Topic: Focus on Capitol Cinema

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This article by local historian and author, Christine Clement, appeared in the 'Focus Te Puke News Update' on 15 January 2010. It details the history of Te Puke's Capitol Cinema.

By 1916 Te Puke had three public meeting halls – the No 2 Road Mission Hall, which was built in 1882 and was being used as a school during the day, McDowell’s Hall which had been built in 1892 as a private hall available for hire, and the Te Puke Mission Hall (on the site of  the present War Memorial Hall) which had been built in 1894.  This hall was used by the Anglican’s, Methodists and Presbyterian’s for church services as well as being the town library and reading room.

In August 1916 it was announced that Thomas Ernest Palmer, local builder was to build a hall for James Geraghty and Richard Henry Williams who were The Alliance Hall, Te Puke (c1910)in partnership as flaxmillers in the district.  Just before the hall opened in April 1917 a competition was held to name it and 108 entries were received.  The Te Puke Times reported that patriotic names were much in evidence; the only naval or military leader mentioned being the late Lord Kitchener.  Some decidedly original appellations were sent in including the “Will be Gay Hall”, the “Richard James Theatre”, the “Guinea Hall” and the “Anzacadean Hall”.  The committee eventually chose the Alliance Hall, the choice of  Miss Rosie Fox, as being the most appropriate and one that “…would be a lasting reminder of  the great alliance now fighting for the freedom of  the world”.

The building was described as consisting of  three shops fronting the main street, with a 60 foot x 34 foot hall behind. This had a 34 foot x 14 foot stage, two dressing rooms and a 34 foot x 20 foot supper room. The upper portion consisted of  five rooms, a seven foot balcony and a gallery 34 foot x 17 foot. The front part of  the building was sheathed with asbestos and the hall and back rooms were covered with corrugated iron. A four foot staircase lead to upstairs and provision was made for lavatory, basins etc. The shops had plate glass windows and a 16 foot verandah. The whole building was 145 foot long x 34 foot wide.Advertisement for the first pictures in the Alliance Hall, 1917

A ‘commodious room’ had been made available for the Te Puke library and a day was spent transferring the books from the Mission Hall across the street.  The new hall was immediately put to good use and on the 10 April 1916 local woman Mrs Isabella Dickey ran the first of  many patriotic socials at the hall.  These were welcome home and/or farewell socials to the troops and were held at the Alliance Hall right up until January 1920.  Te Puke’s second ANZAC Day was held there on the 23 April 1917, St George’s Day, the 25th being municipal election day.  In 1920 an aerated water factory opened at the rear of  the hall beneath the supper room and was said to be capable of  producing 800 dozen bottles every eight hours.  This was possibly where the soda machine that was used by patrons for many years afterwards, originated.

Over the years the hall became was well used by the Te Puke and district residents.  The local revue company used it for productions, and the town board read the results of  the local elections from the balcony.  In 1919 the hall was gazetted as the Te Puke magistrate’s court and in 1926 the Te Puke High School Ball was held there.  The hall was then described as being beautifully decorated with streamers of  red and blue (the school colours) and as a number of  children are attired in fancy costumes the scene from the stage is a very gay one.  Travelling productions also used the hall and one of  the shops was occupied by widow, Mrs Temperance Blair as a fruiterer and confectioner.  By 1927 the Alliance Confectionery was advertising Zelnut Bars, Ruskies, Teddy Bars, Gold Strike Bars, Cocodate Bars, Cherry Smack, Bordeaux Cream Bars, Walnut Cream Cones – 3d each. Murray’s Prince Charlie Assortment, Caley’s Brilliant Assortment, Nestle’s Milk Chocolate Assortment, Sweetacres Kentish Cherries – all 4s lb.

Te Puke had first been introduced to the magic of  the kinematograph, or moving pictures in 1898 and regular showings of  silent movies were held from 1911 in McDowell’s Hall.  The Alliance Hall also began showings and in 1922 a local orchestra was engaged to play during the moving picture entertainments.   On the 30 December 1927 Rudall Hayward’s (1900-1974) New Zealand movie The Te Kooti Trail was shown. It had been filmed in Whakatane and no doubt there were members of  the audience who remembered Te Kooti and his nemesis Captain Gilbert Mair and the Arawa Flying Corp of  1870.

Richard Williams had been killed during service in World War One and in 1928 James Geraghty sold the business and left for Queensland where he hoped to run other picture theatres.  The building was sold to Arthur Berkeley Morton of  Papamoa.  In April 1929, Nicholas (Nick) Grafas, a noted race horse-trainer, formerly of  Putaruru and family arrived in Te Puke.  Nick had been born in eastern Crete and came to New Zealand in 1913.  He operated the theatre for Mr Morton and at first rented a house from him at Papamoa. 

On the 22 October 1929 fire broke out in the building next door to the Alliance Hall, completely destroying the tobacconist and hairdressing business of  Mr P Vezich.  The hall was badly damaged and during 1930 was built over in concrete and renovated by builder, Edward Stanley Brookes.  Again a flat floor was included to enable the chairs to be removed for dances, balls and concerts etc. Te Puke's Capitol Theatre, 2010

On the 8 April 1930 the first talking movie was shown at the Alliance Hall - The Donovan Affair which was described as a mystery drama. On the 1 August 1930 the newly refurbished Alliance Hall was re-opened as the ‘Capitol Theatre’. At that time the Capitol Theatre was reputed to have the tallest screen in the southern hemisphere, at 38 feet, and the largest stage.  A large doorway was later made into the side of  the building to enable elephants to enter with travelling circuses who hired the stage for shows.

The Capitol Theatre was also used for local fundraising events and in 1931 a Monster Earthquake Relief  Concert was held to raise money for the people of  the Hawkes Bay.  In 1943 the Te Puke Working Men’s Club (now Citizens Club) opened in the billiard rooms next door and Nick Grafas fired the opening shot on the snooker table.  A Victory Ball for VJ (Victory in Japan) Day was held in August 1945, and farewell and welcome home’s for those serving during World War Two were held there.  At the final wind up in July 1947, over 800 people were present when envelopes containing £17 each were presented to all the 173 returned servicemen (and one woman) on behalf  of  a grateful public.  The Te Puke Boxing Association used it for bouts, the annual RSA debutante balls were held in front of  a military dignitary and fundraising for the planned Memorial Hall were held there, including a queen carnival.  In 1954 the Capitol was the first theatre in New Zealand to be adapted for cinemascope widescreen movies. 

During the 1930s Nick Grafas had commissioned Jack Diamond* of  Hawkes Bay to paint frescoes of  the Pink and White Terraces, Rabbit Island and Mitre Peak in the foyer. One of  his racehorses, King Rey, had made so much money for Nick that it enabled him to purchase the business. In thanks for this he had a likeness of  the horse included in the foyer floor in terrazzo tiles.

The Grafas family also operated the Capitol Confectionery shop as a side business to the theatre. Unfortunately due to the advent of  television and the increasing mobility of  the population, patronage of  the theatre steadily dwindled and the Capitol Theatre finally closed its doors in December 1978.   Except for the three shops, including the Capitol Dairy, the theatre remained empty.

In 2000 the Capitol Theatre was purchased by Ross and Evelyn Trebilco and re-opened with great fanfare after a major refurbishment, on the 20 September, with a special preview of  the movie Perfect Storm.  Members of  the Grafas family were invited as well as town dignitaries.  

As well as regular screenings, the theatre was again used for fundraising and the 10th annual Te Puke Country Music Club’s charity concert was the first live show to feature in the restored theatre on 7 October 2000.  On the 13 August 2002 the Te Puke Lions Club staged a sneak preview of  the Australian movie Rabbit-Proof  Fence as a fundraiser for a Hart walker for a local family.  (The script writer Christine Olsen is a cousin of  Te Puke resident Audrey Baldwin.) 

On the 1 December 2003, after a fly past by Air New Zealand’s Middle-Earth Boeing 747-400 Frodo, the Capitol Theatre held a premiere showing of  the Lord of  the Rings: the Return of  the King right on midnight.  During 2003 the theatre had been converted to a multi-plex theatre with three different screens.

Then on the 19 May 2005 the theatre became one of  the first theatres in the world (due to the time difference between New Zealand and the USA) to show George Lucas’s long awaited movie Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of  the Sith when it was again screened at midnight.  It was shown on the megascreen (15m x7.5m) the fourth largest screen in the country which uses a Sony Dynamic Digital Sound System, one of  only five in New Zealand.  Tickets were sold out three days before the screening but due to flooding at Matata and Welcome Bay, 45 of  the 215 seats were not filled on the night.   Two dollars from each ticket sold went to the Project Hope charity fundraiser.  In 2005 one of  the front shops was turned into a luxury lounge for smaller groups and art movies. 

During 2009 Ross had a three-D movie system introduced to the theatre, the first in New Zealand out of  Auckland and the first 3-D movie shown was Ice Age 3.  Since the 15 November 2004 radio station 92.9 Kiwi FM has broadcast live from their studio in the Capitol Theatre ‘From Te Puke, For Te Puke’.

* Possibly the Edward John Diamond who died in Hastings in 1942 aged 77 years.

by Christine Clement (15 January 2010).

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Focus on Capitol Cinema


Year:1919, 1930, 1927, 1931, 1928, 1945, 1870, 1947, 1954, 1978, 2000, 1892, 1894, 2003, 1916, 2009, 2005, 1917, 1929, and 1920
City:Te Puke, New Zealand\
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Latitude and Longitude coordinates: -37.7861649,176.3254445

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