Auckland Civic Theatre
The theatre from the front
|Architectural style||Moorish Revival|
|Address||267 Queen Street, Auckland, New Zealand|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Charles Bohringer and William T. Leighton|
|Main contractor||Fletcher Construction|
The Civic is a large heritage theatre seating 2,378 people in the Auckland CBD, New Zealand. First opened on 20 December 1929, it was reopened in 2000 after a major renovation and conservation effort. It is a famous example of the atmospheric theatre style, in which lights and design were used to convey an impression of being seated in an outdoor auditorium at night, creating the illusion of an open sky complete with twinkling stars.
The Civic is internationally significant as the largest surviving atmospheric cinema in Australasia and as the first purpose-built cinema of this type in New Zealand. It is also known for its Indian-inspired foyer, which includes seated Buddhas, twisted columns and domed ceilings. The main auditorium was designed in a similar style, imitating a Moorish garden with turrets, minarets, spires and tiled roofs as well as several famous Abyssinian panther statues. It could hold 2,750 people at its opening, and even at its reduced current seating, is still the largest theatre in New Zealand.
The Civic was the creation of Thomas O'Brien, who built a movie empire in Auckland's inner suburbs in the 1920s and brought the atmospheric cinema to New Zealand when he opened in 1928 Dunedin's Moorish-style Empire De Luxe Theatre (now the Rialto multiplex houses several small cinemas inside the original one in Moray Place.) O'Brien persuaded a group of wealthy Auckland businessmen to build a massive atmospheric cinema in Queen Street and also managed to secure a £180,000 loan from the Bank of New Zealand. The cinema was built by Fletcher Construction. However, the BNZ loan and soaring construction costs caught the attention of Parliament, while the final price tag ballooned to over £200,000 (approximately NZ$18.9 million in 2016).
The Civic opened amid great fanfare in December 1929, but the onset of the Great Depression contributed to disappointing attendances - as did O'Brien's stubborn insistence on showing British rather than the more popular American films, and he eventually became bankrupt. After several modifications during the following decades, the theatre was eventually restored to very near its original design in the late 1990s.
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