Rex Nicholls, former councillor, property developer, and heritage building enthusiast, is on a mission: Complete the capital’s Embassy Theatre’s intended refurbishment after it was left uncompleted 17 years ago. And he won’t ask anyone else for money.
Rex was part of the Embassy Trust formed in 1996, when he was a Wellington City Councillor, which helped save the building and carry out upgrading work on the theatre. He has now made it his goal to see the iconic theatre’s restoration receive the completion it deserves.
“There were several areas that were left incomplete after the Wellington City Council’s major strengthening work in 2003 for the ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ premiere. These include the front doors and entrance way of the theatre, particularly replicating the original ticket box, the arch above the entrance, the front faces of the surrounding cafe and restaurant and complete the restoration within the building, particularly the women’s toilet upgrade.”
The intention is to replicate the original ground floor facade and entrance of the theatre which was designed by Llewellyn Williams and built in 1924. The iconic theatre on Cambridge Terrace, was then known as the ‘de Luxe’ and is the last surviving of the three built in that period.
“We have enough information available to recreate the entrance and whole Cambridge Terrace facade. There will only be two differences, both of which are to provide for the current mode of use. The look of the façade is hoped to be as near as possible to its original:
The line of the original wall with its large doors, all identical to the originals, will be set 790mm towards the street. This will allow more useable area inside the foyer.
The replicated lobby, which originally had a ticket office with outside ticket booths, will be used as a wind lobby. Nobody has bought theatre tickets outside for 40 years so ticket booths are redundant. This lobby will stop wind and cold air ruining the ambience and warmth of both the ground and first floor lobbies. Most modern buildings have wind lobbies to save energy use, in line with climate change,”
Rex has a track record of restoring heritage buildings around the capital including moving the Shamrock Hotel, Carrigafoyle, and earthquake strengthening and refurbishing CQ Hotels Wellington. He estimates the refurbishment will cost up to $400,000.
“No one is going to pay for this much needed refurbishment. Wellington City Council, owners of the building, currently has many other urgent priorities - it will be years before it gets enough around to fixing the Embassy. What I am asking is permission to install large modern electronic signage on the top level of the back wall of the theatre. There have always been large signs on the building. The income from the signs will not only pay for the replication and upgrading but give a permanent income to pay for the long-term upkeep of the theatre.”
Rex’s argument is that the refurbishment is a ‘public benefit’. Therefore it should be paid for by a ‘public cost’. Generally payment is expected to be by ‘private cost’; the owner’s.
“The signage will enhance Courtenay Place. In New York, Times Square is famous for its vibrant electronic signage. We, in our smaller way, can replicate this feel. Courtenay Place is sorely in need of a make-over. Let’s make Courtenay Place Great Again”.
Rex is currently undertaking the consultation and applying for support and approvals from council. He already has the support of the shop tenants, local property owners, and – in particular and most importantly - Heritage NZ.
“Wellington City Council must weigh up the value of having this important heritage building enhanced against accepting the signage which will pay for it. Do they want the Embassy and the Courtenay Place area made great again, or don’t they?”
A trust is being set up by Rex. This will be responsible for the refurbishment, borrowing against the sign’s future income to carry out the work, and then will use the excess income for the long term upkeep of the theatre, with spare income going to other local heritage arts buildings.
For more information contact:
Rebecca Reed on 021 205 7718 or firstname.lastname@example.org