Over the weekend it was announced that the trust that owns and operates the Meteor Theatre at the south end of Victoria Street has been granted government funding for earthquake strengthening and building renovations. A sum of $368,000 has been awarded from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage’s new Regional Culture and Heritage Fund, which is intended to support arts, culture and heritage facilities outside Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
According to the Ministry’s policy document, ‘grants will be for the purpose of renovating, restoring, adding to, and constructing buildings in which cultural and/or heritage activities take place through grants for infrastructural work and permanent fittings’.
Eligible buildings are those in which the performing arts and exhibitions take place and/or important collections are housed. Heritage buildings may benefit from such funding, but they are not its focus, rather it is the activity that occurs in the building which will determine eligibility for a grant from the fund.
The former CL Innes aerated water factory is a heritage building, but not one that either Hamilton City Council or Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga recognise. It is intimately connected, both historically and physically, with the former Waikato Brewery building across the road and together the two buildings tell a story of commercial success and longevity.
Charles and Mary Ann Innes established the Waikato Brewery in 1897.
They had earlier operated a brewery in Hamilton East and so their new Hamilton West operation provides evidence of the victory of the west side in the later 19th century. Charles died in 1899 and Mary Ann (1852-1941) took over the business and then made her son Charles Lewis Innes a partner in 1900.
The firm became CL Innes & Company, a name it retained even after Charles junior died of the flu in 1918.
Between the world wars, operations at the Anzac Parade site expanded and major additions to the factory were undertaken in 1919 and 1930.
Beer and soft drinks were made at the brewery and noted local firm White, Leigh and de Lisle became the company’s architects in the late 1940s.
The new Victoria Street soft drink factory was commissioned from White, Leigh and de Lisle in 1954, although there has always been some confusion about the building’s architectural pedigree.
Czech emigre architect Heinrich (Henry) Kulka was in-house architect for Fletcher Construction at the time and so there has long been an account of his involvement in the project, since Fletchers built the new factory. Whereas White, Leigh & de Lisle had a wellestablished relationship with CL Innes & Co by the early 1950s, and the factory job is in their project list, the Kulka Trust includes the factory in its list of Kulka’s New Zealand buildings.
My money is on the local architects but that doesn’t mean Kulka didn’t have some input into the design and build.
Harold Innes was running the family business by the early 1950s and his Lake Crescent home was also designed by White, Leigh and de Lisle. Harold is the Innes after whom Innes Common is named, but that’s taking the story some way away from the Meteor and its heritage values.
The former factory is a landmark building in an assured Modernist style.
The two street front elevations pivot on the rounded corner entry and the building retains a very high level of external authenticity, even if the current paint scheme obscures some of the clarity of its design.
It is good news indeed that a significant amount of funding has been secured to safeguard the building’s future as a theatre.
The government grant is not all that is needed however, and you can help the Meteor by supporting their Give a Little campaign [https://givealittle.co.nz/ cause/savethemeteor#].