UPDATED 30 JUNE 2020
This page, and the accompanying drawings by Perry Architects are a means to explain the refurbishment of the Embassy Theatre.
Rex Nicholls, former Wellington City councillor, property developer, and heritage building enthusiast is forming a trust to take responsibility for the refurbishment completion of the Embassy Theatre.
Rex is on a mission to complete the Embassy Theatre’s intended refurbishment after it was left uncompleted in 2003.
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.
The completion work includes replicating the original ground floor facade and beautiful entrance area which was designed by Llewellyn Williams and built in 1924. In addition, vibrant electronic signage will be brought back to the front of the building to enhance Courtenay Place, with a hint of New York’s famous Times Square.
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.
Rex says, “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.
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.
What we set out to achieve
The intention is to replicate the original ground floor façade and entrance of the theatre. Though the actual details of the entrance no longer exist we have enough information available about similar theatres to recreate the entrance and the whole Cambridge Terrace facade. There will be only two differences, both of which are to provide for the current mode of use. They are:
- The replicated lobby, which was originally a ticket office with outside ticket booths, will be used as a wind lobby. This lobby will stop wind and cold air ruining the ambience and warmth of both the ground and first floor lobbies.
- The line of the wall with its large doors will be moved 790mm towards the street. This will allow a modern entrance, expected by current theatre-goers, with tickets being purchased inside. A large space outside will only attract late-night bad behaviour.
See the current full set of drawings here.
There were several minor details left incomplete during the upgrading and then the strengthening processes 1998-2003. The main one of these is upgrading the lady’s toilets. All of the original details will be reinstated inside the theatre.
To pay for this cost (estimated roughly as $400,000) the trust will be requesting permission to install large modern electronic signage on the top level of the back wall of the theatre. There has always been large signs on the building. This will not only pay for the replication and upgrading but give a permanent income. The income will pay for the long-term upkeep of the theatre. Any surplus will be used on similar buildings in the neighbourhood.
The signage will enhance Courtenay Place. Times Square, New York, is famous for its vibrant electronic signage and we, in our smaller way, can replicate this feel. Courtenay Place needs as much help as it can get. Let’s light it up.
Initially, to begin the process, Rex Nicholls has undertaken consultation and is preparing to apply for the required approvals himself. However, at the same time a trust, The Wellington Heritage Arts Facilitation Fund, has been set up. It will be responsible for the borrowing, the work, and then the long-term upkeep of this wonderful old theatre.
- Designed by Llewellyn Williams (who also designed Kirkaldie & Stains, now David Jones)
- Built in 1924 as the ‘de Luxe’, last surviving of the three built in that period
- Had a Wurlitzer organ, played silent movies
- Robert Kerridge’s Kerridge Odeon Theatre Corp bought and changed its name to ‘The Embassy’ in 1946
- 1992 Brierley Investments bought it for RNZ Ballet in 1992
- Embassy Trust formed to buy Embassy 1996. Some upgrading from 1998
- WCC took over ownership, trust disbanded, 2003
- Major strengthening completed for ‘LOR: The Return of the King’ in December 2003
- About $5m spent since 1998, but full refurbishment never completed
Refurbishment uncompleted in 2003:
- Front doors and entranceway of theatre
- Arch over entrance
- Front facades of surrounding cafe and restaurant in building
- Several minor unfinished details including the Women’s toilets
- Width of building wall 32m, height of sign appr 3m
- The sign is set back 8m from the heritage façade on the theatre’s rear wall
- Sign can only be seen once one has crossed past Kent Terrace, i.e. it appeals well in Courtenay Place but has little effect on the heritage aspects of the site
- Replication of the original neon sign would be meaningless
- Modern electronic signage will add huge vibrancy to Courtenay Place
- Trust to retain management of the sign to maximise income
- Reinstate a trust in due course once approvals in process
- Aim of the trust:-
- To complete refurbishment of the Embassy Theatre
- To arrange temporary financing to carry out the refurbishment immediately approvals gained
- To provide the building with an income via electronic advertising fixed to the large blank wall on the rear of the auditorium overlooking Courtenay Place
- The income to cover the cost of completing the theatre’s refurbishment, pay off the debt, and then provide it with a perpetual maintenance income
- Spare funds, if there are any, to be used on similar heritage projects in this local area