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History of the Regent Theatre: Waipa Post Article, March 15, 1932

The following article appeared in the Waipa Post on March 15th, 1932—just after the grand opening.



It was no idle prediction to anticipate considerable public interest in the opening of the Regent Theatre at Te Awamutu on Saturday. Long before the doors opened crowds assembled and lined the footpath for some distance along Alexandra Street, and although the attendance at the afternoon and evening sessions exceeded 1500 people, it is safe to say that several hundred were turned away.

Evidencing a mark of respect to the proprietor, many exhibitors from neighbouring towns in the Auckland and southern provinces were present, and there were also present representatives of the film renting organisations in Australia and New Zealand. And it was particularly pleasing to hear the expressions of praise from these visitors, who speaking authoritatively and with a first-hand knowledge as they did were one and all in complete agreement that Te Awamutu possesses a theatre which is modern in every respect.

The opening of the Regent has been awaited with a more than usual degree of interest by people throughout this district. Few enterprises here have been so widely discussed, and hence there was a good deal of anticipation as to what the opening would reveal. Highest expectations were fully realised, and people who on Saturday night had a first glance at the interior of the theatre were unanimous in their expressions of surprise and praise. It had been anticipated as a result of earlier accounts that the building and the appointments were modern and designed for comfort and it is clear that there had been no over-estimate in this respect. The interior decorations and furnishings, carried out in harmonious blending of colour schemes, made a most attractive scene. The acoustic properties of the building were perfect and the service proved equal to the demands of such a largely attended premiere. The weather, though fine, was rather oppressive, the humid conditions putting the building under the severest possible test. As one patron remarked at the close of the day, the congregation of so many people within a building on what was one of the hottest and most trying days of the year was a critical test on those responsible for the planning and ventilation.

At the evening session the ceremony of officially opening the theatre was performed by the Mayor. Mr Downes prefaced his remarks by saying he was subject to a time limit of three minutes, adding that he agreed with the stipulation, as no doubt, as the young lady on the stage had reminded him, people had assembled to see "Daddy Long Legs" rather than hear "Daddy Long Talks". That, he added, was a timely hint to her own daddy. (Laughter.) He regarded it as an honour to open such a handsome edifice. Naturally, as with all semi-public buildings such as this, there were critics. In this instance the "pavement critics" had thought the town not big enough to justify or warrant the erection of another theatre. It could, however, be said that those responsible were deserving of congratulation for catering for a rapidly-growing district and for providing one of the most up-to-date theatres in the Dominion. (Applause.) Time would prove whether their confidence was misplaced or otherwise, and in any case it could be no direct concern of the "pavement critics." The commercial results of the venture concerned the shareholders and nobody else. Apart altogether from that aspect, however, it was yet true that speculation and enterprise made for progress. It could be noted that Mr A. N. Seamen, of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, had expressed a sentiment that could not pass unheeded. That gentleman had claimed that there are many people still able to purchase or invest normally, but they were holding back without any real justification. By curtailing their spending these people were making the depression more pronounced; they were denying their fellow citizens employment, and moreover, they were further imperilling their own assets and securities. The enterprise in Te Awamutu, by the erection of another theatre, had certainly displayed a spirit of confidence in the town, and it had provided a spending power that was most welcome at the present time. The people generally should heed, also, the words of Miss Gladys Montgomery on her return from England. Describing what she had noted in the Motherland, Miss Montgomery said she was most impressed by the way the people in Britain had met the crisis. Though dividends had shrunk to nothing, though income had faded away, and people of all classes found themselves taxed to the utmost extremity, there was no grumbling—certainly less complaining than she had heard in New Zealand. In Britain, no matter how heavy the load, the whole national expression was, "If Britain can pull through, then we are satisfied."

Mr Downes stressed these sentiments. "I would be failing in my duty," he said, "if I did not preach the gospel of optimism. To people who can do so I say, 'Spend.' Spend wisely, of course. Shrug your shoulders, even if the load be heavy and the future seem uncertain. But at all times and under all conditions say, 'If New Zealand pulls through, then we can stand it.'" (Applause.)

"We all have to work, it is true, but we all like and look forward to a little relaxation; and it can be claimed that there is no better relaxation than clean, healthy pictures at a moderate price. Possibly critics would recall that Rome burned while Nero fiddled." The speaker said his point was the division of work periods and periods for relaxation, and it could be said without demur that people might very well fiddle a little while the depression passed away.

In conclusion the Mayor congratulated all concerned for their pluck in undertaking such a venture at the present time. For that they were to be commended. He thanked them for converting what had been a bare section into a valuable business asset. They had certainly equipped the town with a very ornate and attractive building. He therefore wished them the due measure of public support to which they were entitled. (Applause.)

Mr L. G. Armstrong (chairman of directors), on behalf of the shareholders thanked the Mayor for his attendance. Recalling the past, he explained that the company was incorporated on 23 October of last year. A week later it went to allotment with its first share issue, over half of the share capital having been subscribed in one week. That in itself was the very clearest indication that the project was a popular one as fulfilling a district want. It spoke volumes that the essential details of company promotion had been accomplished in such a short space of time. On 18th December preliminaries were concluded, and the contract for the building was signed. Eleven weeks after the foundations were put down the work was completed, and here—on 12th October— (laughter)—well 12th March, "we have the official opening." The directors had watched carefully the designing. The reinforcing system had been entrusted to the man who had designed the only two buildings left standing in Napier after the earthquake, so on that score they could claim to have secured the best possible advice. The fire exits were most adequate, and in emergency the building could be emptied in two minutes comfortably.

With the exception of St. James' Theatre in Auckland, it was the only theatre in the province designed and built for sound. All the other theatres had been altered or adapted for the new condition. In the work of erection they had to the utmost possible degree encouraged the use of local materials and labour. (Applause.) Another feature was that the capital was all local—(applause)—local in the degree that there was investment by town and country people conjointly. It stood as another of those enterprises which linked the country with the town. It was strengthening the capacity of the borough to cater for its surrounding district and it very certainly made still further for the centring of those things in the town that were shared by the district as a whole. In conclusion, Mr Armstrong said he hoped the opening of the theatre would synchronise with the dawn of better days for everybody and that it would usher in a period of prosperity and happiness.

Mr S. Tombs extended a cordial greeting. He was not a stranger, for he had lived in the vicinity of Te Awamutu for many years, and recalled the time when he had promoted the entertainment which opened the Empire Theatre here. He particularly desired to publicly thank the contractor and the sub-contractors for allowing him to install equipment while the building was actually in progress as this had enabled the work in its entirety to be completed so very speedily. He expressed the hope that all would enjoy many pleasant entertainments in the Regent. It would be his constant aim and endeavour to give refined and pleasing programmes, so that the hours of relaxation could be happily spent in the new theatre.

Little Miss Dodo Armstrong then cut the ribbon which released the curtain, and this was the signal for loud and hearty applause. She received, in a most gracious way which delighted the audience, a very charming bouquet. Immediately followed the anthem, after which the programme proceeded. The opening feature was the Fox Films' all-talking picture, "Daddy Long Legs," in which the popular favourite, Janet Gaynor, was teamed with Warren Baxter. The presentation of this widely-favoured story was most pleasing. It was adjudged by all a most propitious opening of a very fine theatre.

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Sydney Thomas Tombes
Sydney Thomas Tombs (Photo date unknown)

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