Auckland Civic Theatre

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Civic Theatre
Civic Theatre Auckland.jpg
The theatre from the front.
General information
Type Movie theatre
Architectural style Moorish Revivial
Location Auckland, New Zealand
Address 267 Queen St, Auckland
Coordinates 36°51′04″S 174°45′50″E / 36.851072°S 174.763920°E / -36.851072; 174.763920Coordinates: 36°51′04″S 174°45′50″E / 36.851072°S 174.763920°E / -36.851072; 174.763920
Completed 1929
Design and construction
Architect Charles Bohringer and William T. Leighton
Main contractor Fletcher Construction
Designated 27-Jun-1985
Reference no. 100

The Auckland Civic Theatre is a large heritage theatre seating 2,378 people[1] in central Auckland, 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.[2]


The Auckland Civic Theatre is internationally significant as the largest surviving atmospheric cinema in Australasia[2] (and also one of the only seven of its style remaining in the world[1]) 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,[1][2] and even at its reduced current seating, is still the largest theatre in New Zealand.[3]


The Auckland Civic Theatre was the creation of Thomas O'Brien,[4] 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.)

Thomas 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.[4] However, the BNZ loan and soaring construction costs caught the attention of Parliament, while the final price tag ballooned to over £200,000[5] (approximately NZ$18,843,885 in 2015).[6]

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.

The theatre also gained some insider fame by being used for the scenes representing a New York Theater called The Alhambra, in Peter Jackson's King Kong remake.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Auckland's Most Loved Theatre (from website)
  2. ^ a b c "Civic Theatre Building". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  3. ^ The Civic (from the 'Great Hall Venue Specifications' document of the '' website)
  4. ^ a b Memorial inlay on footpath in front of the main entrance, as of 2007
  5. ^ "O'Brien, Thomas Alexander". Retrieved 2015-08-31. 
  6. ^ "Reserve Bank of NZ Inflation calculator". Retrieved 2015-08-31. 
  7. ^ "King Kong Locations". Tourism New Zealand. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 

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