The grand old lady of Queen Street is set to make a comeback

Tuesday, 15 March 2016 by Mark Sandiford

The St James Theatre holds a special place in the hearts of theatre goers and as one of Auckland's oldest buildings, the theatre is a landmark and an icon.

St James Theatre interior features


But it's been hard to keep up with the high level of maintenance that the 'old diva' has demanded over the years.

As the plaster chipped away and cracks appeared, keeping the St James Theatre intact was considerably difficult. It was no longer a very desirable venue and finally, after a fire in 2007, the theatre closed its doors to the public.

Sadly, the theatre required an overwhelming amount of work to bring it back to life, so it remained closed until this year when a team of passionate theatre lovers developed their plans to restore the St James Theatre into action.

For the past eight years the St James Charitable Trust have been pushing for a restoration of the St James Theatre. However, with the level of damage and the size of the building, attempting to 'Save the St James' has been no easy feat.

Fortunately, 2015 was a lucky year for the St James Theatre.

With a new owner keen to see it restored and with enough funding to initiate the process, returning the building to its original state is becoming more of a reality every day.

It's been a long road to get here and there is a long way to go, but by 2018, the St James will raise the main curtain once again.

St James Theatre pre-restoration

An Auckland icon and a treasure among the performing arts scene

Since 1928 thousands of people have been entertained inside the St James Theatre. It was originally designed for vaudeville acts but quickly adapted to the popular 'talking pictures' (movies) only 18 months after its opening. Since that time, the St James has hosted many live performances and films.

It was once considered 'Auckland's greatest theatre' and the striking tower-like entrance on Queen Street quickly made the St James Theatre an iconic landmark.

With ornate decorative features such as the balcony viewing boxes, ceiling, stained glass windows, velvet drapery and spiral staircases, the theatre's interior was truly a work of art.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust recognises the St James Theatre as a Category 1 Historic Space, meaning it is "of special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage significance or value". This has protected the theatre from demolition throughout its years of unuse.

When fully restored, the St James Theatre will offer a glimpse into the architectural style of the 1920s era.

St James Theatre 1928

SAVING THE ST JAMES  Piece by piece 

Before crunching the numbers to work out just how much it would cost to restore the theatre, $2 million had already been poured into a basic renovation just to prove that the theatre was worth saving.

With a new owner who's keen to partially fund the restoration and a healthy contribution from the Auckland Council, the work is now well underway.

It's not a done deal yet

It is estimated that the building will need up to $60 million to restore it to a state for public use and to bring it up-to-date for earthquake standards.

Those involved in the 'Save the St James' project have become passionate about returning the beloved building back to its original state.

Tradesmen and craftsmen have spent hundreds of hours studying chips of paint under a microscope to discover the very first colour. Original photographs of the building are assiting them to make sure they are getting as close as possible to the state of the theatre when it opened in 1928.

St James Theatre work in progress

The show will go on

There has been some controversy over the fate of the St James Theatre since it was closed in 2007. Left to crumble in a state of neglect, the building was on the verge of becoming the city's biggest eye-sore. After the fire in 2007, the building that once housed so much enjoyment was abandoned virtually overnight.

Thanks to the 'never give up' attitude of the St James Charitable Trust, it is now looking to be one of Auckland's biggest success stories. From rags to riches the St James will be a sought-after venue once again.

For everything that it's been famous for over the years, the St James Theatre is well-known for its size and location. With a Queen Street address, the theatre is in the heart of the city and only minutes from the Kiwi International Hotel.

As the theatre opens stage-by-stage, it is starting to attract both overseas and local artists. From folk music to R&B, an eclectic mix of musicians are already booked as upcoming events.

With the city at your doorstep and the St James Theatre a mere stroll away, staying at the Kiwi International Hotel will ensure you get the most out of your stay in Auckland.

Book today and be among the city's vibrant nightlife, fantastic shopping areas and the spectacular landmark that is the St James Theatre.



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