Friday, January 21, 2011

Old cinema sign re-emerges in K'Road

Image from Wikipedia.

The Norman Ng Building in Karangahape Road has undergone a refit. For decades last century it was a fruit and vege shop. I knew it as the Brazil restaurant in the 1990s, then it was a hamburger place -- and now Theatre Cafe. The refit is wonderful -- the arched ceiling is revealed inside once more and outside is in the process of being done up as well.

Then, I noticed something behind all the scaffolding.

This would be the point where anyone accompanying me at the time would see me gape, then point with shaking finger, "See that? See it? That's an old Fuller's Cinemas sign!"

This narrow little building started out in 1925-1926 as the Karangahape Entrance for the Prince Edward Cinema in Pitt Street south, around the corner (the cinema proper became known as the Mercury Theatre, and the street as Mercury Lane).  According to Jan Grefstad in his unpublished Auckland Cinemas (2002), John Fuller & Sons opened the original King's Theatre in 1910. Ben and John Fuller continued to operate the cinema from 1922. In 1926, and American showman named Bud Atkinson "looked at the King's Theatre and diagnosed why it was not doing spectacular business; it had no entrance on Karangahape Road. Plans were prepared by April for an elaborate. marble-tiled entrance, a long corridor opening into a lounge foyer."

From the Auckland Star 15 July 1926:
Chief among the alterations is a new entrance which gives direct access to Karangahape Road.  The general trend of the new entrance is extremely artistic. The price paid for the land for this entrance was £15,000. Two short flights of steps lead to an upper and lower foyer both of which have been lavishly furnished ...
 From the NZ Herald, 12 July 1926:

Have a careful look at the new entrance on Karangahape Road. If you find that the splendour of this beautiful edifice has been overstated do not buy a ticket because maybe we would be equally untruthful about the quality of the entertainment we promise to provide ...
The cinema became the Playhouse from 1948, which was closed by Kerridge in December 1967 and completely altered to become the Mercury Theatre in 1968.

The Karangahape Road entrance was sold off as separate title and became the Norman Ng fruit shop According to historian Helen Wong, the shop was "said to be the only fruit shop with a marble floor." The fruit shop closed in the early 1990s.


  1. Great post! I remember the Norman Ng building as a fruit shop when I lived in Pitt St in early 1993 and the man, possibly Norman selling his fruit out of that skinny alleyway of a shop. I often wondered why such a narrow building was worth building, now I know. Thanks!

    Speaking of Mercury connections, in about 1997/8 my band played a show at a birthday party in the upstairs bar of the theatre building. I noticed that inside the old lift, the inspection/registration plaque listed the address as 3(-ish) France St. My first clue that these streets once went right across the Newton Gully before the motorway went in.

  2. Cheers for that, Ash. The Fullers sign has been left alone, I see.