Saturday, September 19, 2020

A timeline history of the Kosy at Blockhouse Bay

The Kosy, Donovan Street, Blockhouse Bay, from Jan Grefstad collection, Auckland Libraries

From 1926 to 1973, Blockhouse bay had a hall/dance hall, and later cinema, on the site currently part of the carpark in front of Countdown Supermarket, off Donovan Street. Back in 2017, I gave a talk about it at the Blockhouse Bay Library. Here are the notes.

The northern half of Allotment 269, at the corner of Blockhouse Bay Road (Wynyard St) and Donovan Street, was one of three lots bought under Crown Grant in Whau South in September 1859 by Jerome Cadman, a builder living in Chapel Street (now Federal Street), then later Albert St, in the city. Cadman was also a warden at St Matthews Church, and later a member of the Auckland Provincial Council. After he died, the land was assigned to his widow, Ann, and then transferred to the legal firm of Dignan & Armstrong. Mrs Catherine Armstrong came to own the land outright from 1882. 

1885 (from NA 42/230, LINZ records)

 Ole (oo-luh) August Guttormsen was born in South Shields from a Norwegian family, at the mouth of the River Tyne in England. He worked as a house joiner in 1911, and his two sisters were music teachers.

Back in Blockhouse Bay, Arthur Decimus Sheffield, a farmer from Titirangi, owned the corner property (now including part of 295) from 1907. It looks like he retired to the Blockhouse Bay site, and had the house built on Blockhouse Bay Road where the Guttormsens later lived (today, this is about where the north-west corner of Countdown’s building is.) Sheffield’s father served with the East India Company.

The site was owned by Percy Fowler from 1919-1921 (who also seems to have used the house) , then retired farmer John Walker from 1921-1925.

Guttormsen came to New Zealand with his sisters Helga and Annie.

Avondale Borough Council reject Avondale South residents’ request for a public hall in their area. December Ole Guttormsen buys the Wynyard Road-Donovan St 1.25 acres section from retired farmer John Walker.

Annie and Helga advertise music lessons from their home on Wynyard Road, “Margate Villa”. Ole advertises a four room house, close to beach and bus.


Ole advertises wanting 50 Bentwood chairs and 40 forms with backs (must be cheap).

June 12 1926
Blockhouse Bay Hall opens, ceremony by HGR Mason, MP. Admission Gents 2/-, Ladies 1/6, Refreshments provided. It had a stage (described in a report from 1930), tables, and attached supper room. The hall was 30’ x 100’ in size. Later that month, Kalee projectors on display at Harringtons of Queen Street. A special notice for “showmen” to check out their Show Stand at the shop. Guttormsen advertises that both learners and advanced dancers welcome on his “excellent floor”.

Called the Blockhouse Bay Lecture Hall in one ad. May have had the projector installed at this point.

Referred to as Blockhouse Bay Picture Hall. Still mainly used for the weekly dances. Jan Grefstad wrote that Guttormsen was a projectionist, with his sister Annie selling tickets, and Helga playing the piano for accompaniment for the silent movies. He also thought that they held dances after the movies – but this is probably not correct. The advertisements do not mention movie shows at all while promoting the dances, and the hall seems to have been geared to the latter in the first years.

Reliant on the GOC buses leaving the city 7.30pm and 8pm, conveying dancers to BHB, then taking them back to the city from the hall at 11pm. Bus links with the city and with Avondale were important, as they were for many of the dance halls scattered around the isthmus. From late 1925 however, the BHB Hall faced direct competition from the Dixieland at Pt Chevalier (which remained until 1935), Waikowhai Hall from 1930 (buses leaving from Avondale Fire Station via Blockhouse Bay) then the El Rey Club at Hillsborough from 1934. There were dances held at church halls as well, such as St Judes in Avondale and St Thomas in New Lynn.

Jacob Kohala appeared to be the manager at BHB, 1927-1928. He started on the circuit in Auckland with a Hawaiian band, then switched to jazz, waltz and foxtrot. He moved on in 1928 to the Ponsonby Hall.

Avondale South Womens Club began holding their meetings in the hall (the club started in 1925), one of the members being one of the Guttormsen sisters.

The hall and supper room up for sale. Also “Cinema plant (Kalee Indomitable Projector Machine) patent screen, tip-up chairs.” It wouldn’t be until 1935 that Guttormsen sold his property, however.

Sir James Gunson used the hall for a political meeting. It would be so used through to the 1940s. Leo M Sayers now the manager. He advertised the “Seattle Snappy Six, Auckland’s Melody Sheiks,” who provided “the peppiest of dance music.” Prices were ladies 1s, gents 1/6. The bus to the dance came from the Mt Albert tram terminus now, and left the hall “after the dance.” “Get Out and Get Under the Moon.”

The Aloha Quartet, for “Monte Carlo and Spot Waltzing”, on “the perfect floor.” Monte Carlo and spot dancing was a method of gambling for prizes.

The Blue Bell Serenaders, and Jake’s Versatile Trio, with Sayers offering “balloons, streamers, competitions”.

The Melody Boys Jazz Orchestra June – A children’s fancy dress dance in aid of the St Saviours Church.

A benefit picture entertainment held in the hall in aid of victims of the Murchison Earthquake. First reported instance of the hall used as a cinema (although that was likely happening off and on from late 1926.)

Skip Whiting and his Merry Jesters Jazz Band (with 6 instrumentalists)

Grand orchestra, dancing from 8 to 12, with chocolates and cigarettes. Waikowhai Hall opens.

BHB hall under new management (possible A Miller), re-opened 24 January. Jazz Dances every Saturday night.

Gaiety Dance Band.

No advertisements until December, for New Years Eve. Hall used during the year for charity events.

No advertisements.

Old Time Dancing at BHB Hall. Monte Carlo, light supper, admission 6d.


At some point during winter that year, an unknown manager reorganised the hall to show talkies.
October – 20 October, reopening with “excellent talkie programme,” 8pm.

Sale of the site to Alfred Clarence Stanbridge, picture theatre proprietor, £600.

Showing “Grand Canary” at BHB, under new management. Start of regular small ads for movies. 230 seats.

Additions to the hall. At front, to the left of the entrance an office space. To the right, a lobby, and toilet space. Outside, a lean-to for an additional toilet.

After subdivision, the hall site bought by Douglas and Sadie Elizabeth Fleming for £1150. Formal transfer in July.

The hall is licensed by Council for public meetings.

Children’s fancy dress party at the Beverley Theatre. Named after one of their daughters. “There were wooden steps leading up to the front entrance and on the left side of the entrance was the small ticket office window where Mrs Fleming sold the tickets. Adults were 1/6 in the back stalls and 1/3 for the front stalls and 1/- for children in 1948. As well as tickets Mrs Fleming had a small range of confectionery to sell to the sweet toothed. There was no interior foyer and after you bought your ticket you went to the left or right of the entrance and you were in the cinema. The back few rows were raised about 18 inches so those people could see over the heads of the people in front of you. The ladies’ toilet was on the left-hand side of the cinema next to the ticket seller’s office and the men’s toilet was on the right hand side of the hall.

“To reach the projection booth, which was above the entrance on the roof, the projectionist had to take the reels of inflammable film up a small wooden ladder on the side of the Men’s cloakroom next to the toilet. There were even hooks for you to hang up your coat and hat. Inside the cramped space of the booth two ancient Kalee projectors provided the screen magic. In 1944 the light source came from lamps costing £6 for two. The projectionists wages was 17s per performance and he paid a tax of 4s for two screenings. Some of the projectionists who worked there in the 1940s were a Mr Roper who started there in May 1944 and stayed until June 1945. Then there was young Doug Harley who came from the St James in the City where he had learned his trade and stayed for a few months …

“For years Mr and Mrs Fleming used to travel from Three Kings where they lived to Blockhouse Bay by car to show the movies.” [Jan Grefstad, Auckland Cinemas Vol 2] The movies were held on Wednesday nights.

Thirty-nine seats @ 12/6 each obtained NZ Theatre Chair Co. September – newer seats purchased from His Majesty’s for £18. The front seats were said to be wooden ones salvaged from the tram fleet, but that remains unsubstantiated.

May 10 
Third birthday for the Beverley, free ice creams provided. The Beverley showed serials and newsreels, although likely the last on the circuit to receive these.

Attendances ranged from 69 people to over 200.

Council sends notice that no hand basins were installed in the ladies and men’s toilets, that a 8’ x 10’ addition to the side of the building in order to sell soft drinks had no building permit, and that the front six rows of seats, being loose and not fixed to the floor, were a hazard in the event of fire. Fleming responded that a rough lean-to had always existed on the eastern side, used to store timber and odd rows of seats, and he simply moved it closer to the kitchen. The City Engineer advised battening together the loose seats in groups of six. Fleming replied that he battened them together in groups of four. City Engineer not happy, he wrote back suggesting groups of eight.

Application by Fleming to Council for permit to reface the front of the hall, £300. This would have provided for a semi-circular front landing with steps and flower beds, and Spanish-style curved front with tiles. Seems to have been withdrawn.

Jan Grefstad thought the Flemings sold the cinema so that they could go on a trip to Europe and see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (June 1953).

Frederick Ofsoske of Hamilton buys theatre £2600 (including chattels)

Frederick Ofsoske in charge of the theatre (Council writing to him). 

Renamed Kosy Theatre. Managed by local Mrs Griffiths.

Formal transfer to Frederick Ofsoske

Application to Council to build three lock-up shops attached to the cinema.

Ofsoske applies for permit to extend the hall for larger screen, and increase capacity to 100 seats and this extension to include space for a TAB office at the rear. However, with no guarantees of long-term off-street parking, Council agreed only to the cinema extensions, not the TAB. The old stage was removed, old curtains removed, flowerpots at each end disposed of. The new screen was lit up instead of having curtains pulled back.

Cinemascope at the Kosy. The month the cinema officially reopened again, this time with more viewing days.

New owner, Blockhouse Bay Properties Ltd (Kenneth G McKerras, partner with P James Marquet). Application to Council for extension to the rear of the theatre in brick & concrete, increase seating by 84 (not Ofoske’s 100). “We are finding difficulty in seating all who wish to attend the better class of programme we are now screening. With one exception we have turned away from 20 to 40 people each Saturday night and in the case of a fortnight ago we had a full house on three sessions.” [Jan Grefstad] Application approved, without requirement for off-street parking. – Kosy Theatre Blockhouse Bay Ltd formed as a private company, with shareholders Ken McKerras, Peter Brandt (McKerras’ son-in-law), Jim and Yvonne Marquet.

Formal transfer to Blockhouse Bay Properties Ltd (£9850). Ofsoske died 1960.

April to May
Operating box extended and seating altered - £4000. The foyer was altered, with office, ticket booth and storeroom now facing the front entrance, and two entries to the hall proper with upward ramps leading to the stalls at front, then steps up and back towards the further seats up to just beneath the projection and power rooms. The existing projection room which jutted out the front was removed and the roof altered as the space was enclosed.

Via Avondale Advance. “At last the carpenters have gone and the painting completed in the offices and toilets. Unfortunately we do not have the Reserve Bank of New Zealand behind us and there are some further projects ahead when finance permits such as Electric curtains, new linoleum, front of house lighting and other items. However we are showing first rate films and sincerely trust that you will be well pleased with the titles we have selected. The Housewife’s sessions have started once again and taking the atrocious weather into consideration we have been having very good attendances especially as we show the films back to front, that is we screen the main feature first then the short subjects so that mothers may leave early if need be to meet children after school. These sessions never come out later than 2.30 pm. We are now running special programmes for the kiddies each Saturday and we always have one or more cartoons. You can be assured that your child is in good hands at the Kosy. We will not stand any nonsense from the children and we have over the last 12 months weeded out the troublemakers and have banned them from this cinema. These last remarks apply equally as well to the teenagers and by virtue of our smallness we can keep a sharp lookout for any louts who may try to get in undetected. Call in at any time, rest in the lounge whilst waiting for your bus, use our phone, it’s cheaper than the one along the road and generally make yourself at home in your home of entertainment, the KOSY!”

Marquet organised a bus trip for children that left the Kosy, visited the Aulsebrooks factory at Mt Roskill, then headed across the harbour bridge to Waiwera where they showed “Fury At Smuggler’s Rock” at the Waiwera Hall (film brought over from BHB on the bus). Then back to BHB by 5pm. Children at Kosy screenings were bribed to have the cleanest row, those there being allowed to stay back at the end of the session for an extra cartoon.

Cinema begins to show special fortnightly Sunday screenings, half proceeds going to Kelston School for the Deaf. Advertisement – prices 1/9 or ¾ “Why not reserve a seat tonight for a two-hour (or more) appointment with pleasurable entertainment provided by the leading motion picture producers of the world? “Our theatre chair will transport you to the four corners of the world in the breath-taking beauty of colourful Cinemascope; you will be thrilled to see the year’s best selling novels unfold before your very eyes; love and adventure films will enthrall you in their foreign settings, providing you, your family and friends with a few hours of very pleasant relaxation. “Special Saturday sessions for children, when only ‘G’ and ‘S’ certificate films are shown. Children’s parties specially catered for – ring up and discuss your next party booking.”

Council refuses to allow cinema screenings for the Dear School charity on each Sunday. The cinema then licensed only to show movies once a fortnight on Sundays. A deputation protested, stating that half the net proceeds from the Sunday screenings went to the Kelston School for the Deaf. The Council consulted the churches. Archbishop Liston was opposed to the idea. The Anglican Bishop’s representative said that the locals should be approached, and that the Anglicans had no objections to Sunday evening entertainment as they felt they couldn’t compel people to attend their services, and asked that the screenings not start until 8.15pm. Blockhouse Bay Baptist were opposed. They felt that Sunday nights should be for attending church, then a quiet night at home. The Avondale Ministers Association were also opposed. The Avondale Presbyterians were opposed, thinking it was purely for financial gain. Blockhouse Bay’s Iona Church were opposed, feeling that Sunday pictures for profit could threaten the upbuilding of Christian life and character. August – Council reverses their decision, allowing screenings each Sunday night.

Trying to attract customers with ads advertising “wall-to-wall cinemascope screen,” “specially selected programmes from the leading film studios of the world,” “no parking problems”, and “sick of TV?” Screenings were on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday matinee and evening. By now, the Sunday screenings had ceased, but Marquet held benefit evenings for the local Labour party, scouts, schools and ladies’ clubs.

Cinema now under Ray Melrose management, “New Associated Independent Cinemas,” Glenn Parker as manager. New projectors were installed, replacing Guttormsen’s Kalee projectors from back in 1926. However, this couldn’t help the cinema’s profitability.

18 May
Last movie: “Fantastic Voyage”, Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch.

Transfer to Importers & Distributors Ltd.

End of the cinema 

Converted to a hire centre.

Transfer to Foodtown Supermarkets Ltd

Rented to Blockhouse Bay Hire Service Ltd, $18 per week.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Josiah C Firth, and the Mt Eden Rifle Range "rent"

Images: "Group portrait of sailors, marines, and other men in civilian clothes at the Mount Eden rifle range, with shooting targets visible in the distance (right)," 1890s-1900s, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 4-RIC210; "Half length copy portrait of Josiah Clifton Firth," 1888, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 34-130

Looking recently into the story of the Mt Eden rifle range (1872-1905), I came upon two conflicting bits of information. First, I had understood that the range was a nuisance to Josiah Clifton Firth, who had purchased John Ogilvie’s house on what is now Castle Drive in 1871 (although he’d leased it from 1868). [See red arrow on image]. Yet, right up to the early 1890s, he was one of its staunchest defenders against those of his neighbours campaigning in the newspapers and by petitions to Parliament to have it shut down. After successfully convincing the powers-that-be to leave the volunteers and their range alone in the mid 1880s, he received hearty cheers from the volunteers whenever he was spotted riding near the range.

Then, in 1892, he made a trip to Wellington, chatted with the Minister for Defence and other power brokers, and came away with a deal for the government to pay him “rent” for the next five years of £225 per annum, plus build a high wall between his house and the range because it was a “nuisance”. The nuisance bit I could understand, but the “rent” as the range wasn’t on his land at all seemed odd.

Firth’s back was put to the wall, however, when he went bankrupt in 1889. The noted mill owner, and founder of the Firth Estate in Matamata with its own tower, like the one he built in Auckland at his home, had built his empire on borrowed funds, and in the Long Depression of the late 19th century those he had borrowed from called in the debts. His business in Auckland was sold. Land everywhere was sold. The effects of the bankruptcy was felt even after his death in 1897, his widow Ann beginning the subdivision and sell-off of their vast Epsom estate and gardens through to her own death in the new century.

Then, he made that trip to Wellington, and secured a deal which no one in Auckland seemed to want to discuss in any detail, other than it was somehow “compensation,” or “rent”, linked with the rifle range and its continuation of use.Actually, according to Richard Seddon, answering a question in Parliament in 1892, it was money the Government felt they were forced to pay – or else Firth threatened to shut the rifle range down with a court injunction. At that point, the Government felt they were very much in a pressure situation between the volunteers who wanted to keep the range, and the neighbours at Epsom and Mt Eden who were sick and tired of cows being shot in the head, and bullets narrowly missing strollers walking up to the summit of Maungawhau. So, Firth received his more than £1000 “rent” from the government, paid judiciously to his wife, the government built a wall to protect his home (yes, just his), and that was that.

Eventually, it all shut down anyway when the Penrose range opened up in 1905. But I’m still amazed at this example of “pay up or else” – and that it worked.