It reflects the importance of cinema as popular public entertainment, and the significance of film as a medium for relaying news and current events before the introduction of television to New Zealand in the 1960s.

The Victoria Theatre also reflects the development of Devonport as a popular early twentieth-century coastal leisure resort in the Auckland region. The place is strongly associated with the early development of cinema and film-going in suburban Auckland and was the first purpose-built picture theatre on the North Shore.

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

The place is associated with significant individuals in New Zealand cinema history, notably Benjamin Fuller, Henry Hayward, and R.J. Kerridge.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

Incorporating the remnants of a very early picture theatre, the place has potential to provide information about early picture theatre design and technology. Subsequent changes can provide knowledge about later shifts in cinema design and use during the 1920s and later.

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

The Victoria Theatre has high community value, having played an important part in the social and cultural life of Devonport for much of the twentieth century. The public esteem in which it is held is evidenced by campaigns by members of the local community over the past two decades to secure the building's long term future. The Victoria Theatre was purchased by the North Shore City Council in 2006 after considerable public consultation.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

As a place of public entertainment on the main street of Devonport, a popular seaside suburb and resort, the theatre has considerable potential for public education about the history of cinema and movie-going in New Zealand. Its potential is enhanced by being owned by a public body - the North Shore City Council.

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

The place has considerable design significance for incorporating the remains of the oldest purpose-built cinema in New Zealand constructed with a shallow platform, and as one of the oldest surviving purpose-built cinemas in Australasia.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The Victoria Theatre is part of the wider historical and cultural landscape in Devonport, a particularly well-preserved late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century suburb on Auckland's North Shore. Located at the northern gateway of Devonport's town centre, the theatre has long been a significant landmark in the local landscape. It is one of many notable heritage buildings in Victoria Road, Devonport's main thoroughfare.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Patterson, Daniel Boys

Patterson (1880-1962) was born and trained in England. He immigrated to New Zealand about 1910, and became a member of the New Zealand Institute of Architects in 1914. He was senior partner in the firm of D B Patterson, Lewis and Sutcliffe, which was responsible for churches, hotels and commercial buildings throughout the Auckland province, the largest being the Mater Misericordiae Hospital. He died 7 May 1962 aged 82.

Walker, John

Little is known about Auckland architect John M. Walker. Said to be a member of an old Ellerslie family, Walker was educated locally. He may have been articled to Wilson and Moodie, an Auckland architectural firm that later built the new Australian Mutual Provident Society building in circa1912 (demolished 1958).

In 1907 Walker designed the timber parish hall constructed in Bella Street, Ellerslie for the Anglican church. At this time Keith Draffin, later of Grierson, Aimer and Draffin - the firm that won the competition for the Auckland War Memorial Museum - was articled to Walker (1906-1910).

Other designs attributed to Walker's practice include the first place of worship of the Church of the Latter Day Saints on its Queen Street site in Auckland in 1908 (demolished) and the Maori Agricultural College, another commission by the Mormon Church, constructed in 1911-12. The College, a substantial educational and residential complex was destroyed by the Hawkes Bay earthquake of 1931.

In addition to various brick and timber shops in Auckland's suburbs, Walker is said to have designed a number of sizeable and well-finished residences in Remuera, Mount Eden and Herne Bay. He also designed stores for the British Imperial Oil Company in Freeman's Bay.

James, Edward Roy

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Watson & Holmes

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Development of Devonport

Devonport emerged as a colonial settlement with its use as a British naval port in the 1840s. Located a short distance across the Waitemata Harbour from the newly founded capital of Auckland, a naval stores and ammunition depot was established there in 1841. The following year a signal station was set up on Mount Victoria. The area's potential as a seaside suburb was recognised as early as February 1859 when notices appeared in the New Zealander offering land 'in the village of Devonport' for sale by auction. Although the area was subject to some speculation and land subdivision in the 1860s, large-scale development emerged primarily during the economic boom of the 1870s and 1880s. With the establishment of good quality ferry services to and from Auckland, Devonport became a well-established residential suburb and a significant seaside resort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Recreational activities formed an important part of the social life of the settlement and stimulated the supply of day trippers. Ferry steamers ran until midnight, with motor buses conveying passengers from the ferry wharves to Devonport's beaches, racecourse and Lake Pupuke beyond. Visitors enjoyed strawberry teas in season and lunched or took tea at refreshment rooms. Many stayed at local hotels or in well-appointed accommodation houses on the waterfront. Brass band concerts were given from the bandstand in Windsor Reserve on King Edward Parade, Devonport's fashionable promenade, which was developed and extended in the early 1900s. By December 1911 moving pictures were also offered for the entertainment of residents and the resort's visitors. Construction of a permanent cinema, the Victoria Theatre, was completed the following year.

Early history of the site

The site occupied by the Victoria Theatre was located in the northern part of the emerging commercial sector of Devonport, which focused on the wharves of the Devonport Steam Ferry Company. The site originally formed part of a 2.87 ha (nearly 8 acre) section granted to William Oliver in 1851 - one of several Crown Grants issued to purchasers between 1850 and 1869 for the land now comprising Devonport's commercial centre. After Oliver's death, the trustees of his estate sold the property to a North Shore ship chandler, William Rattray, in 1872. The identities of these early landowners are commemorated in the names given to adjacent Devonport Streets.

Rattray divided up the allotment, selling a part subsequently occupied by the Victoria Theatre to John MacDonald, esquire, of Auckland in 1881. A decade later widow Margaret Carruth bought MacDonald's parcel, selling in 1893 to timber merchant and ship owner James Dunning. Martha Inger, wife of George E. Inger builder became the owner in 1904. In September 1912 Mrs Inger sold the present site for ₤1,340 to Mary Benwell, whose husband John Leon Benwell commissioned construction of the Victoria Theatre.

Construction of the Victoria Theatre (1912)

An American, Benwell had migrated to New Zealand with his wife Mary Angeline and three sons via Rarotonga in 1910 and opened a moving picture show in the Old Federal Hall in Auckland's Wellesley Street West. Settling in Ewen Alison Avenue in Devonport, he subsequently opened Devonport's first picture theatre in a hall in Clarence Street on 21 December 1911. These premises burnt down on Christmas Eve 1911 just days after pictures were first shown there. Until the introduction of safety film in 1951, highly flammable cellulose nitrate film posed a severe fire risk to buildings that were not purpose built as cinemas with fire-proof projection boxes. Incidents such as this helped to precipitate the construction of a new building type, known as movie theatres or cinemas.

Motion pictures had evolved internationally during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Ten months after the first public screening was held in Paris on 28 December 1895, movies were publicly exhibited for the first time in New Zealand. During the following decade pictures grew in popularity as traveling showmen conducted screenings in hired halls. In April 1908 New Zealand's first permanent cinema opened in the Royal Albert Hall, leased for the purpose in Wellesley Street, Auckland. By 1911 picture shows were 'everywhere, in the city and suburbs and all doing big business'. In 1911 Auckland's first suburban picture houses were established with the screening of movies at the Lyceum in Onehunga and the Newmarket Public Hall. John Benwell's picture hall in Devonport's Clarence Street was also at the forefront of these developments.

Following the destruction of his first premises in Devonport, Benwell commissioned Auckland architect John Walker to design a purpose-built brick theatre on the site on the east side of Victoria Road, Devonport's main street. The structure was to be erected at the northern end of the thoroughfare, on the lower slopes of Mount Victoria, making it visible from the ferry wharves at the bottom end of the road. Construction of the Victoria Theatre in brick reflected not only a desire to minimize fire risk. It was also more soundproof than the timber halls that were previously adapted for use as picture theatres, particularly important in an age of silent movies and newsreel. The new theatre was to be among the earliest wave of purpose-built movie theatres erected to show silent films in New Zealand. Kings Theatre, the first purpose-built movie theatre to be constructed in New Zealand, opened in March 1910 in Wellington's Dixon Street commencing a theatre building boom that spanned two decades. In November 1910 Auckland's first theatre built specifically for movies, also known as Kings Theatre, opened on a site near Karangahape Road.

Little is known of Walker or his architectural work. His largest commission appears to have been a Maori Agricultural College designed for the Church of Latter Day Saints in c.1911, a complex destroyed by the Hawkes Bay earthquake of 1931. Walker had earlier designed a timber hall for the Anglican parish at Ellerslie, and a year later in 1908 a chapel for the Church of Latter Day Saints on Auckland's Queen Street. Otherwise his practice appears primarily to have designed shop buildings and residences.

The Victoria Theatre is said to have been designed to comfortably seat 1,000 people, although it had an official capacity of 760. It was constructed by builder Edward Roy James who was the mortgagee for the contract amount of ₤6,500. The brick theatre originally incorporated a grey stucco façade to Victoria Road, with a pediment and parapet balustrade. Apart from the use of classical elements on the façade, the building's external appearance was largely functional, comprising a rectangular brick hall with a corrugated iron roof. Any other decorative flourishes were confined to the interior. Making the most of the retail opportunities offered by Victoria Road, the development included two shops within the front of the building, and two further shops with living accommodation in an extension abutting the northern end of the theatre structure. As large commercial buildings with little need for extensive display space, it was not unusual for early movie theatres to incorporate shops as a component of the original design.

Internally, the theatre was built with a directional, rectangular auditorium and a shallow stage or platform on which the screen was located. The shallow platform was a significant new feature of rapidly-developing movie house design. The Victoria Theatre is believed to have been one of the first to display this element in New Zealand, as most earlier picture theatres contained larger stages to accommodate live productions. Shallow stages or platforms represent a step away from the dual-purpose role of many early picture theatres. They are a physical manifestation of the increasing replacement of live entertainment by technologically-produced forms of recreation, capable of being produced centrally and at a distance from a place of showing or listening. This process is in turn linked with major changes in twentieth-century society, including the increasingly large-scale production of commodities, and wider - often international - networks of product distribution. It also is also symptomatic of shifting forms of social interaction, whereby direct contact between individuals in a community is reduced.

In the early theatre at Devonport, live entertainment continued to be accommodated, but on a smaller scale than previously. The small stage or platform contained steps at either end for access, and there was space between the proscenium arch and the public seating for a small orchestra to accompany the films. Most of the public was accommodated on raked seating at ground floor level, divided into a pit at the front and a family circle behind. Superior seating was provided in a raised rear balcony - the dress circle - accessed by stairs off the south side of the tiny front lobby. The dress circle contained green plush seats of mahogany fitted with a hat rack. The interior décor, echoing the elaborate theatres of an earlier period, had moulded plaster ornamentation on the ceiling, walls, circle balcony and proscenium arch.

Initial use (1912-1929)

Benwell's Model Picture Palace, as the theatre was also known, was opened on 26 October 1912 by Mayor William Handley. A programme of pictures was screened, with music supplied by a five-piece orchestra.

The street-level commercial premises within the building were leased out to various tenants. In early cinema developments, before the provision of refreshments became an integral part of cinema business from counters inside the picture theatre, it was not uncommon for a shop in a cinema development to be occupied by a confectioner. The Busy Bee Lollie Shop is recorded as a tenant in one of the Victoria Theatre's shops in 1913. The northernmost tenancy was occupied by the offices of the North Shore Gazette & Victoria Theatre Courier. Entertainment at the picture theatre was well promoted in this paper for over 20 years.

Benwell also promoted his movie business by running other entertainments including baby contests, rhyming contests and benefit concerts for the police and firemen of Devonport.

Shortly before the First World War broke out in 1914, the Victoria Theatre was sold to Fuller-Hayward, one of the early acquisitions of a new company that was an amalgamation of picture-distribution rivals John Fuller & Sons Ltd and Hayward's Enterprises. The Wellington-based film distribution company New Zealand Picture Supplies had been formed the previous year when Fuller and Hayward merged their 40 theatres to form New Zealand's first nationwide cinema chain reflecting the increasing centralisation of film distribution.

Soon afterwards, cinema attendances rocketed nationally as New Zealanders were attracted by newsreels of the war. By 1917, 550,000 went to the pictures weekly. Cinema rapidly became established a popular form of public information and entertainment, a position it enjoyed for many decades. A developing awareness of national identity fostered by the production of New Zealand's first feature films around the beginning of the First World War was furthered in the 1920s and 1930s with the production of motion pictures by Rudall Hayward. Newsreels on New Zealand subjects, first commissioned by the Government Tourist Department in 1907, were later to become an important part of the local cinema-going experience.

Although primarily used for showing movies, the theatre remained a venue for other cultural events. These included the first concert of the North Shore Choral Society in December 1923 reflecting an ongoing appetite for live entertainment during the early years of cinema, as well as strong community engagement with the local theatre.

Expansion and modification (1929)

The advent of talking movies increased cinema attendances yet further. The first experimental talkies in New Zealand were shown in January 1926 at the Paramount in Wellington followed by screenings in Auckland in July, but were a technical disaster. Three years later Wellington's first talking picture show opened at the Paramount, in March 1929. The following May, the first full-length 'all talkie' movie was screened in Auckland.

Cinemas that resisted the huge expense of converting to sound quickly went out of business. Again at the forefront of change, the Victoria Theatre was extensively remodeled for modern film and sound technology in 1929. Fuller-Hayward engaged Auckland architect Daniel B. Patterson to undertake a major redesign of the theatre in anticipation of the boom expected to follow introduction of the talkies, although less extensive alterations had initially been contemplated. Many of the works of Patterson's prolific architectural practice survive and include banks, fire stations, hotels and churches as well as commercial, administrative and residential buildings throughout the Auckland province.

Redesign of the Victoria Theatre may also have been stimulated by direct local competition. Until the establishment of the Picturedrome at Milford in 1922, the North Shore has been serviced by the Victoria Theatre and just one other cinema at Birkenhead. With a special bus service laid on to meet patrons coming off the Devonport ferry, the Picturedome constituted stiff competition as it provided for dancing after the last movie ended. Films were also shown at Devonport between 1924 and 1925 at The Midway, in a parish hall on Vauxhall Road. The Victoria Theatre faced further competition in 1927 when the State picture show opened in Devonport. Rival company, Amalgamated Theatres, constructed the State cinema directly opposite the Victoria Theatre in 1934.

Patterson's design greatly increased the size of the Victoria Theatre, transforming it into a modern cinema in the popular Art Deco style that dominated Europe and America in the 1920s and 1930s. An expression of modernism, Art Deco architecture promoted simplicity of line as well as the idea that function should not be hidden. The more ornamental aspects of Art Deco were well-suited to the design and furnishing of cinemas, which as comparatively new building types, were also closely associated with 'modernity'. In general, Art Deco projected an image of 'progress' and associations with a new technological age.

The remodeled cinema retained elements of the original structure, including its west, south and east exterior brick walls. The building was extended by one bay to the north and existing walls were built up a further 4.5m to provide for a larger auditorium. A new entrance was constructed at the northern end of the Victoria's frontage and a new roof built over the enlarged structure. Windows in the south wall were bricked up. The façade was reworked, the wall panels framed by pilasters adapting the rhythm of the original 1912 building. The sense of height was intensified by filling-in the upper portions of the 1912 window openings, resulting in a large expanse of wall up to the frieze. At street level, three shops were accommodated in the southern section of the frontage.

The reconstruction resulted internally in a wider and taller auditorium with an extended circle. The main foyer with barrel-vaulted ceiling over the stairway led up to the circle foyer, which had a tastefully furnished lounge down below the circle entrance. The refurbished Victoria cinema, the 58th entertainment house in Fuller-Hayward's chain and purportedly the largest theatre north of Auckland, was opened by the Deputy Mayor Mr J. Hislop in October 1929. The whitewashed finish of the theatre exterior may have been caused by economies necessitated by the onset of the Great Depression, soon after the remodeling was completed.

Decline and campaigns to save the building

The Depression extending into the 1930s affected cinema-going throughout the country. Fuller-Hayward's receipts fell by 45 per cent of the weekly gross, and the corporation ceased business in 1930. The Victoria Theatre, along with the other 67 theatres by then owned by the Fuller-Hayward chain, was taken over by debenture holders. At the end of the Depression, Fullers resumed ownership as the Fuller Theatre Corporation, Hayward having left to pursue other interests. The company was sold to the noted cinema magnate R.J. Kerridge in 1945 and the theatre was run under the auspices of Kerridge Odeon Corporation Ltd, the largest theatre organization in the Southern Hemisphere. By the mid-1980s, sustained loss of family audiences to television and later video caused the distribution chains to put up ticket prices and close theatres in provincial areas. The Victoria Theatre was put up for sale in July 1986.

A group of concerned Devonport residents formed the Victoria Theatre Trust with the aim of ensuring a viable future for the theatre as a community facility and retention of the building as a local landmark. A fund-raising campaign was launched and Pacer Kerridge commissioned plans for rehabilitation of the theatre as an all-purpose entertainment centre. After 18-months of sustained effort, however, the Trust had raised only a tenth of the $250,000 required. The theatre closed in February 1988, one of 14 cinemas closed nationally by Pacer Kerridge that year.

The Victoria was purchased by Pandasus Nominees in 1989. After standing vacant for 18 months it was converted at a cost of $1 million into two, 280-seat cinemas (the Victoria and the Albert) and in January 1990 opened as Charley Gray's Twin Cinema Devonport. The first liquor licence issued to a cinema in New Zealand was granted for a bar on the mezzanine, enhancing the cinema-going experience of devotees of art and festival films. For a short time the Albert doubled as a venue for fashion parades and meetings, but Devonport's theatre closed again in June 1992. A new charitable trust formed in May 1993, failed to raise the purchase price and a private company, Victoria Theatre Ltd, took possession of the building in November 1993. The name reverted to the Victoria Theatre. The old circle lounge was converted into a third intimate theatre (the George) and one of the shops became the licensed bar. The business was sold as a going concern in April 1996 and the theatre became known as DC3 (Devonport Cinema Three). Refurbished again in April 1997, plans emerged two years later for conversion into apartments, a concept superseded in turn by a short-lived proposal to remodel the building into a theatre and function centre on the ground floor with luxury apartments in the roof space and parking underground. The cinema closed in November 2002.

The local community rallied a third time, forming the Save Devonport Cinema Group in January 2003. The property sold in September 2003 to three individuals, but remained closed as a fully operational cinema.

At the end of 2005 the North Shore City Council canvassed the community as to whether it should buy the $2.8m property which was being offered at $1.55m. An estimated $495,000 was required for minor urgent upgrading work (not including seismic upgrading) with another $122,000 annually for ongoing costs. Seventy per cent of the 4,579 submissions received by the Council favoured purchase. Noted New Zealand singer-songwriter and Devonport resident Tim Finn of the former band Split Enz, composed a song urging retention of the theatre, which he performed at the Council hearing of submissions. New Zealand playwright Roger Hall also joined those lobbying the Council to buy the building. In July 2006 the Council purchased the Victoria Theatre and embarked on a tendering process to decide who would take over the ownership, maintenance and operation of the building. The Council currently retains ownership and the building is temporarily vacant.

Physical Description


The Victoria Theatre is located in Devonport, a maritime suburb of North Shore City. Devonport, noted for its well-preserved nineteenth and early twentieth-century buildings, lies on the northern shoreline of the Waitemata Harbour, immediately opposite the main central business district (CBD) of Auckland. The theatre is located at the northern end of Victoria Road, Devonport's main commercial thoroughfare. Numerous historic buildings are located on the same street, including the Esplanade Hotel (NZHPT Registration # 4481, Category I historic place), the Art Deco-style former Post Office at 10 Victoria Road, the former Bank of New Zealand at 14 Victoria Road, and a number of other commercial buildings of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century date. At the southern end of Victoria Road are a number of commemorative monuments including the First World War Memorial (NZHPT Registration # 4515, Category II historic place), the Alison Clock (NZHPT Registration # 4513, Category II historic place), and the Coronation Sea Wall (NZHPT Registration # 4516, Category II historic place) on King Edward Parade.

The theatre building occupies a 660m² rectangular plot on the lower slopes of Mount Victoria. Partly due to its elevated position overlooking the commercial centre, the structure is a notable feature that marks the entrance to Devonport's town centre from the north. Trees and the grassed slopes of Mount Victoria behind the building provide it with an aesthetic backdrop. The plot lies a short distance to the north of the intersection between Victoria Road and Rattray Street. The building is sited 1.85m from the north boundary but otherwise fully covers the site. The area between the building and the northern boundary is retained by a concrete wall to provide alleyway access to stage doors towards the rear of the building. The pavement in front of the building slopes down slightly from north to south.


The theatre building is rectangular in plan, being seven bays deep and five bays wide. Constructed of brick, its external appearance is largely the result of remodeling in 1929, although its form retains elements of an original 1912 design. The building's asymmetrical façade reflects the prevailing style of new cinema buildings in an era when forms of stripped classical architecture became overlaid with elements of Art Deco design. The building has a corrugated iron roof that is gabled at its eastern end and gambreled to the west. The roof is enclosed behind a parapet on all sides except the east.

West elevation

The main façade to Victoria Road has been plastered and painted. A single-storey verandah extends across the frontage, sheltering pedestrians on Victoria Road. The façade contains the main entrance to the building, emphasized by a tall vertical projection standing slightly proud of the rest of the façade. Arranged asymmetrically, the projection incorporates an arched window above verandah level, and at attic level an ornate lead-light oriel window. Above the oriel window, are the initials of the 1929 owners - Fuller-Hayward. The top of the projection is plain, but slightly stepped. Simple shaping and a change of level in the verandah canopy further define the theatre entrance.

At the northern end of the façade a pilaster with stylized capital extends up to parapet level, visually tying the projection into the broader composition. To the south of the projection, the façade is composed of base, shaft and attic sections in keeping with the stripped classical style. Above verandah level, the wall panels are framed in a manner resembling pilasters. The neoclassical rhythms of the 1912 structure are evident in the reworked facade. The frieze below a shallow stylized cornice has five attic windows. Decorative elements on the façade, like those on the building interior, are Art Deco in style.

North elevation

The building's north wall, constructed in its entirety in 1929, has not been plastered. Each bay is marked by a pilaster running slightly less than full height. A deep recess running the height of the second bay on the north wall (and on the south) has narrow openings for ventilation.

East elevation

The rear wall exhibits a marked distinction between the yellow brick of the 1912 (lower) section and the 1929 upper orange brick section. Like the north wall, each bay is marked by a pilaster.

South elevation

On the south wall, the upper section (1929) has been plastered, making distinct the break between the 1912 and 1929 building work. A 1912 window opening in each of the third, fourth and fifth bay of the wall's lower section has been bricked up as part of the 1929 alterations. Each bay is separated by a pilaster. Fire doors at the east end of the building provide access, across the rear of the adjoining site, to Rattray Street.


Internally, the building incorporates two main floor levels. On each is a sizeable theatre with raked seating. At the western end of the building a third smaller theatre is located off the staircase in a former mezzanine lounge below what was originally the circle. Art Deco-style plaster pilasters, capitals and cornices are a feature of the lobby, stairway and theatre areas. The ceilings in the two larger theatres have decorative ceiling vents, and window openings in the upper theatre have hinged timber screens. The ceiling vents are large latticed grilles of three different designs, and depending on location have been painted a contrasting colour. Many of the theatre's plaster cornices are also of a decorative open design in one of two patterns - either overlapping triangles, or a fluted motif.

The internal arrangement of the building is a result largely of the 1929 alterations and later conversion of the building into a multiplex. Elements of the 1912 building are evident at the east and south ends of the structure. Further detail of the 1912 structure is probably concealed in the west wall. It is unclear if elements of the 1912 floor and foundations survive beneath current floor levels.

Ground floor and basement

At ground floor level, an entrance foyer and café/bar space occupy slightly more than the first bay of the building's depth on its western side. There are minor changes in floor level between these spaces, accommodated by a few shallow steps.

The main staircase to the upper floors is of concrete and is located in the lobby's northern section. Recently treated to give the effect of marble, it has a wrought-iron balustrade and timber handrail. Just inside the main doors in the entrance foyer, an early surviving ticket office occupies the space under the staircase. The ticket office door is hinged in two independent sections - the upper section has a roll-top shutter. The office has a heavy metal safe, stationery rack, and a built-in shelf-desk with drawer underneath.

Modern toilets are located near the entrance of the downstairs theatre north and south, outside the entrance doors.

The main (downstairs) theatre incorporates a shallow stage, a lath and plaster proscenium arch, raked seating and a projection box. The seating includes four rows of 6/7 seats screwed to the floor in each of the side bays and seven rows of 16/17 seats in the central bay. Fuller-Hayward's initials appear on the metal of the row ends. These seats are said to be from the 1929 Victoria Theatre. The proscenium with picture screen on a shallow stage is located adjacent to the rear (east) wall. The minimalist detailing of the balcony and proscenium is painted in bright pastel colours. Between the seating and the proscenium, the auditorium extends for the full height of the building's two storeys. There are emergency exits off the north and south sides of the auditorium.

The main wall behind the screen is unlined. Roofing timbers overhead are bolted with metal straps. The back of the 1929 lath and plaster proscenium arch is plainly visible.

The basement area under the stage, a small brick-lined room with no windows and a low stud, is accessed by narrow steps off the fire exit stairs within the northern side of the building.

Mezzanine and first floor

The stairway to the mezzanine and first floor is lit by a tall leadlight window that incorporates tones of amber glass. Below the entrance to the upstairs theatre, the former circle lounge has been partitioned off. Most of this space is occupied by a small theatrette. Off the southeastern end is a small cloak room, in which two separate toilets have been built. The theatrette has old Fuller-Hayward seating, a recent modification.

Further up the main stairway is the entrance to the theatre office. This small, L-shaped room has north-facing windows.

At the top of the stairs on the north side of the building, is the entrance to the upper theatre formerly the circle. The floor of the cross aisle is narrow timber. The shaped platform with access steps and handrail survives on the upper side. An outline on the floor at the southern end of the cross aisle suggests that a second stairway formerly connected the circle lounge area and auditorium.

At the top of the theatre, behind the seating, is what is said to the 1929 projection box. The interior has been lined with peg board. A cupboard on the rear wall to the north of the projection box provides access to lighting in the stained glass oriel window on the building's façade above the main entrance.

Concealed lighting accentuates brightly coloured decorative plaster pilasters, capitals and cornices. Pierced timber screens covering the narrow window openings in the side walls of the upper section of the theatre acknowledge the angular patterns in the ceiling vents. The proscenium is a recent introduction necessitated by conversion of the original theatre into two cinemas in 1990.


Surviving early picture theatres

Devonport's Victoria Theatre is believed to be one of the earliest purpose-built cinemas in Australasia. Melbourne's oldest known surviving purpose-built cinema, the Lyric Theatre, opened in 1911. The design for the Lyric Theatre combined a cinema, dance hall, shops and billiard room. The Northcote Picture Theatre, now a reception centre, opened in Melbourne in 1912 and is said to be one of the oldest surviving picture theatres in Victoria.

Nationally, Devonport's Victoria Theatre (1912) is believed to be New Zealand's earliest surviving purpose-built cinema constructed with a shallow platform. The Victoria Theatre, with its directional rectangular auditorium, was built two years after Auckland's King's Theatre. Later known as the Mercury Theatre (NZHPT Registration # 5296, Category II historic place) King's opened in 1910 as the first custom-built cinema in Auckland. Although constructed specifically for the screening of movies, King's Theatre (unlike Devonport's Victoria Theatre) had a full stage and fly tower for live performances. The St James Theatre, Wellington (NZHPT Register #3639, Category I historic place) originally known as His Majesty's, opened in 1912 as a vaudeville and picture theatre, but was designed specifically for live theatre. Dunedin's oldest surviving purpose-built cinema building, the Mayfair Theatre, opened in King Edward Street in December 1914.

Apart from the Mercury Theatre, mentioned above, a number of other theatres within the Auckland region have been registered by the NZHPT. In Auckland's Queen Street are the St James Theatre and the Civic. The St James (NZHPT Registration # 4404, Category I historic place) completed in 1928 was designed for touring vaudeville acts, but was wired for sound and showed its first film on Boxing Day 1929. The Civic Theatre (NZHPT Registration # 100, Category I historic place) described as having one of the most intact 'atmospheric interiors in the Southern Hemisphere', opened in 1929.

Three other Auckland cinemas registered by the NZHPT are suburban theatres dating from the 1920s. The Capitol Theatre (NZHPT Registration # 508, Category II historic place) in Mt Eden's Dominion Road dates from 1923. The Mangere East Hall (NZHPT Registration # 530, Category II historic place) Massey Road, Manukau was constructed in 1925 and converted to a cinema in the 1930s. It continued to operate as a movie theatre until 1977 when it reverted to use as a public hall. The Crystal Palace Theatre (NZHPT Registration # 512, Category II historic place) opened in Mt Eden Road in 1928 and continues to operate as a cinema.

Notable Features

Notable fixtures include rows of cast iron seating monogrammed 'F.H.' (Fuller Hayward) in the former circle lounge and downstairs stalls.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1912 -

1929 -
Building enlarged & remodelled New entrance constructed - Façade remodelled - Building extended to the north - Auditorium enlarged; new foyers & stairs - Retail relocated to south end of frontage

1950 - 1960
(see registration report for details)

1989 -
Theatre converted into two screens

1993 -
Third cinema developed, shops converted to bar

Construction Details

Brick walls, brick and concrete foundations, and a corrugated iron roof.

Completion Date

20th April 2007

Report Written By

Martin Jones and Joan McKenzie

Information Sources

Churchman, 1997

Geoffrey B. Churchman (ed.), Celluloid Dreams: A Century of Cinema in New Zealand, Wellington, 1997

Grefstad, 2002

Jan Grefstad, Auckland Cinemas, 2002

Hayward, 1979

B and S Hayward, Cinemas of Auckland 1896-1979, Auckland, 1979

Musgrove, 1986

Sydney Musgrove (ed), The Hundred of Devonport: A Centennial History, Devonport, 1986.

Walsh, 1974

T Walsh (ed.), An illustrated story of Devonport and the old North Shore from 1841 to 1924 : with an outline of Maori occupation to 1841, Auckland, 1924 (1974 reprint)

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Salmond Reed Architects, 'Victoria Theatre, Devonport: A Conservation Plan', [Auckland], 2005

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern 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.