Oriental Splendor – India comes to Queen Street
Excerpts from the Sun Newspaper, December 21, 1929
In the Civic Theatre a magnificent achievement has been completed. No effort has been spared to present to the public a structure which, will be an ornament to the city and a pleasure to the eye. The softness of the warm buff tones, the delicacy and refinement in choice of detail, combine to create an atmosphere that must surely stir the artistic appreciation of the passer-by.
The corner feature, a graceful tower capped by a modern Grecian summit is crowned by a tall beacon light 140 feet above the street. The huge clock, the largest in New Zealand with a marble face 10 feet by 7 feet, ticks the minutes past as though conscious of its importance in creating a record for the Dominion.
The main walls of the auditorium, rearing 85 feet above Queen Street have an upper frieze 10 feet deep, bearing a series of beautifully carved garlands and festoons of flowers and fruit, reminiscent of the heights of the arts in the days of Athenian glory. Below the friese is a bas-relief panel of dancing cherubs, indicating the innocence and beauty of childhood. This immense panel is 72 feet long and 7 feet high, , and its highest point is 72 feet above the sidewalks. It is terminated by two well –designed Grecian plaques.
Five enormous grilles to each façade are each 37 feet in height by 9 feet….. The details of these grilles was discovered originally in an old Greek vase and has been used to advantage in the famous Graybar Building in New York. The piers supporting the grilles are emphasized by simple urns carried on a deep balcony that balances to perfection the bas relief panel above.
The lower portion of the building on the Queen Street frontage, which houses the studios and suites, forms an interesting break between the auditorium walls and the adjoining building. The surrounding awning forms the top of the base of the façade, of which the shop fronts form part. It is a pleasing design and is of refined classic features capped by delicate acquitaria.
SOUL OF THE EAST
And within is Fairyland – entering the mighty doors of this amusement palace, the streets, the noise, and all the harshness that constitutes a big city disappears, and the visitor is confronted by wonderful examples of Indian Architecture, which predominate throughout the vestibule and foyer.
Overhead can be obtained frequent glimpses of Eastern skies in all their radian beauty of twinkling stars and softly glowing horizon. The richness of the architecture has ben inspired by the best of Indian Art.
Immediately after entering the building patrons are confronted by a wonderful mural painting depicting an every day occurence in Indian life in the dim and dusky past. The mural shows the wedding of an Indian princess in all its glory and beauty of clour, the work being about 12 feet long by 9 feet high. There are also two other smaller murals, one at each end of the foyer. One depicts the restful atmosphere of the gardens and landscape surrounding an Indian palace, while the other portrays a number of prisoners being bought before a Rajah for sentence. Different expressions of stoicism and fear on the faces of the captives contrasts wonderfully with the sxpressions of cruelty on the faces of the Rajah and his attendants.
The surrounding walls of the foyer feature hugh niches containing seated Buddahs in inscrutable contemplation. There are hundreds of different types of Buddhas in India, and those from the ruins of Boro Budur have been used as an example; while the niches containing them are inspired by similar works to be found amid the same ruins. These ruins are found in the Kedu residency of Central Java, and stand as one of the finest and most elaborate monuments ever inspired by a great world religion, being Java's most famous Buddhist shrine. In order to produce the wonderful ensemble consititutioin this part of the theatre,the architectshave given rein to their imagination and embodied therein numerous other examples of Indian works of art from other temples grouped together to form one harmonious whole. For instance, apart from Buddha and their surrounding niches, many of the more important architectural features have been inspired by the ruins of the Temple of the Milk Maid at Ellora, an example of this being seen in the four columns in each of the end walls of the foyer.
COPIED FROM TEMPLES
The huge ornate columns bracketed out from the walls in the centre of the foyer and supporting the massive decorated beams of the ceiling are inspired by those in the carved porticoes of the Indra Sabha Temple. The surrounding walls of the vestibule appear as massive masonry set with niches and supporting the clusters of columns which revive memories of the glories of Madura and his famous Hall of a Thousand Columns.
Prancing steeds and elephants in numerous attitudes for a large portion of the richness of detail. In the cetnre of the foyer, over the entrance lobby, is a lofty wall sapce with sky overhead and surrounded by huge panels of elephants' heads taken from the beautiful courts of the Indra Sabha Temple, which is second only in magnificence and beauty to the Kallasa.
Throughout the whole of this Theatre the general effect is an outdoor one, with the exception that in parts of the foyer the visitor is given the impression of standing on the balcony of an Indian Temple looking out through the numerous rich sculptures of the distant evening sky. Numerous coloured flowers and creepers are artistically placed to give a touch of age and nature and add life to the stiffness of the rich architectural massiveness.
Elaborately carved and richly upholstered settees and chairs are used in the more secluded parts of the foyer and have been designed by the architects to harmonise perfectly with the surroundings. These have been procured at considerable cost and togther with rough worn benches give the atmospheric touch. The feeling of luxury that will be instilled in visitors will be enhanced by a very rich thick carpet of Indian design representing flagstones of coloured marble, while genuine imported antiques are artistically placed to give the correct impression. The whole of the vestibule floor is laid with mosaic tiling with borders of elephant chains and central designs featuring Buddhas all worked in colours.
From the ceiling over the vestibule two huge chandellers are suspended. They are constructed of glass and bronze and are of Indian design having elephants and monkeys in all attitudes grasping torches and blending to form a really marvellous piece of work.
A FINE STAIRCASE
A magnificent staircase leads from the vestibule down to the cafe, passing through verdant vegetation to a large pool of crystal water into which a sparkling jet of water continually plays, being vomited from the jaws of an Eastern panther.
The auditorium differs from the vestiuble and foyer by featuring the beauties of Moorish design, the difference in style of architecture between the foyer and the auditorium providing a wonderful variation preventing monotony and holding for patrons and ever changing scen of detail and design. Yet as these two styles are both Eastern, there is a harmonious bond between them.
As is usual in modern picture theatres, the upper gallery or circle is the mont important part of the house and in a atmospheric design this is still further accentuated. Sitting in the Circle the patron may well imagine himself in a wonderful Old World garden. Above is the blue Mediterranean sky set with stars. The huge minaret flanking the enormous proscenium assist the imagination in a conception of the wonders of the East. Rising 30 feet from the floor of the cafe their jewelled domes become featured to the fantastic skyline surrounding the auditorium. The huge proscenium arch is a revelation to designers in scale and ornamentation.....
Numerous minarets lend themselves in developing the horizon while colonades, balconettes and garden walls with trees, palms, flowers and hanging creepers form one of the most brilliant yet restful pictures ever in an amusement house on this side of the world. Many of the architectural features surrounding the circle are inspired by the beauty of the Alhambra Granda and the Taj Mahal at Agra.
The massive tower will be crowned by a mniature Eiffel Tower, 181 feet above sea level of wrought iron covered with neon tubing and illuminated to form a powerful beacon with an amazing range of visibility. The whole of the exterior is outlined in gas filled glass tubing illuminated by the passage of an electric current through it. It will appear as a radiant red light flooding the building with its rays. This form of lighting is also found inside and represents the larges order of its kind ever supplied in New Zealand or Australia.