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Cathedral Square in the 1930s - a second photo taken by James Buick

Dorothy - 14/10/09

James Buick's second photo, probably taken in 1933 in Christchurch's Cathedral Square, focuses on two picture theatres on the north side of the Square the Crystal Palace and the Grand.

Two picture theatres - the Crystal Palace and the Grand
Two picture theatres - the Crystal Palace and the Grand
Photo source: Photo taken by James Buick and made available by his daughter Kay Barrett

The Crystal Palace
This theatre was opened in 1918 on a site which was in a tight corner. It had only an entrance facing Cathedral Square, and the building backed on to Gloucester St. Probably to highlight the narrow entrance it had a 32 metre tower which was lit at night by seven powerful floodlights.

The tower was divided into four sections. At ground level there was an entrance arch with a leaded window above. The next section was a tower with pillars at the corners topped with elaborate Corinthian style pilasters. This section bore the name of the theatre. Next was an open tower of stone piers, with a circular lantern above crowned by a beacon light.

The decoration inside was elaborate with no expense spared. The Press of 9 February 1918 stressed that the decoration would be 'in delicate good taste'. This policy resulted in muted colours, electric fountains to resemble Venetian gardens and a monogrammed curtain hanging over a gold fibre screen.

It continued to show films for nearly seventy years. In 1963 it became the Carlton Cinema and the tower disappeared at this time. It was closed and demolished in 1986.

In James Buick's 1933 photograph the billboard announces the film "LUCKY GIRL"starring Gene Gerrard and Molly Lamont and described as

An inset panel advertises an additional feature, "The British Patriotic Pageant 'England Awake'" political propaganda released in 1932 and suited for showing at this theatre, as across the bottom of the billboard are the words "The ALL-BRITISH Theatre".

In 1926 at the Imperial Conference it was recommended that the countries of the British Empire screen British films. In 1932 the Crystal Palace became the first New Zealand theatre to screen only British films.

"Lucky Girl"
"Lucky Girl", directed by Frank Miller and Gene Gerrard was a musical released in the United Kingdom in 1932.

Like many popular films of the period it portrays a world of upper-class luxury and excitement and ends happily. To summarise the plot - while at a duke's party, disguised Ruritanian king (Gene Gerrard) and the chancellor (Gus McNaughton) are accused of jewel theft, but are helped by the duke's daughter, (Molly Lamont).

'Going to the pictures' a special outing
Audiences at cinemas regarded outings to a film as a very special occasion and wore their best clothes. It must be remembered that there was no television at this time and live theatre performances were limited. Watching a film was an escape into a new world, often a luxurious setting, and the constant renovations of theatres were aimed to increase the atmosphere of a grand occasion.

The performance began with the playing of the National Anthem for which the audience stood in respectful silence.

So many people poured out of the theatres at the end of the films that the tram services which were sparse during the evening were timed to provide ample transport to take home the hundreds of filmgoers.

By the 1940s and 1950s 'going to the pictures' was a fairly regular outing. The most well reviewed films were so popular that to get good seats for a Saturday evening it was necessary to make a booking by Wednesday.

The Grand
This theatre had mixed fortunes. It opened in 1913. The front of the three storey building was in the Queen Anne style with decorated piers and a pinnacled centrepiece, as seen in the photo. In the twenties on Thursday nights half the programme was given by local amateur performers and the orchestral area was enlarged. This attracted large audiences. It was the last Christchurch cinema to change from silent films to talkies. It closed in 1931 and after renovations re-opened in 1932 for talkies. It showed serials as well as the main film, or double features, and by the fifties became known as a 'flea pit' with rowdy audiences which were difficult to control. After renovations and a change of name to the Embassy in 1953 its reputation and clientele were still a problem and it closed in 1959 and was demolished the following year.

Buck Jones "RIDIN' for JUSTICE"
This notice on the billboard announces a film which is more a romantic melodrama than a genuine Western. Buck Jones plays a cowboy who falls in love with the marshal's unhappy wife (Mary Doran), is wrongly accused of murder and convicted, but rescued from lynching. The marshal is found to be the murderer so Buck marries the woman he loves. This is adventure with a happy ending. Such stories were popular.

"Ridin' for Justice"was released in 1932 in the US. Its run time was 61 minutes which left time in each session for the serial.

Below the main billboard another board announces the title of the serial.
DETECTIVE LLOYD Chap 1 "The Green Spot Murder"
This movie serial was released in the UK and the US in 1932 and starred Jack Lloyd and Muriel Angelus.

It consisted of twelve chapters and the chapter titles give some idea of the suspense-filled theme.

  • The Green Spot Murder
  • The Panther Strikes
  • The Trap Springs
  • Tracked by Wireless
  • The Death Ray
  • The Poison Dart
  • The Race with Death
  • The Panther's lair
  • Imprisoned in the North Tower
  • The Panther's Cunning
  • The Panther at Bay
  • Heroes of the Law

The plot is built around a sacred amulet once worn on the arm of the boy-Pharaoh Tutankhamen and now owned by Lord Randall Hale of Deep-Deen Manor. The priests of the Temple of Amenhotep want it back, and a gang of international crooks are also looking for it. Their leader is Giles Wales, aka The Panther. Scotland Yard Detective Lloyd's activities are aimed at seeing that Lord Randall Hale, retains the amulet.

Special children's matinees

These were often held on Saturday mornings or afternoons at the Crystal Palace and the Grand.

Barbara Tulloch (nee Bellringer) was an avid filmgoer and has listed her favourites from the 1930s and 1940s.
"My sister and I both went to Saturday morning or afternoon 'children's sessions' and followed serials which continued week to week. We loved those! Quite young children would go. The noise and the enthusiasm were immense.

"I well remember going to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Crystal Palace one of many theatres gone from the Square with my sister and my parents at an eleven o'clock session. In those days there were only 2pm and 8pm sessions Monday to Saturday plus 11 am sessions on Fridays and holidays. We sat upstairs right up the back as the place was packed. My sister who was five years younger than me was terrified by the witch and had to be taken out crying by our father in the dark down all those stairs.

"I remember an earlier film 'Heidi' with Shirley Temple. I saw all the Shirley Temple films and even had a Shirley Temple frock and shoes and many books and cut-out dolls with wardrobes from her various films."

I was taken to my first film in 1937 to see "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". Like Barbara's sister I too was overwhelmed by the apparent realism of the film and was so terrified by the witch that I hid my face in my mother's lap each time she appeared.

From that time my attendance at films became more frequent and like many of my generation I retain vivid memories of the best of them.

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