24 Sep

VAC Patron David Hartnell MNZM Ambassador of St James Saviours

St James

For decades Bob Kerridge has dedicated his life to saving abandoned and injured animals at the SPCA in Auckland. He’s also the man behind a trust fighting to save Auckland’s neglected historic St James Theatre. Last month our respected VAC Patron David Hartnell MNZM was made an Ambassador of the trust to save the St James Theatre alongside actor Sam Neill.

David with Auckland Mayor Len Brown, Patron of the St James Saviours

The St James Theatre is a heritage stage theatre and cinema located on Queen Street in Auckland. Built in 1928, it was originally designed for vaudeville acts. It’s architect Henry Eli White also designed many other famous theatres in Australia and New Zealand; these include the St James Theatre in Wellington and the State Theatre in Sydney. It has been closed since 2007 after a fire raised concerns about safety and compliance. The building is classified as a ‘Category I’ (“places of special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value”) historic place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.

The St James Theatre was commissioned by John Fullers and Sons Limited to replace the Fuller’s Opera House which burned down in 1926. The site on Queen Street opposite the Civic Square was acquired for around £100,000 and construction of the theatre was estimated to cost around £80,000. Upon it’s completion the eldest brother of the Fuller family, Sir Benjamin Fuller, pronounced the St James to be “the theatre perfect”. The grand opening was on July 5, 1928 with the London Musical Company performing Archie.

The St James has undergone several major modifications since it’s construction. Just a year after it was opened cinema projectors were added due to the emerging popularity of cinema over vaudeville. From then on cinema became a major part of the St James, it’s first film screening was Gold Diggers of Broadway, shown on Boxing Day 1929.

In 1953 the building’s façade and vestibule underwent renovation for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II, who attended a cinema premiere screening in December of that year. As part of the renovations the unique facade was hidden behind sheets of metal in an attempt to give the building a more modern look.

VAC‘Inside Entertainment’ October 2012

The Official Magazine of the Variety Artists Club of NZ Incorporated