Avon Theatre

Designed by Collins and West, the Avon Theatre was situated at 88 Worcester Street and opened in 1935.

The Holy Grail . Creator (cre): Darren Schroeder. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

In March 1934, the Federal Theatre Company Limited was formed to erect a new theatre on the site of the old Federal Club at 88 Worcester Street. The company consisted of Norton Francis, H.D. Greenwood, H.L. Bowker, and F. Beaumont-Smith.  The old Federal Club building was demolished in September 1934.

The architects for the new theatre were Collins and West of Christchurch who worked in conjunction with Llewellyn E. Williams of Wellington. The contractor for the construction was W. Williamson. Built in the wake of the 1931 Napier earthquake, the theatre building was designed to meet the latest standards in earthquake building codes. The building was to use steel certified with a tensile strength of 28-32 tons to a square inch. This was the first time such a modern building practice had been used in Christchurch.

The construction of the theatre took place at a time when building subsidies were inciting developers to rebuild rather than renovate older builders. The need for buildings to be strengthened in order to meet the new earthquake standards also created a rise in remodelling. As a result of this, the year 1935 was the first time construction in Christchurch returned to a pre-Depression level.

The theatre was leased to J. C. Williamson Picture Corporation which, at the time, also operated the nearby Plaza Theatre and Theatre Royal. The manager was A. J. Crisp who had previously been the manager of the Plaza Theatre.

The finished building would eventually differ from a proposed concept design which, while making use of Art Deco, showed a slight Indo-Saracenic influence. In its final form, the design of the building showed a mixture of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. The design was commended by the architect, Colin Lamb, who had recently returned from England after studying modern architecture there.

From the street front, swing doors provided access for the patrons to a foyer. Within, there were two sets of stairs with chromium plated balustrades which led to an upstairs lounge. From there, patrons could access the dress circle.

The auditorium was wired with Western Electric sound system and designed to be in keeping with the latest acoustic principles. In order to provide better hearing to those sitting at the back of the stalls, the dress circle was set back so that it only covered the last three rows of seating. This conveyed a spacious impression to those sitting in the stalls. The proscenium was designed to accommodate a larger screen for the showing of stereoscopic films which were becoming popular. The interior of the auditorium was also richly decorated with Art Deco motifs. The furnishings came from the New Zealand Lace Web Company Ltd and J. Ballantyne and Company.

The opening of the theatre was initially delayed as the wet weather prevented the workmen from applying the exterior decorative features. The theatre officially opened on 15 May 1935. This was the first time that the exterior decorations were seen finished in their entirety. The first film to be shown at the Avon was Blossom Time.

A fire in 8 August 1946 damaged the theatre. It reopened on 27 August 1947.

During his youth, singer Ray Columbus worked at the Avon Theatre as an ice cream boy. 

In 1967, Trevor King became the manager of the theatre and would remain in the role until it closed in 1989. Further renovations to modernise the theatre were made in August 1967. The theatre was the first in Christchurch to provide access to wheelchair users.

Following its closure in 1989, the building remained empty. On 26 March 1997, it was put up for auction. However, on 12 October 1997, a suspicious fire caused damage to the building's interior. By May 1998, the building was owned by Avon Investments who intended to demolish the building and build an apartment and office complex with a rebuild of the original facade. By August 2000, when it was under the ownership of Carcassonne Properties, work commenced to remove the interior of the building, while retaining the facade. Although it was originally intended to construct an office complex behind the facade, by October 2000, it was announced that a multi level sports bar would be opening in the building. The Holy Grail sports bar, owned by Brian and Louis Vieceli and Grant Elley, opened on 15 December 2000.

The Holy Grail remained the occupant of the building until it was damaged in the Canterbury Earthquakes. The building was demolished in 2013.