Monday, November 1, 2010

The illusive atmosphere of the Civic

Image from Wikipedia.
Another building with NZHPT Category 1 registration. Some history at the link.

Built in 1929, it's referred to as an "atmospheric" cinema. In America, these are called picture palaces. Whatever name you apply -- this is a building constructed with the intent of illusion.

Last Friday, I got the opportunity to join a tour led by George Farrant, Auckland City Council Heritage Manager, through three storeys of the interior of the building.

Behind the concrete lacework, George told us there were originally neon lights. They've had to be removed over time, and now the darkness seen through the lace isn't a cavity anymore, but a purple-painted backing.

The verandahs will shortly be in for a refit, due to ponding.

Anyway -- in we went.

Fragile elephant tusks.

Discrete disc-shaped sprinklers in the ceilings.

There's 54 horses, so George told us, and he made the original model once the restoration team realised the original horses had completed gone. So now, there's some of George's artwork in the place. He based them on draught horses.

Elephant-and-crocodile lamp.

Another reminder of George Farrant in this picture: the worried man at the edge in blue.

We were apparently quite lucky that this curtain was down during our tour. It isn't commonly seen, except for special screening performances.

One of the two lions. These days, their eyes are blue lights, occasionally twinkling. But I'm sure, when I used to see movies here, they were flashing red. Ah well ...

Each bit of the flamingo curtain, every leaf, had to be sewn individually. It shows much much went into it from the rear.

Behind the curtains ...

... and far, far above the stage.

This is part of the Civic's sky.

The control area for the sky.

Above, a view from the sky down to the stage. George wisely cautioned that we keep a firm hold on the cameras!

A stage light so finely balanced, it can be moved just with fingers.

The restored seating in the auditorioum.


  1. Very restrained decoration! It is probably the best I have ever seen.

  2. Wow, I really like that theatre!
    Reminds me of the Forum Theatre in Melb but friendlier, if that makes sense?

  3. Cheers, Andrew & Jayne. Hey, I like that Forum Theatre -- we need some extravagant elegance like that on Queen Street! But, I do like our Civic as it is.

  4. I went to my first-ever movie show at the Civic, aged 5. The programme was a selection of cartoons, including Disney's Little Toot, which these days can be downloaded from YouTube! I've been a fan of the Civic from that day on and envy you your backstage look at the old lady. We're really lucky there's not a glass-skinned office tower standing there now

  5. Hear, hear, Phil! Keep your ear to the ground re the tours. George Farrant is keen to do them, fitting in with the ever-busy schedule of live shows taking place there, and on-going maintenance requirements. I was lucky enough to be at right place, at the right time for this one. Over Thursday and Friday, two sessions per day, George said he took around 90 people through. I might make enquiries for something for members of the Avondale-Waterview & Pt Chevalier Societies later on next year. If I hear anything, I'll flick an email over.

  6. This is just amazing! Wow! Great to see the Civic back in all its glory. You're right the Lions did have flashing red eyes when it was a cinema. I just loved going there to see the movies.

  7. You are both right about the lions/panthers once having flashing red eyes - but even before that they had green-blue ones, as confirmed both in an old but carefully dated Kodachrome slide we were given, and in the memory of the late Rona von Zalinski, Tom O'Brien's secretary when he built the Civic in 1929. Now they are the original green/blue, and via a purpose-made bit of electronics, twinkle subtly and slightly menacingly.
    Good fun...

  8. Thanks for that, George -- and thanks very much for the excellent tour! Good fun, indeed.

  9. Fantastic blog and pictures - If you would like to keep up to date with events - come and join the Friends of the Civic on Facebook:

    or Twitter:!/CivicTheatreAkl

    We are always looking for new members to keep the history of the theater alive - Also NEW web page for the Friends of the Civic coming soon. Thanks L

  10. Hi Leonie,

    Thanks for your comment. I'll put your details up on a separate post, so folk notice them better!


  11. Nice article. They're Panthers not lions :-)

  12. Here's the thing -- "panthers" are leopards. They're no longer called "panthers", as of they are a separate animal from leopards, they are merely black (melanistic) leopards. Perhaps they are leopards, but -- why no sign of the markings? If they're black leopards, why in gold? And do you have an image of an Ethiopian leopard as some kind of sub-species? And why the slight mane, as if juvenile Indian lions?

    Why indeed an African animal, when everything else seems to be mainly in Persian or Indian motif?

  13. This comment accidentally deleted.

    "I have found the photocopy of the original newspaper special showcasing the opening day of he CIVIC theatre and it has a heading "Pictorial Sidelights of the Civic" with a selection of photos. A picture of the head of one of the 'Lions' says "(Right) THE CIVIC LION". I will post it on your FB page. I have been through all the pages of the newspaper special which interviews everybody from the tiler & electrician to the plasterers and there are no other mention of the Lions. The other ephemera I hold for the Friends of the Civic has no mention of them either, except for a photo of Peter Wells, Director of the Mighty Civic movie in the newspaper, sitting next to "the Civic Lion" Cheers Leonie "