In the heart of Auckland’s City lies a building whose exterior offers very little in the way of character. With it’s grey stain-washed walls, faded red window sills and cracked window panes, one could almost say its going for that post-apocalyptic, rustic look.
However, it is within this construction that the remains of historic building, St James Theatre, exist.
Built in 1928, St James Theatre has been the home to many famous and world-class performances including the Royal Variety Performance for Queen Elizabeth II in 1981.
In 2007 the theatre was forced to close after a damaging fire in adjacent building caused authority to question the safety of the St James Theatre construction.
For the next seven years the theatre went unstirred and untouched. Just a grey and lifeless skeleton, whose insides decomposed slowly over time.
Yet in 2014 the St James Theatre was purchased by Relianz Holdings, who planned to restore the theatre to its original state, in the hope of completing this process by 2018.
Since then the future goals for the building have changed as the cost to restore St James Theatre is around $175million, which is not a feasible option. Instead Steven Bielby, Principal Trustee for the Auckland Notable Properties Trust, says they have consent for mothballing.
“We are working on getting a consent for restoration, however cannot do that until we have all the funding,” says Bielby. Yet there is an approximate $60million difference in costs, so until their funding can cover the cost, restoration is unlikely.
Some could question the point of putting so much money into restoring St James Theatre, when Auckland already has other performance platforms, such as Q Theatre and the Civic.
However Bielby justifies this project by saying that it speaks for itself. “Every show we’ve done has sold out, there hasn’t been a show that hasn’t been a full house,” says Bielby.
In fact, just last night St James Theatre was the host to Stolen Girlfriends Fashion Show. The Spanish renaissance-style foyer of St James Theatre was once again filled with vibrancy and life as Stolen Girlfriend models used the aged mezzanine floors of the theatre as their catwalk.
Being such a historically famous building in Auckland, many people are intrigued by St James’s story and are following its journey closely.
Results from a recent survey, conducted to gage how the public felt about the restoration of St James Theatre, indicated that this project is strongly supported within Auckland. 36 out 45 responses were in favor of the restoration, as ‘while they are not directly affected by it, it will be so beneficial for Auckland’s culture.’
The interior of St James Theatre is a polar opposite to its derelict exterior, which in fact, is reflective of the minimalistic architecture of that era.
The new theatre will include significant upgrades that are up to the modern standards that productions and shows require. Yet there will always be an element of the buildings history maintained through the interior décor.
With its gold spiraling staircase, intricate roof details, antique lamps and grand gold-framed mirrors, you are instantaneously transformed to another world as you enter into the theatre.
But for now we can only sit and watch as St James Theatre is reassembled piece by piece, which in some ways is a beautiful sight to witness.
By Georgie Foot
Source | Steve Bielby | 021527526