Civic Theatre (Auckland)

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Civic Theatre
Civic Theatre Auckland.jpg
The theatre from the front
General information
Architectural styleMoorish Revival
Address267 Queen Street
Town or cityAuckland
CountryNew Zealand
Coordinates36°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
Inaugurated20 December 1929
OwnerAuckland Council
LandlordAuckland Live
Design and construction
ArchitectCharles Bohringer and William T. Leighton
Main contractorFletcher Construction
Other information
Seating capacity2,378
Designated27 June 1985
Reference no.100

The Civic Theatre, is a large heritage combination performing-arts theatre, live-music venue, and cinema seating 2,378 people[1] in Auckland, New Zealand. First opened on 20 December 1929, it underwent a major renovation and two-year conservation effort in the late 1990s, and was reopened on 20 December 1999 (its 70th birthday).[2] It is a famous example of the atmospheric theatre style wherein lighting and interior design create the illusion of an open sky complete with twinkling stars, giving the audience the impression of being seated in an outdoor auditorium at night.[3] The Civic is managed by Auckland Live, a business unit of Regional Facilities Auckland.


The Civic is internationally significant as the largest surviving atmospheric cinema in Australasia[3] and was the first purpose-built cinema of its kind in New Zealand. It is also known for its Indian-inspired foyer, which includes seated Buddhas, twisted columns and domed ceilings. The main auditorium is of a similarly exotic style, imitating a Moorish garden with turrets, Minarets, spires and tiled roofs, as well as two life-sized Abyssinian panther statues. The Civic accommodated 2,750 people at its opening,[3] and is still the largest theatre in New Zealand even at its current reduced-seating capacity.


The theatre was the creation of Thomas O'Brien,[3] who built a movie empire in Auckland's inner suburbs in the 1920s, and brought the atmospheric cinema to New Zealand when he opened Dunedin's Moorish-style Empire De Luxe Theatre in 1928. O'Brien persuaded a group of wealthy Auckland businessmen to build a massive atmospheric cinema on Queen Street, and managed to secure a £180,000 loan from the Bank of New Zealand for the project. The cinema was built by Fletcher Construction[3] over eight months.[2] However, the BNZ loan and soaring construction costs caught the attention of the New Zealand Parliament as the final price tag ballooned to over £200,000[4] (approximately NZ$18.9 million in 2016).[5]

With supreme confidence in the future of Auckland, and with gratitude to those who have toiled with me in this great endeavour, I present to my fellow citizens the consummation of an ideal – the creating of a place of entertainment symbolising the progressive spirit of our beautiful city.

— Thomas O'Brien[2]

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; he eventually declared bankruptcy. After several modifications during the following decades, the theatre was eventually restored to an approximation of its original design in the late-1990s.

The theatre also gained some fame when it was used in Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong, standing in for a New York theatre called The Alhambra.[6]


  1. ^ "The Civic". Auckland Live. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "The Civic" (PDF). Auckland Live. Regional Facilities Auckland. 2017. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Civic Theatre Building". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
  4. ^ "O'Brien, Thomas Alexander". Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  5. ^ "Reserve Bank of NZ Inflation calculator". Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  6. ^ "King Kong Locations". Tourism New Zealand. Retrieved 16 February 2008.

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