Majestic Theatre

Built in 1930, the Majestic Theatre was a cinema situated on the corner of Manchester Street and Lichfield Street. 

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City New Life Church. Creator (cre): Darren Schroeder. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

In 1925, John Fuller and Sons Limited acquired from the Hereford Investment Company the site of Edward Bennett’s building, on the corner of Manchester Street and Lichfield Street, with the intention of building a new cinema. When the lease of the occupants of Bennett’s building expired in 1928, demolition of the building began in December and was completed in January 1929.

The tender for the construction of the new theatre building was awarded to P. Graham and Son, while the plans were designed by the building firm Sidney and Alfred Luttrell. The building shows the influence of the Chicago Skyscraper style of architecture, which the Luttrell brothers had used for other buildings. The theatre was to be the final ‘Majestic’ built as part of the Majestic Theatre programme and was modelled on the Majestic Theatre in Auckland.

The building was the first in Christchurch to feature a complete steel frame. This was surrounded with ferro-concrete. Designed as a complex, the building was to house not only a picture theatre but also shops on the ground floor and offices on the first floor of the Manchester Street side. 

To enter the theatre, patrons passed through one of three plate glass swing doors on Manchester Street. These were surrounded by what was considered at the time of its construction to be the most extensive use of granite found in any Christchurch building. Within was a ground foyer with walls that were decorated with fibrous plasterwork, two ticket boxes, a candy counter, and stairs to the first floor circle lounge. At the end of the foyer were the doors which led into the stalls of the auditorium.

The upstairs circle lounge was also richly decorated with plasterwork. From there patrons could enter the dress circle. On each side of the dress circle a private door allowed access to one of two vestibules. These vestibules could also be accessed via a private stairway. Each vestibule contained two stage boxes which were decorated in the manner of a Spanish shrine. 

The auditorium was styled overall with a Moorish element. Originally it was designed to accommodate a top gallery but this was never completed. The balcony railings featured blue lights, while the domed ceiling featured a sunburst effect and grills concealed lamps which allowed the dome to be illuminated by different colours. 

Although the theatre was built at the time when films with sound were becoming popular, an orchestra pit was still set before the stage. The removable screen meant that the stage could also be used for live performances.

The theatre was designed with fire safety procedures in mind. The stalls featured six exits, while the dress circle had three. A fire proof curtain could be lowered to separate the stage from the auditorium in the event of a fire. The need for fire safety was made evident when a manager decided to perform a fire eating act during the intermission and accidentally set the theatre curtain on fire. 

A feature of the new theatre was the telephone and telegram service offered to patrons. Should patrons be expecting an urgent call or telegram, they were able to register their name and seat number at the front desk and a staff member would then find them if the need arose. There was also an onsite nurse to assist when required. 
The theatre was officially opened as the Majestic Theatre on 1 March 1930 by the mayor, John Kendrick Archer. The first film to screen was Welcome Danger. Prior to this a clip was shown featuring Hollywood stars congratulating Christchurch on its new cinema. At the time of its opening the theatre was leased by Christchurch Cinemas Limited.

In August 1946, architect Harry Francis Willis advertised tenders for alterations to the building. However, in March 1947, both Harry Francis Willis and J. and W. Jamieson Limited were fined for performing alterations to the theatre without a permit. The theatre renovations were criticised by the Christchurch Returned Services’ Association as it was found that the theatre had used plaster, which was in short supply, at a time when the construction of houses in Christchurch had been held up due to the lack of plaster and gypsum.

From 1954, the theatre was also used as a venue for stage performances. The theatre was the site of the final concert held by the Beatles during their 1964 tour of New Zealand. 

On 28 August 1970, more than half of the building was damaged by a fire that originated in the dress circle. By September, Kerridge-Odeon Corporation Limited put the building up for sale and it was sold on 16 October 1972 to Demeter Holdings Limited.

After being founded in 1973, Standby Enterprises obtained a leasehold on the building and converted the former theatre into a nightclub, Moby Dick’s Nite Spot. The first floor offered dining and dancing, the second floor was a discotheque, while the third floor was a games room. On 5 July 1975, Adrian Neal Bolt, a cleaner, set fire to the building. Standby Enterprises was not able to claim insurance and as a result the company was liquidated in 1976.

In November 1976, the building was purchased by the City New Life Centre for use as a church. 

The building was demolished in 2014 after sustaining damage during the Canterbury Earthquakes.