23 Weld Street,
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The Regent Theatre in Hokitika on the South Island was opened on January 10th, 1936, the second cinema serving this small town and its rural environs. Conversion to CinemaScope was completed about 1954 with the showing of “The Robe”. Both picture theatres in Hokitika, the Princess Theatre and the Regent Theatre remained popular and viable into the 1960’s, but they eventually suffered from competition with television, with the older Princess Theatre being demolished some time in the decade before 1975.
The Heart of the Town:
Hokitika’s Regent Theatre is a prominent building in the heart of this seaside townshop (pop. 3,500) on New Zealand’s West Coast. In many ways is IS the heart of the town, serving as its main movie theatre, meeting venue and town hall.
Hokitika’s Regent Theatre is a Category II historic building constructed in the 1930’s (in an early Art Deco style) and is listed in the Westland District Plan schedule of historic buildings/sites (reference #23). The building is not completely original, as some modifications have been made over the decades, but many original features do remain, including the Art Deco styled frontage and interior cladding of the auditorium.
Due to the historic nature of the building, a Conservation Plan has been developed by Ian Bowman, a specialist Conservation Architect. The purpose of the Conservation Plan is to record the historic characteristics of the building and their current condition, and to suggest sympathetic ways to repair and restore the building. The Conservation Plan is lodged with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and has a significant role in determining the availability of any government funding for capital works. Any future modifications to the building need to be consistent with the Conservation Plan, otherwise funding is unlikely to be available. Any changes to the Plan must follow a special process.
The site and the building are both owned by the Westland Community Centre Inc., which is a non-profit incorporated society. The purpose of the Society is to manage (and repair and improve) the Regent Theatre for the benefit of the community. The Society’s elected Management Committee administer the building and its finances for the benefit of the community.
Membership of the Society is open to anyone who wishes to join and who pays an annual subscription fee of $10.00. In a show of local support, membership grew in 2007 by 600% to over 140 members, and the Society has a target of reaching 400 members. The ‘400’ is a target of symbolic importance, being the number of seats in the theatr’s auditorium.
Currently the theatre auditorium and ticket office are operated by Hokitika Cinema as a cinema and event venue. The Regent Theatre hosts a wide range of events, from the ANZAC Day service and Christmas carols to travelling musical and theatrical shows and film festivals. It also continues to operate as a cinema for big screen movies, especially in the school holidays.
Restoration and Future Plans:
After a period of decline and a last minute reprieve from possible sale and demolition, a major restoration of the theatre began in 2007. Urgent repairs were made to the building’s exterior reinforced masonary walls and stormwater systems, and they were repainted with a new ‘heritage’ paint scheme. The auditorium continues to operate throughout these repairs. The repairs to the building exterior took over a year to complete, and the focus has turned to the inside of the structure, development and management of the theatre.
The total cost of the project will reach well over NZ$500,000. The local support has so far been outstanding, with many hours of voluntary work and donated materials going into the theatre’s restoration. The Society continues to seek further funding assistance to complete the restoration project.
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