MAYFAIR (des. H. Francis Willis)
in Smith's Central Motor Garage. Seating 808
111 Worcester street. (ext. Alfred Hart)
1 Mar 1935 - 21 Aug 1943
All British cinema 1943
(burnt out 21 Aug)
1 Mar 1944 - 1963 seating 833
converted to
CINERAMA (des. H. Francis Willis).
Seating 625, later 649
9 May 1963 - 3 Jun 1983
(later Christchurch Youth Centre; auditorium demolished to make way for Cathedral Junction precinct)

Hugh R.R. Taylor's list entry

Cinema Image
Photo - The Christchurch Press

By Jacqueline Walkey

The Cinerama was first opened as the Mayfair by Amalgamated on 1 March 1935 at 111 Worcester Street. The building had previously been Smith's Garage and was designed by Alfred Hart In 1907. Basically eclectic in style, it was built of bock and stone with tiering arcaded placed on either side of the centre between mock turrets under a ribbon frieze.

When it became a cinema in 1935 it was redesigned in the fashionable Art Deco style. Francis Willis decided against changing the facade and modernized the interior only He decorated the foyer with mirrors and chrome in typical Art Deco fashion. An elliptical false ceiling was put in, painted jade with crescents. Willis vaulted the theatre and it seated 810 on one floor. The cinema burnt down on 21 August 1943, but reopened on 1 March 1944 with a new dress circle and paneled walls.

The Mayfair closed again on 16 March 1963 for the installation of 'Cinerama' equipment and hence the theatre took its name. New gold drapes were hung, the suspended ceiling was cream, and it seated 649 and 225 upstairs.

The Cinerama opened on 9 May showing a film called THIS IS CINERAMA which according to its opening advertisement contained 90 minutes of fabulous spectacle... thrills... music... AND EVERYTHING that happens on the 65ft curved CINERAMA Screen. HAPPENS TO YOU

Cinema Image

'Cinerama' was a process that used three projectors screening simultaneously on to the screen, The projectors were much bigger than the standard type which could show only 2000ft (20 minutes) at a time, The Cinerama projectors could handle 10,000ft at a time, The width of the film remained 35mm but the depth of each frame was 6 sprocket holes instead of 4. They also ran through the projector faster - at 124ft a minute instead of the usual 90ft. The sound which want through 34 speakers was on separate reels of film, each with seven magnetic soundtracks, This film was run through a fourth projector especially equipped with magnetic soundheads in the original projection roam.

Twenty of the new speakers were behind the screen with the remainder scattered around auditorium. The screen itself was, as mentioned, 65ft wide with a radius of 148 degrees and a depth of 23ft. The three projectors covered s third each of the screen's area and their Images crossed at each division. Two projectors were housed in soundproof rooms at each side of the auditorium with the third at the centre rear. All three, together with the sound were controlled at the rear of the theatre by one man. However, the equipment required the attention of six licensed projectionists

At the time of its opening there were only 100 'Cinerama' theatres in the world. The problems of this system of projection were noted the day after its opening in The Press:

With a flourish of his hands, the narrator announced 'This is Cinerama' .. The curtain rolled back and the giant screen was filled with colour as the patrons were taken on their roller-coaster trip.

The intended effect of the medium - that of one complete picture - was spoiled at times by excessive movement in the images projected by the individual projectors, This unsteadiness where the images Joined was distracting, especially when there was little action, such as the close-up sequence of the Vienna Boy's Choir

F, Vergata, an engineer from New York, was in charge of the Cinerama's installation. He claimed that the fault lay in the film:

This film was made about 12 years ago.. This trouble does not occur in later productions.

The films used with this three-projector system were dubbed '3-strip movies', HOW THE WEST WAS WON and THE BROTHERS GRIMM were among those shown. In 1985 the theatre closed and these movies were dumped. Each movie consisted of approximately 17,5km of film on 15 to 18 reels. It took the NZ Express Co. a week to cut all the movies off their reels.

On 22 October 1965 the Cinerama changed to a new single lens system and opened with Stanley Kramer's comedy IT 'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD. Because of the three-paneled effect of the three projectors, a single-lens system was Introduced to eliminate it whilst presumably retaining the full impact of the Cinerama's deeply curved 146 degree screen. The picture was projected from one 70mm film.

It was hoped that when the Commercial Union Assurance Co of NZ Ltd sold the Cinerama building, Amalgamated would still lease it from the new owner. However, the Christchurch City Council bought it and turned 1t into a youth centre. Nonetheless the Cinerama began to operate as a cinema once again when the Canterbury film Society started screening in the Youth Centre every Thursday night

Cinema Image
Photo: Jacqueline A. Walkey

Article and pictures from Reeling No 25, 1988
Journal of the University of Canterbury Film Society

Hugh R. R. Taylor was theatre manager when the theatre was the Cinerama Theatre [1963 - 1985]. The Christchurch Central Library holds photocopies of his collection of press clippings about films, Christchurch cinemas, the Cinerama Theatre and the films it showed. records that the Cinerama had two DP70 Projectors. Roland Lataille's Cinerama Theatres site adds some more details on the screening formats:

Cinerama film formats shown: 3-strip and 70mm
3-strip dates: From 05/09/63 to 10/16/65
70mm dates: From 10/22/65 to 06/03/85
Screen curvature and size: 146 degree louvered screen: 65ft by 24ft

Status: When it closed [06/03/85] the building was used for an youth centre. In 1988 the Canterbury Film Society used it as the venue for city screenings of 16mm films, as well as helping with other screenings for the youth centre. After several years the building was gutted and the facade strengthened with the aim of a shopping complex being built. With the death of the developer it stood dormant for many years, but recently more progress has been made on the Cathedral Junction site...

Christchurch motorcycle inventor John Britten bought the site in the mid-1990s to develop it as a glazed-over retail tram arcade. His vision was for a craft-orientated building as a focal point for Christchurch. John Britten started the work and the tram track was put through his complex. His untimely death brought the project to a halt in 1995 and the site languished until the developer, Nouveau Pacific Holdings Ltd, took over. Now Britten's design theme and flavour will be incorporated in the development, such as the greenstone terrazzo flooring with bronze inlaid tuataras, terracotta ponga panels and the Junction CJ logo in bronze.
City Talk November 2000
Cinema Image

helps support the activites of the CANTERBURY FILM SOCIETY