Topic: History of Katikati Theatre by Val Baker

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This history of the theatre in Katikati has been researched and written by resident Val Baker.

Picture theatres and their people have been around Katikati for a long time. The earliest played silent movies in about the 1920s and were run by Bert Blomquist and Thomas Thomson (known as Tommy or Pop Thomson), who later owned the bakery Doughy Lamb.

The movies were held in the old Orange Hall, which once stood at the end of Macmillan St. At one stage, both theatres operated, then the Orange Hall one closed.

Bill Henderson Senior, being the first white child to be born in the newly-founded mining town of Waimangaroa on the West Coast, had spent most of his younger life in Australia, returning to New Zealand when he was 20. He moved to Waihi in about 1897 when the mining town was booming. Bill was the youngest winding engine driver in the country at that time. This entailed manipulating the engines that pulled the cages up and down the shafts to the Union mine. For 23 years, Bill worked as a fitter in the Waihi battery, 10 of which he was foreman, before becoming the manager for Hague Smith Motors, also in Waihi. He later started his own garage and a taxi business, but his real love was the picture theatre business. Purchasing a plant, he showed films in the surrounding towns, including Katikati, and travelled by car over often rough and muddy roads, showing pictures one night a week in each town.

The strike of 1912 added to the strained economic situation in Waihi, so Bill moved the theatre building to Katikati in 1926 to cater for the large gangs of men engaged in building the railway from Waihi to Tauranga, which has since been removed. The local station of Katikati could be found off Station Rd, which has since been renamed Highfields Drive.

The building was made of kauri, originally moved from Mueller St, Waihi, where it was called "Everybody's Theatre". In those days, the Martha mine was reported to be the richest in the world, but later its fortunes changed and fewer men were employed. At the time the picture theatre was built in Katikati, it was the third business premises on that side of the street. The Billiard Room, which became Wallace's old shop around where the picture framing shop and superette (old Four Square was) is today, and McLeay shoe shop, which was opposite the Talisman Hotel, were already there. The only other building on the hotel side was Harry Wills' blacksmith shop, and then became Katikati Motors, which the mural depicts on the BP Service Station wall.

The theatre thrived and people paid 6d (five cents, which is also a thing of the past) to sit on red plush seats, with black iron frames so they could watch the silent movies play. It was a grand affair, with attractive stage curtains. To get upstairs the patrons had to buy their tickets at the door, then dodge around the outside of the building clambering up the steep stairs and re-entering.

W & K Purcell BrothersKatikati Theatre being extended.

Back then, Eva Henderson would play the piano, providing the right atmosphere and sound effects - her feet making the right type of noise for the hoof beats of horses.

Eva, who was a music teacher, always played the piano and it was recalled that if the movie broke down, Eva would entertain by playing the piano and Bill would tap dance on the stage until things were ready to start again.

For two and a half years during World War II, Bill was in charge of the theatre at Papakura camp, while Eva continued to run the Katikati Theatre. Bill and Eva had two children, Bill Jnr and Beverley. Everyone would come along on the Saturday nights, as the theatre became a public meeting place. Concerts were held and it was also used as a polling booth on election days.

W & K Purcell Brothers

ANZAC day parade going the opposite way to the way they march today with the Katikati Theatre in the background.

With "Talkies", the theatre became even more popular.

After World War II in 1947, Bill sold the theatre to Mr and Mrs Purcell, and retired to the little cottage next door to the theatre building, between the theatre and the Katikati Fire Station building. The Purcells bought a modern projector, installing a Western Electric Sound system and new projectors - one of the best in the country - and many new films were shown in Katikati before they had been seen in larger centres. It was known then as the "Plaza Picture Theatre".

The theatre went on to wide screen projection, then cinemascope, and it is thought there were shows four times a week at that stage. The wide screen took up more space and this meant that boxing could no longer be held in the theatre, an unpopular move for some. The theatre was also used by the catholic church, which held services, and weddings were held inside its walls. At the time the catholic church did not have a building of its own.

The KDV mill was operating in the 1940s and two taxis were kept busy bringing workers to and from the pictures. Eva, who died in 1970 at age 71, and Bill, who died two years later in 1972, aged 95, are included on the Epitaph Board at the Katikati Cemetery.

The next owner of the building was Harry Wheeler, who came from Paeroa, but the advent of television forced the theatre to close.

There was a revival later, but it proved uneconomic. The foyer was turned into a shop for a while and the theatre was used for a second-hand business.

In 1985, the cinema building that once stood on the grounds where Cherry Court is now was pulled down.

There are many stories that could be told by people about the Katikati picture theatre. The story I recall the most is one my dad told me.

When the three Baker boys went to the pictures, it was always first up best dressed. Two of the brothers had gone to the pictures before dad. He caught up with them and called out to one, "Hey, you got my trousers on!" With that, they changed trousers in the main street as they thought no one was around - everyone was at the pictures, no one to see them make the change - and off they continued to the pictures. But only a few years ago, I was informed that they did get noticed by one of the girls working in the telephone exchange, the old Post Office building over the road, where Forsight Optometrist is today.

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History of Katikati Theatre by Val Baker


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