Save Shed, Not St James?


If ratepayers are to spend up to $20m saving Shed 10 on Queens Wharf, what about the criminally neglected 82-year-old Queen Street St James Cinema as well?

I couldn’t help thinking about it when I was in Wellington at the weekend and saw their restored St James Theatre, saved from demolition by a spirited public campaign and restored.

Wellington's St James (Once called His Majestys)

By contrast, ours has been let to rot after being hit by a neighbouring 2007 fire.

This despite the fact, it is opposite the multi-million dollar makeover of the Aotea Square, one of the RWC venues, and the old theatre backs on to Lorne St, which is also the subject of a city council multi-million dollar makeover as a shared space around the public library.

The cinema complex has been left to die

It’s remarkable that a once centrepiece for Auckland’s film and live theatre, part of a three-cinema complex, has been bequeathed to vandals and homeless with barely an official word, while the city obsessed about whether to save a rotting 98 year old shed.

Now, I’m not wishing this to develop into a which-one-to-save debate as each should be considered on their historical heritage merits as they would be if this was like any other civilised western city .

But we have a record of destroying good old things including another old historic His Majestys Theatre in Durham St decades ago. And I hear the dreaded funding word arise as civic leaders say how much they would so love to save St James, but you know how it works - we just don’t have the money.

But while I personally don’t share the love some have for Shed 10, a spirited campaign has saved that from demolition.

I’m pleased a Save St James facebook page has been launched and the debate is now in the public arena.

We can take a lesson from Wellington.

Wellington’s live theatre dates back to 1912 and was almost demolished after it showed its last movie in 1987 and was considered no longer suitable for today’s entertainment needs.  The Historic Places Trust had classified it as a place of special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value.

A public campaign was launched to save it as detailed here.

Auckland’s St James was to have seen a property developer build a 39-storey apartment complex around it of 332 apartments. He has resource consent after a six- year- fight but that hasn’t happened yet but only because of the state of the property market.

The theatre has the Historic Places Trust and Auckland City’s highest level of heritage protection but that doesn’t mean it has to be restored so the plan was for the developer to seal off the cinema and mothball it while he builds his apartment monster.

Since the fire and because of safety concerns,no public performances are presently allowed. I seem to recall something inside fell down while a dance party was being held during its final sub letting days.

No one has fronted up with the money needed to do the necessary work so it remains closed.

The St James Saviours group, which includes Bob Kerridge of the Kerridge family that ran the theatre in its heyday, fear it will be left to fall down.

Designed by Dunedin-born Henry Eli Wright, the St James Theatre was built by contractors JT Julian and Son, who were also responsible for the old Auckland Railway Station in the Strand.

Auckland's old railway station at the Strand

A secret of the building is that it had a landmark tower which could be seen from the waterfront but this has been hidden since the 50s.We need it restored.

Indeed, like the restored Civic, it is a grand old theatre complete with marble staircase and boxes close to the stage for special dignitaries.

It’s time to make this an election issue. Letting St James rot away says a lot about what we really think about saving our city’s special heritage and we have seen too much of that in the recent past.

It’s just indecent to think we will have another giant inner-city apartment complex - 332 apartments!!- while neglecting restoring the neighbouring beauty of the St James.




  1. Carl says:

    St James use to hold the best dance parties in New Zealand back in 01-04, all the best memories from a neat venue that had some any different rooms.

    hope something is done, the quality of sound in here was always brilliant and it had the best seats to sit and watch the crowd if you just wanted to just chill out.

  2. rtc says:

    As far as I am aware the council isn’t spending 20 million on this at all, ARC is spending 10 million and the 20 million ACC budgeted for it isn’t being made available. Unfortunately I think the building is privately owned which makes it all harder.

    Would be great for it to be re-opened and restored.

    Would be nice if the 25 million John Banks blew on developing plans for the Eastern Highway was still sitting in the bank earning interest.

  3. Andy says:

    I have many great memories of seeing bands here (Cold Play on their first visit to NZ, before they were big - they didn’t fill the venue), and as Carl says, some great dance parties. Am a big supporter of getting this building restored, and in use again.

  4. Andrew Miller says:

    Yes it MUST be saved and re-established as an entertainment venue.It’s in the right area and lends itself to fully cementing the Aotea Precinct as Auckland’s Westend or Broadway. And with it’s own nearby underground rail station…

  5. CB says:

    I agree, this should not have been left to rot. with this, the Civic, Aotea Centre, Town Hall and new Q theatre we could have great “mini West End” in that part of town.

  6. Nick R says:

    And they are still looking for a place to put the national convention centre right?
    One option would be to restore the beautiful St James as the “Auckland Opera House” and convert/extend the lacklustre Aotea Centre into the National Convention Centre.

  7. James B says:

    @Nick R That would be a good idea. You could also demolish or refurbish the awful Bledisloe Building. Another good thing about that location is that overflow could be handled by Sky City, Town Hall, hell even the St James and Civic could be pressed into service if need be.

  8. Anna C says:

    There is no doubt it should be saved and we have an awful legacy in Auckland of not preserving our theatres but comparing it with the shed isn’t quite in the same ball park. The St James will cost about 70-80 million to restore which is about what it would cost to build two new 600 seat theatre complexes. The city has done a venue needs study and a 600 seat lyric drama theatre is the next priority after a 350-400 seat flexiform theatre (gap filled by Q Theatre there). Third on the list is a theatre with a similar capacity to the St James. I would dearly love to see the St James restored but we can’t just go to council and say stump up 70 million before you do anything else when we desperately need a few other theatre infrastructure gaps filled first. The conversation about the St James has to be had in relation to the very real venue shortage in this town.

  9. George D says:

    And then there’s the very much neglected Mercury off K Road.

  10. Andrew Miller says:

    For the St James is better now than never, Could the Odeon, westend or Regent be converted to a 600 seat venue?

  11. Nick R says:

    The 1960s-1980s cinemas are planned to be demolished for the apartment development, which I think still has consent and is only stalled by the economic crisis.

    Looking into this apparently the Aotea Centre has poor acoustics for live performance, while the St James is famed for it’s excellent acoustics.
    All the more reason to move the opera and live shows to the St James and use the Aotea theatre for conferences and keynote adresses.
    There is a huge rectangular hole behind the Aotea Centre that looks to be about 100m long and three or four floors deep.
    This looks like a good sport for an exhibition hall, and they could also have shops and other edge activity right along Mayoral Drive too.

  12. James B says:

    @Nick R The other option would be to go the other way and build it in where the Bledisloe Building and carpark is. There is easily enough room and you could integrate it with the Midtown station.

  13. Nick R says:

    Indeed, but once upon a time that carpark behind the Bledisloe building was earmarked for the long fabled midtown off street bus interchange. Obviously integrating that with the rail station would be ideal.
    Plus maybe such a prominent corner site could be used for something more engaging? A convention centre/exhibition hall is a pretty inward looking thing, so using it to fill in a literal hole in the ground rather than a prime corner site is probably a good idea.

  14. James B says:

    Well… if you opened up the present Bledisloe walkway and put a bar and restaurant strip along that edge and get Event cinemas to open up their side as well you could have a nice little area for pre/post event dinner or drinks. At the moment that part of town is a disgrace and really needs improvement.

  15. Nick R says:

    That would be a good look, with some more activity down Blendisloe lane. The first thing they should do is open up the front of the Aotea Centre to cafes and restaurants, with seating out on the terracing. That would make the square a lot more lively than a blank concrete and glass facade.
    The thing is a brutalist monstrosity, for such a key location in the centre of town it should be wrapped in life and activity.

  16. James B says:

    Exactly the Square should be the heart of Auckland’s art and cultural district at the moment it is just a place to pass through on your way to somewhere more interesting or a nice place to eat your lunch.


Leave a Comment


XHTML: You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>