Opening of the Harbour Light Theatre

The queue had started long before the official opening at 8pm and while they waited the crowd was entertained by musical selections from the Lyttelton Marine Band. The Deputy Mayor, J.T. Morton, started the official proceedings, apologising for the absence of the Mayor, Mr Radcliffe, who had been unable to be present due to illness. Mr O.T.J Alpers on behalf of the directors, spoke next, remarking on moving pictures being a great source of education, especially in war-time.

And then the films began rolling…a wild life film, followed by a humorous study entitled “When in Rome” and then the main attraction, a drama, “The Deep Purple”.

Harbour Light Cinema, 1980s
Harbour Light Cinema, circa 1980s. © Jae Renaut.

So began the life of the Harbour Lights Picture Theatre when it was officially opened on 20th March 1917.

Situated at 24 London Street it was built in 1916, reputedly designed by John and Maurice Guthrie. Arthur William Lane had purchased the land in June 1916, transferring the title to Lyttelton Pictures Ltd in September. Mr Lane would be the theatre’s first manager.

Two storeys high, with a mezzanine floor, the theatre could seat 550 people in both stalls and circle. Initially just films were screened but in 1920 the building was extended and a stage erected to accommodate theatre performances, the first one “The N.Z. Diggers” opening on the 4th December. The theatre was now able to be used for performances, concerts, public talks and other social events as well as screening films.

Over the years the Harbour Lights went through a number of changes including building damage when the clay bank at the rear of the theatre collapsed into the stage extension in 1925. The main building escaped unscathed so film screenings continued but the stage was out of action for some time. Talking pictures arrived in April 1930, and attendance at the theatre continued to be a regular social activity for the townspeople. In the 1940s the theatre was advertised for sale or lease but ownership only changed in the 1960s when Lang Masters took over running the cinema and again in 1972 when Leo Quinlivan took over the building and after a major refurbishment reopened it as a theatre. In 1980 it was once again a cinema when Frederick E. Read, a film librarian, took over ownership.

The 1980s saw a squash court added, the auditorium stripped, the building turned into a restaurant, and then a night club. By 1992 it had evolved into a licensed entertainment and function venue and it continued to operate as such until the earthquake in February 2011.

In April 2011 the Harbour Light Theatre was demolished.

Further information

 

See the film, then read the book

 "War Horse" book coverPrior to the quakes of recent months, my social life included an occasional visit to the cinema. With the demise of the Arts Centre cinema, which was my frequent haunt, and a reluctance to enter cinemas in shopping malls without sussing out where ALL the escape routes are (a particular behavioural trait which previously I had displayed only when flying …),  I found I was watching a good deal of films in DVD format at home. Nothing wrong with this except my perceived lack of  ‘a sense of occasion’ which cinema visits had previously inspired in me.

However, this all changed when the trailer for War Horse appeared on my small screen. Suddenly the TV and my lounge were too small for such an epic story… And what a story! Imagine  a combination of Gone with the wind for wonderful technicolour processes; a plethora of  Lassie films for pathos; and a similar storytelling format to  Black Beauty, whereby a succession of characters are introduced through the short snatches of time they spend with Joey, aka ‘War Horse’, in a truly unsettling period of history.

My background knowledge of the use of horses in war, and especially during the 1st World War, was admittedly sketchy, but for all the graphic and mental horrors of this period in history, I felt the film’s editing was first rate – the futility and carnage of battle was left to the viewer’s imagination (my runaway ‘fertile’ imagination notwithstanding). Now I am going to read the book. As a general rule of thumb books come first followed by film adaptations, but not this time…

Anyone else admit to being influenced by the film first before embarking on the novel?

If so, check out our listings of Books that have been made into films and television. (For those movies that are yet to be released try Read the book – then see the film.)

The ghosts of cinema past

Architectural plan of Everybody's TheatreEverybody’s Theatre (pictured) was proposed to be built on Lichfield Street the 1930s, and I’m thinking it might have been quite flash for a night out.

The image is from of our collection of  digitised plans of Christchurch buildings, where you’ll also find the original floor plan of the Majestic Theatre. I read recently that the Majestic building will be refurbished again, and I started thinking about the disappeared theatres in Christchurch.

From the tiny Savoy 1 & 2 (where I saw everything from Star Wars and  2001 : A Space Odyssey to Arnie movies and the eye-popping Evil Dead 2)  to the West End (Stripes), or the Avon (Goodbye Pork Pie, I think), there’s several theatres that have disappeared over the years.

Which Christchurch theatres do you remember? And which movies did you see at them?