Street history: Manners St

Last updated 05:00 14/09/2012

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Street History

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It's entirely in keeping with Manners Street's history that it has become a cause celebre because of the controversial recent road changes.

Manners Street was home to cars and trams from the early 1900s. That changed in 1979 when a pedestrian-only mall, Manners Mall, was created.

In 2010, after years of planning and construction - and much debate - the road was restored in the form of a two-way bus route. Critics maintain the road is too narrow for the buses and several pedestrians have been hit in the past two years.

Manners St has a colourful history and has always been at the heart of central Wellington.

James Smith's was for decades a major Wellington retail store and a regular meeting spot.

In the days before cameras were commonplace, professional photographers would snap Manners St pedestrians on a Friday evening, the photos being available for viewing - and purchase - the following week.

One of the street's famous moments was the Battle of Manners Street in 1942.

About 20,000 American Marines arrived in Wellington shortly after the Japanese bombed Darwin in February 1942. They set up base at the Allied Services Club, where the Manners Street Post Office is now.

On the evening of April 3, 1943, some Americans refused Maori soldiers entry to the club, which sparked the Battle of Manners Street.

The brawl lasted three hours and spread from Manners St to Willis and Cuba streets. Batons, belts and knives were used.

Hundreds of Wellingtonians joined more than 1000 New Zealand and American troops in the battle before police finally contained the riot.

One of the lingering mysteries is how Manners Street got its name.

Some suggest it was named after Lord Manners Sutton, speaker of the British House of Commons, or after Charles Manners Sutton, the first Viscount Canterbury.

Others say the street was named for Frederick James Tollemache, whose father's name was Sir William Manners. Tollemache and his brother established themselves in early Wellington by buying inner-city land.

The corner of Manners and Willis streets, known as Perretts Corner, has always been a focus of attention.

In 1878 it was a surgery and home to Dr Robert Harding. Nearly three decades later, French brothers Claude and Edwin Perrett bought the building and established a chemist shop and mail order business.

The Perretts' business closed in 1964 and the building was demolished in 1971.

Manners St was also the site of one of Wellington's earliest churches, the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

Two missionaries brought Methodism to Wellington in 1839 and built their first church on the corner of Cuba and Manners streets.

Hotels became a big part of Manners St life. They included the Duke of Edinburgh, which opened in 1888 as Criterion Family Hotel. There was a name change in 1869, after the royal visit.

In 1973, the hotel was demolished and replaced by a small shopping arcade, though its name lives on with Duke's Arcade.

The Old Bank Hotel, built in 1861, was located on the corner of Farish (now Victoria) and Manners streets, and became known as the Clarendon.

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Manners St has always offered plenty of entertainment. There was an influx of theatres in the early 1900s, The Opera House being one of the most notable.

William Pitt, a Melbourne architect, designed this Edwardian style theatre. Upon completion in 1912, it was named The Grand Opera House. In 1977, State Insurance saved it by restoring the original building and sponsoring the theatre for several years.

The Imperial Theatre was constructed in 1878. It was destroyed by a fire a year later and rebuilt as the Te Aro Opera House in 1886. Another fire struck in 1888, and it was reopened as Wellington Opera House later that year.

When movies arrived in 1914, it became Everybody's. Ten years on, it was renamed Tivoli, and was replaced shortly after by the Regent.

Another early Manners St theatre was the Britannia, which opened in 1913. It was renamed Roxy in 1935 and became famous for its continuing screenings. It was demolished in 1975.

Other theatres included Peoples Picture Palace, built in 1912, and then renamed Strand. It closed in 1929. The Plaza was built in 1934 and demolished in 1985.

There was also Federal Hall, which went through three name changes before being demolished in 1976, for the Farish Street extension. It was renamed McMahons in 1911, then New Theatre in 1914, followed by Princess in 1920.

More recently Manners St housed multiplexes Mid-City and the Regent.

- The Wellingtonian


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