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St James Theatre, Auckland – Exploratory Session One

The Haunted Auckland team is privileged to have been granted rare access to the St James and Regent Theatres, now under renovations and major construction, to document the location in its current condition, its history and any possible paranormal activity that may be evident within the buildings. We intend carrying out a few research visits within these buildings to collect as much data, evidence and photographic study as we can before they are lost to modernisation.  We sincerely thank the developers for the honour of being the last to spend time in these beautiful locations in their final moments.

Below is a brief rundown of history and timeline, plus a few photographs from our initial research session; August 22nd 2015. 7.30PM – 12AM

This session was mainly to explore this vast location, to get our bearings and get used to the layout, and photo document as much as possible. Also to work out the best areas to target with more thorough investigation on session two.  Communication attempts were recorded and EMF levels in various areas also noted.

History

The St James Theatre is a heritage stage theatre and cinema located on Queen Street in Auckland, New Zealand. Built in 1928, it was a replacement for the older Fuller’s Opera House and was originally designed for vaudeville acts. Its architect Henry Eli White also designed many other famous theatres in Australia and New Zealand including 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 Fuller and Sons Limited to replace Fuller’s Opera House which burned down in 1926. The site on Queen Street opposite Civic Square was acquired for around £100,000, construction of the theatre was estimated to cost around £80,000. Construction was completed in 1928, and the theatre was originally targeted for the performance of vaudeville acts. Upon its completion, the eldest brother of the Fuller family, Sir Benjamin Fuller, pronounced St James to be “the theatre perfect”. The theatre’s grand opening was on July 5, 1928 with the London Musical Company performing Archie.

The Category 1 listed building was opened in July 1928, with a performance of the London Musical Comedy ‘Archie’. The St. James theatre was designed by architect Henry Eli White for its owners Sir Benjamin Fuller and his brother John Fuller. White was responsible for a number of theatres in Australia and New Zealand, including the St. James Theatre, Sydney. This was also built for the Fullers, who owned a significant theatre and retail businesses across the two countries. At the time the St. James was designed, live performance was dominated by vaudeville: musical and comic entertainment. The St. James was quickly adapted to the newly popular ‘talking pictures’ however, with the addition of a film projector 18 months after opening. The St. James has accommodated live performance and/or film during different periods of its lifetime.

Renovations

The St James has undergone several major modifications since its construction. A year after it was finished, cinema projectors were added due to the popularity of cinema. Cinema was to become a major part of the St James; its first film screening was Gold Diggers of Broadway, shown on Boxing Day 1929.

In 1953, the building’s facade 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. However, its Spanish-Renaissance style interior is well preserved. The main auditorium has three tiers of seating plus boxes, elaborate lighting and ornate plasterwork decoration; items of heritage value include statuettes, the terrazzo flooring and the grand marble staircase. In 1957, the Odeon Cinema with 670 seats was added to the theatre complex. In 1966 further modifications were made to the Queen Street facade; in 1966 the Westend Cinema was added, the Regent Theatre was added in 1982.

Closure & Restoration

In 2007 a fire damaged the theatre and it has not been open to the public since then.

Any new work to restore the building would require earthquake proofing according to Auckland City Council’s building standards, adding to the cost of any future restoration of the theatre. A 29-story apartment building next to the theatre was approved by Auckland City Council in 2009. The current owner and developer behind the planned construction, has stated that the cost to restore and to reopen the theatre is estimated to be around $50 million. In 2014, the theatre was purchased by Relianz Holdings who confirmed plans to restore the theatre and build apartments on the adjacent site by as early as 2018.

Current plans

Major renovations have begun above and around the St James complex. Construction is anticipated to commence mid 2015, with completion expected by the middle of 2018. At 39 storeys, this residential tower of 300 freehold apartments will become a new feature on the Auckland City skyline, standing 134 meters tall making it the 5th tallest building in Auckland.  The St James Theatre, which sits adjacent to the new development, is a landmark building and is being faithfully restored by the developer.

Session One – 22 August 2015:  Click on photos to enlarge.

 

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