Regent Theatre

The Regent Theatre, originally known as the Royal Exchange building, stood on the corner of Cathedral Square and Worcester Street.

Cathedral Square, Christchurch
Cathedral Square, Christchurch. Contributor (ctb): Isabel Clemens. No known copyright

The former Royal Exchange building was erected on Town Sections 725 and 727. These sections were purchased from the Union Bank of Australia by Walter Joseph Cresswell and Percy Arthur Herman prior to July 1903 with the intention of erecting a building that would consist of offices for lease.

The office building was designed by Luttrell Brothers in the Edwardian Baroque style of architecture while the contract for its construction was awarded to Henry E. White. Although the plans originally intended for a turret to be erected atop the octagonal tower on the corner of the building, it was replaced with a dome.

Situated on the corner of Worcester Street and Cathedral Square, the ground floor of the building featured a set of nine shops. The main interior of the building was entered via steps in the eastern façade facing Cathedral Square. A corridor within led to two suites of offices and two warehouses.  Situated on the first floor were twelve offices and a warehouse. The second floor housed a café accessible by an electric lift in the shop on the corner of Worcester Street and Cathedral Square. The café featured a general lounge, with access to a tea room, a mixed lounge, a lounge reserved for ladies and a smoking room. The second floor also housed a photographic studio with a waiting room and dressing room.

Construction for the building was underway by January 1904. Part of the building was ready for occupancy by November 1904 when Emil C. Skog, relocated his pharmacy to one of the ground floor shops. When the building did open, it housed a selection of merchants, general doctors, solicitors and accountants. Because it housed the offices for the Royal Exchange Company Limited, the building eventually came to be known as the Royal Exchange building.

In April 1928 the company Regent Theatre Buildings Limited was founded with the aim of establishing a modern cinema in Christchurch. In June, the Royal Exchange Company transferred the property to Regent Theatre Buildings Limited.

Looking down on the Square
Looking down on the Square. Contributor (ctb): Mrs J. Ward. No known copyright

To house the cinema, the interior of the building was completely renovated to plans by architect, J.S. Guthrie. The architect advertised for tenders in September 1929, with the contract going to W. Williamson. By October 1929 the former occupants of the ground floor shops and offices in the building had relocated.

Guthrie renovated the interior to reflect a Spanish theme. An entrance, on the ground floor of the façade facing Cathedral Square, led to a foyer and ticket booth. From there, a staircase led to a balcony foyer with a lounge. Both foyers were decorated with tapestries, carpets and furniture to enhance the Spanish theme of the architecture. The ceiling of the theatre auditorium was designed to give the impression of an open night sky, with stars that shined and clouds that passed overhead. The screen, at 42 feet by 27 feet, was the largest in Australasia at the time of its installation.

The Regent Theatre officially opened on 16 August 1930 with a screening of the musical comedy, Paramount on Parade. In 1949 the theatre was leased to Christchurch Cinemas, then to Kerridge Odeon, who later purchased the building in 1967.

The theatre remained largely unchanged for almost fifty years until a suspicious fire gutted the auditorium on 5 November 1979. The last film to screen at the old theatre was Rocky II. After restoration, the theatre was re-opened on 18 November 1981.

In 1994 the building was purchased by the Carter Group and Hoyts took over the lease of the cinema. Further renovations took place, with Hoyts opening the multiplex Regent cinema on the upper floor in 1996. On the ground floor, in the south east corner, Southern Encounter aquarium was opened in 1997. The remainder of the first and second floor became offices, with shops on the ground floor. An apartment was eventually built inside the dome.

The Carter Group put the property up for sale in May 2010. The building suffered damage in both the September 2010 earthquake and the February 2011 earthquake. As a result of this it was subsequently demolished. The iconic dome was acquired by Paddy Snowden who, for a while, kept it stored on a property on Linwood Avenue.