Bid to save iconic theatre

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

A NEW face is lend­ing a hand to help one grand old Auck­land dame get back on her feet.

Grey Lynn res­i­dent and theatre ad­vo­cate David Hart­nell has been made an ambassador of the St James Auck­land Char­i­ta­ble Trust which is fight­ing to save the ne­glected St James Theatre on Queen St.

‘‘It just breaks my heart when I see this grand old lady look­ing as she does,’’ Mr Hart­nell says.

‘‘To think this is some­where where the Queen and heads of state have been and she stands there look­ing like that.’’

Mr Hart­nell is hop­ing to reignite dis­cus­sion about the build­ing’s fu­ture.

The theatre was built in 1928 but was se­verely dam­aged by fire in 2007 and has since sat derelict, suf­fer­ing from a lack of in­vest­ment and in­creas­ing de­cay.

In 1953 the build­ing’s fa­cade and vestibule un­der­went ren­o­va­tion ahead of a visit by the Queen who was at­tend­ing a cin­ema pre­miere screen­ing.

As part of the ren­o­va­tions the unique fa­cade was hid­den be­hind sheets of me­tal in an at­tempt to give the build­ing a more mod­ern look.

The es­ti­mated cost to restore, earth­quake-proof and re­turn the iconic theatre back to her glory days is $50 mil­lion.

The char­i­ta­ble trust was formed last year to help raise funds to save the his­toric theatre which sits op­po­site The Civic.

SPCA di­rec­tor Sir Bob Ker­ridge took on the role of trust chair­man and ac­tor Sam Neill stands along­side Mr Hart­nell as ambassador.

As dis­cus­sion con­tin­ues around St James’ fu­ture, Wyn­yard Quar­ter’s Wa­ter­front Theatre Pro­ject has just re­ceived a $5m fund­ing boost.

Mr Hart­nell says there are no hard feel­ings.

‘‘I think we’re all big enough in the trust to re­alise that theatre is theatre and wher­ever a theatre opens it’s a good thing.’’

Sir Bob says the trust is wait­ing on a re­port on the theatre re­ceived by Auck­land Coun­cil be­fore it can move for­ward with any plans.

The coun­cil still has to de­cide whether it will as­sume own­er­ship of the theatre for the city, he says.

‘‘The St James Auck­land Trust is stand­ing by to help in its restora­tion.’’

Photo: JESS LEE

Theatre devo­tee: David Hart­nell has been made ambassador of the St James Auck­land Char­i­ta­ble Trust.

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