Bid to save iconic theatre

JESS LEE
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2013
St James Theatre

FORMER GLORY: The magnificent St James Theatre as it once was.

David Hartnell
JESS LEE
THEATRE DEVOTEE: David Hartnell has been made ambassador of the St James Auckland Charitable Trust.

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A new face is lending a hand to help one grand old Auckland dame get back on her feet.

Grey Lynn resident and theatre advocate David Hartnell has been made an ambassador of the St James Auckland Charitable Trust which is fighting to save the neglected St James Theatre on Queen St.

"It just breaks my heart when I see this grand old lady looking as she does," Mr Hartnell says.

"To think this is somewhere where the Queen and heads of state have been and she stands there looking like that."

Mr Hartnell is hoping to reignite discussion about the building's future.

The theatre was built in 1928 but was severely damaged by fire in 2007 and has since sat derelict, suffering from a lack of investment and increasing decay.

In 1953 the building's facade and vestibule underwent renovation ahead of a visit by the Queen who was attending a cinema premiere screening.

As part of the renovations the unique facade was hidden behind sheets of metal in an attempt to give the building a more modern look.

The estimated cost to restore, earthquake-proof and return the iconic theatre back to her glory days is $50 million.

The charitable trust was formed last year to help raise funds to save the historic theatre which sits opposite The Civic.

SPCA director Sir Bob Kerridge took on the role of trust chairman and actor Sam Neill stands alongside Mr Hartnell as ambassador.

As discussion continues around St James' future, Wynyard Quarter's Waterfront Theatre Project has just received a $5m funding boost.

Mr Hartnell says there are no hard feelings.

"I think we're all big enough in the trust to realise that theatre is theatre and wherever a theatre opens it's a good thing."

Sir Bob says the trust is waiting on a report on the theatre received by Auckland Council before it can move forward with any plans.

The council still has to decide whether it will assume ownership of the theatre for the city, he says.

"The St James Auckland Trust is standing by to help in its restoration."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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