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Mayfair Theatre (Cinerama)

The Mayfair was a cinema situated at 109 Worcester Street which opened in 1935 and closed in 1985.

107-111 Worcester Street, Christchurch
Cathedral Junction. Creator (cre): Darren Schroeder. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

In 1934, when the State Theatre on the corner of Gloucester Street and Colombo Street was being constructed for Amalgamated Theatres, another theatre was being planned for the company on the site of the former A. W. Smith’s Garage on Worcester Street.

Initially the planned theatre was to be called Roxy. However, by 8 August 1934, when demolition of the Smith’s Garage building was underway, it was decided to call the theatre Mayfair. Francis Willis, working with Alan Johnston, was the principal architect for the conversion of the garage building, while the tender for the construction work was awarded to J. L. Pugh on 10 October 1934. The workers involved in the conversion and reconstruction were supplied by the Labour Department. The rear of the original building was demolished while the outer façade of the original building was kept but renovated so that it met the new standards for earthquake strengthening.

The interior of the Mayfair was designed to be in keeping with the modern stylistic trends that were common in America, Australia, and England. After passing through bevelled plate glass doors, patrons entered into a foyer which was decorated with glass and chromium steel. The carpets and wall hangings had been sourced from Ballantynes. Since the Mayfair was to be a modern, single floor theatre, the auditorium was entered from the foyer. It was the first single floor theatre to be built in Christchurch. A photograph taken on the opening night shows that the auditorium featured a gentle slope which allowed for the seats to be staggered. The ceiling was vaulted, and coloured pale green and cream. Rather than featuring a dome in the centre, which was commonly found in older theatres, the Mayfair instead featured a centrepiece with hidden lighting. At the rear of the room was the projection booth which overlooked the auditorium. The walls were panelled in sound board.

By February 1935, H. G. Lane had been appointed as the manager. The Mayfair opened on 1 March 1935 with the screening of Gay Divorcee. In 1939, the theatre, in keeping with the policy adopted by Amalgamated Theatres, started to only screen films that were British.

The interior of the theatre was badly damaged by a fire in August 1943 which destroyed the screen, the seating, and the equipment. Francis Willis returned to design the plans for the restored theatre. Although it was initially expected to reopen in December, it did not do so until 1 March 1944.

By the end of the 1950s the theatre’s selection of films had dwindled.

The theatre closed on 16 March 1963 to be upgraded to a three projection (Cinerama) format. As part of this renovation, the theatre rebranded itself as the Cinerama and reopened on 8 May 1963. After making a deal with United Artists to show Cinerama films in single lens format, Amalgamated Theatres closed the theatre on 16 October 1965 to install the new equipment.

The Cinerama closed in 1985. The site of the former theatre was later converted into the Cathedral Junction.