The following article appeared in the Waipa Post on March 10th, 1932—two days before the grand opening.
When it became general knowledge that a private company comprising residents of Te Awamutu district had decided to erect an up-to-date motion picture theatre, there was a lot of interest displayed, not only in the personnel of those responsible but also to a considerable degree as to just what sort of building would be erected and where. A little later a contract was entered into for the erection of the edifice, and a prompt start was made. Work was carried on with such expedition that soon the structure took shape.
During the past two or three weeks the finishing touches have been added, and to-day the theatre building is one of the most imposing and attractive of its kind outside the cities. It stands in a splendid situation, with a frontage to Alexandra Street of 66 feet, with a depth of 112 feet. The whole frontage of the section is utilised, and the architect for the building appears to have provided a very modern and ornate structure. As most people have observed, the ground floor frontage is almost all occupied by a large and commodious shop that will be occupied by the Great Bargain Stores. The shop frontage is designed to give the greatest show-window space obtainable, and there will be two entrances to facilitate business. There are actually 54 feet of show-windows space, and the interior of the shop is bright, commodious and attractive. The height of the shop from floor to ceiling is 12 feet and the fixtures have been designed by experts to ensure prompt service and bright displays.
Beside the shop is the entrance to the theatre, and this foyer is 10 feet wide by 25 feet to the foot of the stairs. It is most effectively and artistically decorated with Terrazzo marble slabs for flooring and walls, and leading off the foyer, just past the second ticket-selling window, are two cloak-rooms neatly furnished and quite in keeping with the other appointments of the theatre building. Rising by a wide staircase on an easy grade, entrance is given to the theatre itself, where the patron is at once attracted by the expanse of seating accommodation and the very cosy and pleasant appearance of the main hall. Truly the architect has done his work well here.
There is seating accommodation for 800 patrons, and the chairs themselves are decidedly comfortable, all upholstered in moquette with shaped backs and more than usual space between the rows. The floor slopes gradually towards the proscenium and picture screen, with two low ramps across the whole width. The hall is over 60 feet wide and over 90 feet from proscenium to wall of the projection room. Ventilation and lighting effects were two factors given special consideration, and the result is at once ornate and effective. Air shafts are provided in the ceiling, and vents at spaced intervals along the walls, each cleverly designed; while the wall decorations are artistic and neat. The ceiling is panelled, with three large concealed electric clusters to diffuse the light.
To reach the front half of the seating accommodation from the landing at the head of the staircase patrons will turn to the right and go down three steps. The seats are grouped in rows of 16 seats together, with aisles dividing that group from the rows on each side, which comprise six seats in each row. Thus there is provision for 28 patrons in a row right across the hall, with two aisles. The aisles themselves are well cushioned with rich carpets. The proscenium is most artistically arranged, and has a dimension of 16 feet by 28 feet, while the "silver screen" will be 16 feet by 20 feet.
The motion picture apparatus is the latest production of the well-known Western Electric Company, and is said to be without a peer in the whole of the dominion. A very large fire-proof projection chamber has been provided—"I know of only one larger one in New Zealand", said one of the experts installing the apparatus—and it has been designed to give the greatest degree of service and safety. The "throw" from projection box to screen will be approximately 97 feet, and testing during the past few days has pleased the experts, who look upon the equipment as particularly well designed to give the maximum of satisfaction to the management and patrons alike. Behind the screen are two immense horns for sound reproduction, each with an air column of 144 inches. The screen itself is rather surprising, for instead of the plain white sheet that most picture "fans" imagine it to be, it is honeycombed, with heavy felt backing to control the sound. Trials show that this design is wonderfully successful, quite up to the most sanguine expectations of all concerned.
The footlights are well placed, and these will be supplemented with large arc lamps behind the proscenium, so that an even light will be spread over the screen. Exists for use in emergency such as a fire are important provisions in all public buildings, and it is noteworthy that, in addition to the wide entrance stairway, there are two exits giving egress to a pathway at the back of the building on to Teasdale Street. These exits flank the proscenium, and each are 8 feet wide, with an absence of steps, so that a huge number of people could quickly be evacuated from the building without trouble in the event of emergency. Doubtless these exits will also be popular with patrons of the front seats, for they provide easy and quick access to the street at the close of a performance.
It is interesting to note that throughout the work preference has been given to local materials and local workmen, and the result reflects much credit upon those artisans who did the work and the wise decision of the company directors. Mr A.G. Gr_nter, of Auckland, was the successful contractor for the building, and he has assuredly made a first-class job of his undertaking. It should be noted, in this connection, that he employed up-to-date methods of large-scale construction, and some of these were quite a revelation locally. The work was commenced on 28th December, and the contract provided for completion ready for handing over on 24th March. To-day the building is very nearly completed, so the task has gone ahead without a hitch and the theatre will be handed over well ahead of schedule. That in itself is a factor of no mean importance. Mr Athol C. Brookes, of Te Awamutu, has represented the company during the progress of the building as clerk of works. To him is also due special mention for his able and tactful handling of the many intricacies that must have arisen in carrying out his duties with credit to himself and all concerned. The local firm of Clark and McMillan secured the contract for the furnishings, and both the principal (Mr S. Clark) and his foreman (Mr T.W. Gee) applied themselves with a will to completing the task creditably. The Electric Service and the Hardware Company undertook the lighting and power equipment, Mr W. Seymour the painting and decorating, and Mr A.W. Skinner the plumbing, and all appear to have carried out their tasks ably and promptly. The intricate and special task of installing the motion picture plant and equipment was in the hands of Mr Alward, the Western Electric Company's expert, and it is easy to realise that his work, being highly technical, required the special qualifications that that gentleman is credited with.
Indeed, much of the success or otherwise of a motion picture house depends upon the equipment of the talkie apparatus, and Mr Alward painstakingly tested and re-tested for many an hour before he was satisfied that Te Awamutu's new theatre had the motion picture service that is worthy of the high standard set by the Western Electric Company. Mr S. Tombs, the lessee of the theatre, has been a frequent visitor to Te Awamutu watching progress and arranging the hundred and one details that must be attended to before opening night, and with him is his son, Mr Maurice Tombs, who, we understand, will be closely associated with the ultimate management of the enterprise.
Some rather interesting facts were forthcoming in response to our inquiries about the building. We learn that no fewer than 52,000 bricks (all made in Te Awamutu) were used in the construction, besides 300m cubic yards of concrete, 20,000 superficial feet of timber, and 21 tons of reinforcing steel. It is easy to visualise the great strength of a structure embodying all that material. Add to this the fact that throughout the period of construction about thirty men (most of them residents of Te Awamutu) were engaged. Thus the provision of the new Regent Theatre has meant quite a lot to this town, for the wages have, for the most part, been spent where they were earned-in Te Awamutu.
The theatre will be opened to the public at the matinee on Saturday afternoon, when the very attractive star picture, "Daddy Long Legs," will be screened, with, as an additional attraction for the young people, the first episode of "Battling with Buffalo Bill." At the evening session, when "Daddy Long Legs" will again be screened, the formal opening will take place, His Worship the Mayor (Mr C.G. Downes) officiating. Booking for this screening has been very heavy, and we understand that practically all the reserve seats have been applied for and allotted. However, this should not be taken as a "house full" sign, for the management has very wisely decreed that between 300 and 400 seats will be available to the public by tickets procurable at the doors. There are, however, indications that the first night of the Regent Theatre will record a full house.