Tivoli Theatre

The cinema at 53 Cathedral Square, built in 1915, was originally designed by William Gray Young. It remained a cinema until 1994 and in 2007 the building was demolished.

Cathedral Square - 13 May 2007
Demolition of Tivoli Theatre. Creator (cre): Gina Hubert, Contributor (ctb): Gina Hubert. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ

Situated in the north western corner of Cathedral Square, Town Section 708 was in the ownership of John Terras Bell by 1877. After Bell’s death in November 1908, the property passed to Gertrude Jane Bell, James Alexander Terras Bell, and Ethel Trethowan Bishop. In 1911, Gertrude Jane Bell and others transferred part of Town Section 708 to Benjamin Moore.

In May 1914, New Colosseum Limited was founded with the intention of purchasing part of Town Section 708 and establishing a new moving picture theatre in Cathedral Square. The directors of the company were C. J. Cooper, N. A. Neeley, George Harris, Henry Hayward, and Frank M. Drewitt. The manager was Harry Waters, while the secretary was C. W. Hervey.

In July 1914, Lot 2 of Town Section 708 was transferred from Benjamin Moore to New Colosseum Limited. In that same month, William Gray Young, architect, advertised tenders for the construction of the new picture theatre.

The building was designed by Young in the manner of an Anglo-Palladian villa and bore resemblance to the house designed by Colen Campbell for Lord Herbert in Pembroke, Wales. The exterior was brick and stone and the main façade was accentuated by Classical elements. Four pilasters, topped by an entablature and pediment, were set above the entrance to the foyer. Situated between the pilasters were three windows, while two were set either side of the central Classical feature.

Within, the entrance hall of the theatre featured lamps that reflected light up to the white ceiling which was modelled in fibrous plaster. Two staircases, on either side of the hall, led up to a landing. The landing acted as a lounge, and through the windows patrons could look out over Cathedral Square. The landing also led into the upper gallery which seated up to 420 patrons. Overall, the auditorium could seat up to 1040 patrons.

The theatre, known as Everybody’s Theatre, was opened by Mayor Henry Holland on 1 February 1915. At the opening, one of the films shown was “Warfare in the Skies”.

In January 1925, the theatre was leased by New Colosseum Limited to the manager, Harry Waters. It was around this time that Waters established the company Christchurch Cinemas Limited with D. Spence.

In 1934, the theatre building was completely re-designed in the Art Deco style of architecture by Cecil Wood with input from Paul Pascoe. The contractors were B. Moore and Sons. The decorative work was done by John Buchanan and George Owen. The newly remodelled theatre was opened as the Tivoli on 23 March 1934.

The interior of the theatre was designed to evoke a ‘drawing room’ atmosphere. The decorations were toned down, the colours were muted, and the seating was made more spacious. To achieve this, the number of seats was reduced by 300. Headphones were also installed in the rear seating for those who were hard of hearing.

Upon entering from Cathedral Square, within the entrance hall, the patron was met by a wall of mirrors in which were set the doors to the stalls. To the left, was a staircase which led up to a foyer where the walls were decorated with the signs of the zodiac. Windows in the foyer looked out over Cathedral Square and this was also where the men's and women's lavatories were situated. From there a small flight of stairs led up to the circle which overlooked the stalls of the auditorium.

Cathedral Square by Night
Cathedral Square by Night. Contributor (ctb): Isabel Tweedy. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

During the 1950s and 1960s, the Tivoli became known as to some as the hangout for a rough sort of youth known as bodgies and widgies. In 1954, Harry Waters transferred the lease to Christchurch Cinemas Limited. From 1958 to 1971 the manager of the theatre was Trevor King.

The façade of the theatre was altered again in 1971 and it became the Westend Theatre. In 1973 the property was transferred to Kerridge Odeon Corporation Limited. By 1992, the company, which had become Pacer Kerridge, went into receivership.

In May 1994 the property was transferred to Alex You Yan Yee and then Jade Phoenix Limited. The theatre closed down on 21 July.

Property developer David Henderson bought the building in 2003. Henderson envisaged turning the building into a complex of tourist shops and a theaterette. The Art Deco façade of the building was restored and repainted in its original colours. A new neon sign, with the name Tivoli, was installed on the façade. Despite these efforts the venture failed and in 2007 Henderson decided that viable use of the site required the total demolition of the building. Demolition contractors moved in on 9 May 2007.