There was an item on the TV One news tonight about the future (if any) of the St James Theatre in Auckland. I’ve never been to the St James and know nothing about it except what I learned from the item. But the shots of it taken by the light of a torch gave a hint of a once beautiful and ornate theatre. We learned that three years ago it had been damaged by fire in a neighbouring building and has been off-limits since. No electricity – hence exposure by torchlight.
Venturing into the theatre to bring us the story was in breach of health and safety regulations.
The question, as I understand it, is if restoration and refurbishment were to go ahead – who would pick up the $50 million tab?
In recent travels I visited Lazienki Palace in Warsaw. A grand old palace set in the majestic Lazienki Park. The palace and surrounding buildings date back to 1689.
In World War 11, the palace was almost completely destroyed including the interior with its parquet floors, marble work and beautiful frescos. It was all re-built, re-painted and re-parqueted – no mean feat! No, I don’t know who paid for the restoration…but I do know that it was a true labour of love.
Designs on the parquet floors differ in every room. We learned from one of the museum staff (in very broken english) that thirteen different woods were used for the floors of the palace. (He could have meant thirty!) They were exquisite…I was in awe of the intricate, exacting and painstaking work.
I remembered being told when looking for my father’s home in Braki (about 60 kms from Warsaw), that the palace – as it was referred to – had the most beautiful parquet floors. The relatively modern home in which we stayed, during that visit to Warsaw, had beautiful parquet flooring. I’d never seen anything like them.
So, getting back to the St James Theatre in Auckland. In comparison to the cities of Europe, we have very few buildings of significance.
Last year the clubrooms of Maranui Surf Club at Lyall Bay suffered extensive damage in a fire. The surf club is also home to one of Wellington’s favorite cafes, the Maranui Cafe.The surf club is not a beautiful building by overseas standards, but it is a significant one. After the fire the city council was eager to pull what remained down and build a plush new building on the same site. There was huge resistance to this idea – the Council were forced to bow to the community’s wishes. It didn’t take long before the damage was repaired, walls were repainted, furniture and flooring replaced … cafe and club were restored to their former humble selves. The menus remain unchanged as are many of the staff.
It’s a buzzy and exciting place to go – the coffee and food are delicious. Sitting over a leisurely coffee you can gaze out at kids playing on the beach and surfers tackling the waves.
I feel sorry for the lovers of the St James Theatre … it should be enjoying the same level of support as Lazienki Palace and the Maranui Surf Club. We shouldn’t let it be the victim of a wrecking ball, we should treasure and nurture the beauty that we have.