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


Welcome back to the Isaac Theatre Royal

The Isaac Theatre Royal is reopening on Monday 17 November. We have been watching the progress of the renovation, and are so pleased to see this Edwardian beauty come back into the Christchurch cultural firmament.

The people of Christchurch, in seeing the need to establish a venue for the local music society to perform, constructed the Music Hall on the original site in 1863. Then a visiting American actor conceived the idea of a theatre. This met with the approval of the society and in 1863 after some structural alterations the venue was re-opened and re-named the Royal Princess Theatre. Productions staged until the building’s demolition in 1876 included Shakespeare’s Richard II, King Henry IV, The Merchant of Venice, and other classics like Don Giovanni. The second theatre was opened eighteen weeks after the closure. The present Theatre Royal, which stands opposite the original site in Gloucester Street, opened 25 Feb. 1908 with a performance of The Blue Moon. — The Press:, 4 Oct. 1905, p. 7/ 8; The Press, 26 Feb. 1908, p. 7.

Read more about its history on the Isaac Theatre Royal website.

Exterior view of the Theatre Royal, Christchurch, prior to opening [1907]
Exterior view of the Theatre Royal, Christchurch, prior to opening [1907] CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0061
Congratulations to all those who have worked so hard to make this happen.


Cover of The Theatre RoyalFind out more:

Naxos Theatre presents…

Logo of Naxos Video LibraryWhilst making myself aware of what library resources we have via the Source today I came upon ‘a gem’. Now I quite understand if you don’t think this tidbit of information is mind-blowing, because, let’s face it, we all appreciate different things.

If someone mentioned in passing that they had found a fantastic library resource all about the history of football which showed vintage games of yesteryear, you would probably find me in the foetal position banging my head on any available wall (not as easy as it sounds!).  But theatre productions – now, that’s a totally different ball game (every pun intended).

I clicked on Music, audio & video and chose the option Naxos Video Library. I then selected the option Genres and Programmes which showed me Theatre.  I would have had much more immediate fun if I hadn’t clicked on Opera, Monuments/History/Geography and Feature Films first, but maybe I had to wade my way through the potential of these first to truly experience the excitement I felt when – alphabetically by playwright’s surname – I found plays and theatre productions I had never heard of before. Some of these productions go back as far as 1960 with the most recent being a Shakespearean play put on at the Globe Theatre in 2011.

Cover of Much Ado About NothingAnyway, back to the 1960s and 70s…  Eli Wallach, Lee J. Cobb, Dustin Hoffman, Ingrid Bergman, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Jason Robards, Walter Matthau are just a few of the American actors who ‘trod the boards’ in their younger years before Hollywood beckoned. Some of the offerings are literally on stage sets, whilst others are televised versions of plays.

Chekov’s The Seagull , Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing are just a few of the more recognised plays, but there are also playwrights and plays I’ve never heard of before.

After much dithering I’ve decided to watch the 1979 production of Mourning Becomes Electra, Eugene O’Neill’s ‘classic American drama of love, revenge, murder and suicide’ with hopefully not a football in sight!

Have a look at the Naxos Music or Video Library next time you are on the library website – there’s a HUGE amount of material to cast your eye over.


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?