Just as Manners Street is being ripped up (with the sort of silliness which means that the sunny side of the street will have the smallest width of footpath) it’s perhaps timely to have a think about the role the road has played in Wellington’s history.

Just after the turn of the century (when Perrett’s chemist still adorned the corner where Manners St and Willis St meet), was the beginning of the era of purpose-built picture theatres internationally.

The King’s Theatre on Dixon St was New Zealand’s first.  It opened in early 1910 on the corner of Dixon and Egmont St (where one of those tiresome Chase buildings currently stands), the poor King’s dying the death that so much of Wellington’s older architecture suffered at the hands of overzealous 1980s developers under the blessing of Michael Fowler’s mayoralty.

The Majestic (1925)

While Dixon Street was the first site of newly built cinema, it was the vicinity Manners St  and Willis Street where the picture theatre really hit town.  Willis Street was home to Shortt’s Picture Theatre (Larkin, 1911) and to the Aldephi, later the Empress (Hoggard & Prouse, 1912), and then the site of the Majestic (in 1925).  But it was Manners Street which was (by today’s standards) chocker-block with cinema.  In the 1910s there were at least four picture theatres.  The earliest seems to have been the New Theatre at 58 Manners St (Crighton, McKay & Haughton, 1911).  It was a conversion of the Old Federal Billard Saloon, and would later become the Princess Picture Theatre.

The New Theatre was closely followed by the People’s Picture Palace at 17 Manners St, designed by Natush & Sons in 1912, and the Britannia Picture Theatre at no. 9 – another Hoggard & Prouse cinema design, which would become the Roxy in later years.

The Britannia (9 Manner St, 1912: centre left)

Roxy Picture Theatre

In 1914 Everybody’s Picture Theatre at 73 Manners St arrived on the scene.  Everybody’s become the Regent, just over a decade later with the Llewellyn Williams (with Cedric H. Ballantyne) 1926 design.

Everybody’s Theatre (73 Manners Street, 1914: right centre)

The Regent Theatre (73 Manners St, 1926)

William’s Embassy on Kent Terrace has survived intact much longer, but the Regent is the last wiff of cinematic excitement that graced Manners Street over one hundred years of its history.

The Plaza (Manners St & Pringle Ave, 4 August 1934)


15 responses to “Just Manners …”

  1. And the Regent has been recently extinguished not that long ago too – so now there are no theatres at this part of town? It is amazing that for so long this area was the centre of cinema, and now it is all gone.

    Dixon St, in particular, is not looking too good nowadays by comparison with these pictures from former times.

    But why have they left? Where have they gone to? They can’t all be at Readings!

  2. Wasn’t the merry invention of the television, amped by the excitement of the “Home Entertainment Centres” and “Home Theatres” of advertising jargon-land which has been the death nail to the cinematic wonders of the past? …

  3. But Readings itself is booming, down the street at Courtenay Central. So it can’t be blamed just on TV. Yet somehow the focus has moved away from Dixon / Manners, and onto Courtenay. Let’s face it, if you want a good time hanging out on the street, you’re not going to find it in Manners St, whether there is a Manners Mall there or not…

    It could be something as simple as – no parking building nearby. Or: street too narrow to enjoy street life. Which brings us back to the start of this conversation: the pavements on Manners are going to be too narrow….

  4. It’s not just Readings. Smaller suburban cinemas are picking up the slack – places like the Empire, the Penthouse, the Light House. It’s especially nice that most of these are actual old cinemas that have stayed in use as cinemas (albeit usually with a massive refit on the inside) rather than facing demolition like the Manners St theatres.

    Oh, speaking of Manners St cinemas, do we get to mention the Mid City complex? I don’t know too much about its demise, but I’m guessing it suffered a similar fate to its sister in Auckland – a fancy new multiplex opens down the road, rendering the crappy ’80s multiplex redundant.

    Cinemas will return to Manners Street eventually. It just needs to sort itself out for a while.

  5. Sigh, the standard of dress has fallen dramatically over 80 years.

    I’m pretty sure that the amount of movie theatres peaked worldwide in the 1950s/1960s at the tail end of the Hollywood Golden Age, falling in popularity due to new competing forms of entertainment that previously did not exist / were not accessible to the general population’s disposable income (TV included).

    In the U.S. I understand that they have less than half of the theatres they once did, despite the increase in population.

  6. Great collection of images – nice post!

  7. richard Avatar

    talking of suburban cinemas Robyn, the Miramar one is undergoing a reconstruction into the 1920s-1930s – http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/local/the-wellingtonian/3429974/New-life-for-old-cinema

  8. Yeah, I saw that – it has had the guts ripped right out – talk about murder on the dance floor !
    A complete rebuild, except for the front facade. everything else demolished.

  9. Wow! Great photos. I never knew just how grand Wellington was. It’s sad that I have to use past tense. Just imagine the splendour. If we still had all those buildings (somehow, despite all the earthquakes and all) we would be like Buenos Aires—a pocket of the Old Europe, but in the South Pacific. What a romantic city that would have been.

    Of course the trams couldn’t have gone down the f… Golden f… Mile. We’ve got heaps of streets here 😉


  10. I would be grateful for any description or image of 80 Manners street where RP Moore panormaic photgrpaher had his studio from c 1923-36 Gael newton Senior Curator Photogrpahy National Gallery of Australia

  11. Marty Melville Avatar
    Marty Melville

    Well done on finding a great set of photos and bringing all of this together. Brings back a few memories as a child staying with my Grandmother in Wellington during the school holidays. Used to love the Majestic Theatre with the blue pool light on the ceiling. Was horrified when the old Kings theatre’s were turned into a large hole in the ground and left like that for a fare while. Wellington had many of its beautiful historic building flattened during the 80’s.

    Though if they had managed to survive I am not sure they would of survived the latest round of culling.

    Once again thanks so much


  12. Terry McKenna Avatar
    Terry McKenna

    If you stand outside the St George Hotel in Wellington, cnr Willis and Mannners, and look towards the Dukes Arcade building,you can still see the roof outline of the old Roxy Theatre on the building behind it. The same is true for the old Cinerama/State theatre in Courtney Place. If you go around the corner into Tory street the demolitioned auditorium is still an empty carpark and on the far wall you can see the outline of the stairs that went up to the old balcony and projection room.

  13. Jim Joel Avatar
    Jim Joel

    Does anyone know of a photography studio in Manners St by the name of “Rainbow Photography” or “Rainbow Photo Studios”? I’m trying to find out if this is the business which was owner/operated in the 1960’s, and had taken my Mum’s wedding photos.
    Any help appreciated.

  14. colleen Avatar

    can anyone tell where exactly the State picture theatre was (later called the Cinerama) in wellington in the 60’s.I thought it was along from the Grand Hotel and the St James.

  15. The State/Cinerama auditorium is now the car park at 48 Tory St. If you look up you can still see the impression of the circle stairs on the eastern wall of building next door. The long narrow foyer entrance would have been next door to Bungalore Polo Club which is now part of a bigger building

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