Odeon Theatre, Christchurch

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Odeon Theatre
Odeon Theatre in Tuam Street, Christchurch.jpg
The Odeon Theatre in Tuam Street, Christchurch (October 2010)
Map of Christchurch Central City
Map of Christchurch Central City
Location within the Christchurch Central City
Former names
  • Tuam Street Hall
  • Tuam Street Theatre
  • Opera House
General information
TypeFormer theatre
Architectural styleItalianate architecture with Venetian Gothic elements
LocationChristchurch Central City
Address214 Tuam Street
Town or cityChristchurch
CountryNew Zealand
Coordinates43°32′8″S 172°38′21″E / 43.53556°S 172.63917°E / -43.53556; 172.63917Coordinates: 43°32′8″S 172°38′21″E / 43.53556°S 172.63917°E / -43.53556; 172.63917
Inaugurated20 July 1883 (1883-07-20)
DemolishedSeptember 2012
Technical details
Structural systemUnreinforced masonry
Floor counttwo
Design and construction
ArchitectThomas Stoddart Lambert
Renovating team
ArchitectSidney Luttrell
Designated26 November 1981
Reference no.3140
"Odeon Theatre". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 18 September 2012.

The Odeon Theatre in Christchurch was the oldest masonry theatre in New Zealand, and one of only three remaining purpose-built 19th-century theatres in the country. The building has had different names over the years, and was put to many different uses. It was damaged beyond repair in the 22 February 2011 Christchurch earthquake and partially demolished in September 2012. The theatre was recognised as a Category I heritage building by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, with registration number 3140. One of its most notable aspects was its use as a public meeting venue of Kate Sheppard during her women's suffrage campaign.


The original facade of the Tuam Street Hall including a significant parapet (removed in 1960)

A syndicate of citizens formed the Public Hall Company Ltd and through this commissioned the building.[1][2] The theatre, located in 214 Tuam Street, was built in 1883 to a design by Thomas Stoddart Lambert (1840–1915).[1] It had a capacity of 2,200 people, 600 of whom fitted into the gallery. The stage was initially 60 feet (18 m) wide and 40 feet (12 m) deep. The building was opened on 20 July 1883, with the Mayor of Christchurch, George Ruddenklau, presiding.[3]

The final curtain for the Odeon Theatre

The building's original name was Tuam Street Hall or Tuam Street Theatre. The building had a variety of rather diverse uses: public meeting place, entertainment, exhibitions, roller skate rink, and other activities. In 1893, it was used by Kate Sheppard for women's suffrage.[1] After the 1893 Electoral Act was passed on 19 September 1893, which meant that New Zealand women were the first in the world to be granted the right to vote,[4] an enrolment meeting was held by Sheppard at Tuam Street Hall on 26 September in preparation for the 1893 election in late November.[5] Despite rather unfavourable weather, 600 women were enrolled that day.[6]

In 1894, the name changed to Opera House. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment around the turn of the century, and John Fuller's son Benjamin started their theatre company's involvement with the building in 1903.[2][7]

Sidney Luttrell was commissioned to remodel the building's interior, and the modified space opened on 26 December 1927, providing seating for 1,300 people. The dimensions of the stage were changed to 60 feet (18 m) wide, 60 feet (18 m) deep, and 40 feet (12 m) high, and there were then 19 dressing rooms.[2] With the introduction of film in 1930, the name was once again changed, this time to St James. The stage remained, though, and the building was sometimes used for other purposes, for example live entertainment.[2] St James closed for a period during the Great Depression.[1] Notable performers during the 1940s include the Trapp Family Singers, Stanley Holloway, Johnny Devlin, Laurence Olivier, and Olivier's second wife Vivien Leigh.[1]

Kate Sheppard made extensive use of the Tuam Street Hall during her women's suffrage campaign

Ownership changed in 1960 to Kerridge-Odeon Ltd, and the building was renamed Odeon and reopened on 27 September 1960. Extensive changes were undertaken, including the removal of the parapet, reduction of seating down to 720, updating of the cinema equipment, and introduction of a coffee lounge.[1][2] Through competition with television, patronage declined and the theatre eventually closed. The building was purchased in 1983 by the Sydenham Assembly of God, who used it for religious gatherings from 1985.[1]

The building was bought in 2003 by a group of businessmen, who in May 2004 applied for demolition consent. In response, the Odeon Theatre Trust was formed by residents concerned for the preservation of the building.[1] Ownership changed again in December 2006, when Property Ventures Ltd, the development company of David Henderson, purchased it.[8] Property Ventures had its office in a building diagonally opposite the Odeon Theatre at 179 Tuam Street.[9] When Henderson's companies got into financial difficulties, Christchurch City Council controversially bought five of his inner city land holdings in August 2008, but not the Odeon Theatre.[10][11] Henderson was placed in bankruptcy in November 2010.[12]

The Yellow Cross bar in SOL Square, utilising the cross from the Odeon Theatre fitted by the Sydenham Assembly of God

During the years of the Sydenham Assembly of God ownership, a large yellow illuminated cross was displayed on the theatre's frontage (the bracket still visible in photos post-2008). Henderson used the cross in the SOL Square development (located on the north side of the Property Ventures head office) and styled one of the bars as the Yellow Cross, prominently displaying the cross on the roof apex.[13]

In 2009, Christchurch actor and director Mark Hadlow campaigned for the Odeon Theatre to be turned into an arts complex for an estimated NZ$60m.[14]

Heritage listing[edit]

On 26 November 1981, the building was registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust as a Category I historic place, with the registration number 3140. The building is recognised as the once largest public meeting venue in Christchurch, the oldest remaining theatre in Christchurch, and the then country's oldest masonry theatre. Of significance is the use of the building by Kate Sheppard. Another aspect is the building's association with two important Christchurch designers, Lambert and S. Luttrell.[1]

Earthquake damage[edit]

The building was severely damaged in the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Demolition was ordered by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority in January 2012.[15] In September of that year, the rear of the building was demolished.[16] The front of the building is protected by a stack of shipping containers placed in Tuam Street; it is hoped to retain at least the façade of the building, but its future is uncertain; this is still the case as of September 2017.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Odeon Theatre". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Public hall (later St James Theatre), Tuam Street, Christchurch". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  3. ^ "Young Men's Christian Association". The Star (4750). 21 July 1883. p. 4. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  4. ^ "Votes for Women". Elections New Zealand. Archived from the original on 19 August 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  5. ^ "Women's Franchise". The Press. L (8597). 26 September 1893. p. 3. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  6. ^ "Enrolment Meeting". The Star (4758). 26 September 1893. p. 3. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  7. ^ Downes, Peter. "Fuller, John - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  8. ^ Solotti, Rachel (15 December 2006). "Theatre set to star once again". The Star. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  9. ^ "Property Ventures". zenbu. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  10. ^ "Business lobby questions Henderson deals". The Press. 11 August 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  11. ^ "Odeon Theatre repaired". The Press. 5 October 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  12. ^ van Beynen, Martin (29 November 2010). "Property developer David Henderson placed in bankruptcy". The Press. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  13. ^ "SOL Square". flickr. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  14. ^ Gates, Charlie (22 December 2012). "Hadlow wants to turn Odeon into NoeDo". The Press. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  15. ^ Heather, Ben (12 January 2012). "More Christchurch buildings marked for demolition". The Press. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
  16. ^ See photos in Commons category
  17. ^ Cairns, Lois (29 November 2012). "Powerless to stop heritage demolition". The Press. Retrieved 7 February 2013.