Palace Hotel (King's Theatre)

Situated at 156-158 Gloucester Street, the building was originally erected in 1877 as a hotel before being converted into a movie theatre in 1910. 

Gloucester Street - 31 December 2010
156-158 Gloucester Street. Photographer (pht): Cafe Cecil, Contributor (ctb): Cafe Cecil. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

With its northern boundary facing onto Gloucester Street, Town Section 697 was in the ownership of William Brooks when he advertised the lease of the property in March 1861. Sometime prior to 1864, the lease was taken up by George Furby, a tin plate worker. In April 1864, Furby was granted a general license. Furby appears to have constructed a new building or renovated an existing one to form a hotel, the Shakespeare, on the Gloucester Street site.

A photograph dated to 1865 shows the Shakespeare Hotel to be a wooden building with gabled ends. In July, the license was transferred from Furby to Henry C. West and Edward Withers. In May 1869, the license of the Shakespeare was transferred from West to James Heath. In June 1871, the license was transferred from Heath to William Savage. At the time of the license transfer, Savage applied to have the name of the hotel changed to the Q.C.E. 

The license for the hotel was transferred to George Beatty in March 1872. Although Beatty had made additions to the building, when the time came for the renewal of his license in June 1876 it was noted by the police that the building did not meet the required standards. As a condition of his license being granted, Beatty was to construct a new hotel building.

By July 1876, the plans for a new hotel building had been designed by architect, Alfred William Simpson, who also designed the adjacent Theatre Royal of which Beatty was one of the proprietors. The contractor who oversaw the construction was Thomas Bullivant. On July 14, the former Q.C.E. building was put up for auction with the intention that the building would be removed. The foundations for the new building were completed by August. However, Bullivant was declared bankrupt in December 1876. Despite this disruption, the Palace Hotel was completed and ready to accommodate guests by November 1877.

As with the adjacent Theatre Royal, the Palace Hotel was designed in the neo classical style of architecture. But while the Theatre Royal was built from timber, the new hotel building was constructed from brick, stone, and cement. Facing Gloucester Street, the front façade consisted of two floors. The ground floor of the façade featured rounded windows set between rusticated pilasters. This was repeated again on the first floor, however the three central windows were double arched and separated from the end windows by single arched windows. The keystones of the first floor windows were decorated with busts of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway.

The ground floor of the building featured a commercial room, a bar, a billiard room, and a dining room with two private sitting rooms. Beneath the ground floor was a cellar. The first floor contained eleven bedrooms, each with bathrooms and lavatories. The rear of the hotel contained nine rooms used as accommodation for the proprietor, his family, and servants.

By July 1881, Vincenzo Berti took possession of the hotel and Beatty transferred the license to him in September.

The hotel also had two entrances that led into the Theatre Royal. One led from an upstairs bar into the dress circle of the theatre. Another led into a passage connected to the stalls. In June 1882, the licensing committee wished to close these entrances, despite them being approved as fire exits by the City Surveyor.

In September 1882, Beatty applied for the hotel license to be transferred back to him from Berti. By September 1882, the hotel had been renovated and refurnished. Two months later, George Beatty died at the hotel. His wife, Emma, continued to run the hotel, and in 1884 she was charged with allowing prostitutes to solicit customers on her premises. Emma Beatty applied to transfer the license to Henry George Sheppard in August 1886. In 1887, she married Henry Ashmead Kent, a printer. Sheppard temporarily transferred the license to Elizabeth Clark in March 1889. In June, Clark transferred the license to Henry Ashmead Kent. When Kent took up the license the landlords of the building were Ward and Co.

By January 1892, Kent was behind on his rent. In a later bankruptcy hearing, he claimed that he was forced, by Ward and Co. to transfer the hotel license to Henry Saunders on 11 February. However, the notice was not made public until May when Saunders applied for the license. By then, the hotel was known as the Albert. In June, the license for the Albert was not renewed by the licensing committee. Because of the loss of his license, by July 1894 Saunders was bankrupt. In October, the premises were advertised for lease by the land agents, Harman and Stevens, who were still in ownership by 1895.

In June 1896, G. R. Athey, Henry Ivey, William Burnip (the license holder of the adjacent Criterion Hotel), Maitland Gard’ner, F. C. B. Bishop, W. C. Morgan, and W. A. Carew agreed to form a partnership to brew non-alcoholic beverages. By August, Athey and Ivey had established their brewing business in the former Palace Hotel building. However, in December, disagreements had arisen within the partnership and G. R. Athey and Co. announced that Henry Ivey no longer represented the company which had changed its name to The Palace Brewing and Manufacturing Company. Further disagreements within the company led to Burnip purchasing the interest of the other partners and he took possession of the property.

The building, which initially had the address of 149 Gloucester Street, became known as the Palace Buildings. Other businesses subsequently opened their offices in the building including the Canterbury section of the National Association of New Zealand (October 1896), the independent journal Spectator (1898), and the Canterbury Athletic and Cycling Club (1899).

By 1904, the building was also the site of a boarding house initially operated by Philip James Kelly.  After Kelly, John Guthrie took over the boarding house until 1907 when it became known as the Palace Boardinghouse. 

By July 1909, it was known that West’s Pictures was interested in converting the Palace Buildings into a theatre. Although tenders were advertised in September for the construction of a theatre building on the site of the Palace Buildings, it appears that the façade was retained. Renovation work had commenced by October 1909.

With an entrance from Gloucester Street, the vestibule of the new theatre contained the manager’s office, the ticket office, and a sweet counter. To operate as a movie theatre, the interior of the theatre was decorated in red and green to ensure darkness. The theatre featured nine exits and to decrease the risk of fire, fire plugs were placed along the walls, and the projectionist operated from a fireproof box. The initial screen was 30 feet by 21 feet.

The King's Theatre was officially opened by the mayor, C. Allison on 24 March 1910. At the time of its opening the manager was Geoffrey Nye.

In June 1901, Henry Layton Bowker and Henry Slater Richards, land agents, leased the building to Thomas James West for ten years. The building remained a theatre throughout the length of the company’s lease. In February 1920, the building was the venue for a talk by the Theosophist lecturer, Curuppumullage Jinarajadasa.

In April 1920, the building was transferred to Alfred Edwin Smith to become Smith and Son motor importers. After purchasing the theatre building the firm converted it into a workshop for their motor garage. In February 1925, the building was transferred to Charles Todd, Charles Patrick Todd, Desmond Henry Todd, Bryan James Todd, and Andrew Todd to become Todd Motor Company. In October 1930, Todd Motor Company leased the building to Newman Brothers Limited for a term of ten years.

In 1940, the building was purchased by the Christchurch Press Company Limited. It remained in the ownership of The Press until 2008. In that year Ganellan commenced construction on a new office tower building. The original façade was intended to be kept, however this was damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes and a replica façade was constructed.