New Regent Street

Even before the demolitions that have swept through Christchurch since the earthquakes, Cantabs have always been very protective of the city’s history.  The rallies formed against some demolitions that happened pre-quakes and the defending of the open spaces at Hagley Park show that we, as a people, love our city – just as she is.

Between Colombo, Manchester, Armagh and Gloucester Streets sat a building known as the Colosseum.  The name in itself shows that this building was quite a character in the city. Boasting of the largest wooden span, I am taking a guess that it was Christchurch’s largest wooden structure or even the South Island?  It was built in 1888 and over 43 years housed: Three roller/ice skating rinks (1888, 1902, and 1917), one movie theatre (1908) and a boot factory (1891).

When the Colosseum was known as the Palace Skating Rink, it was the largest in New Zealand.  Later, when it was known as the Colosseum Skating Rink, a brass band played as further entertainment and ladies had free admission in the evenings. The Colosseum Picture Theatre was Christchurch’s first movie house but it was apparently nothing flash – referred to as a ‘…white-washed draughty barn…”

An improvement from the name of ‘The Circus Paddock’ as it was known as far back as the mid 1860’s, wouldn’t you say?

I haven’t been able to find a photo of this building from the outside but the two of the inside show it to be huge!  When silent movies were being played, the Colosseum could house 2500 movie goers.

It was 1929 when, in the name of progress, the Colosseum was knocked down and into Christchurch’s lost history. The plan was for the land to be opened as a private road and a 40 shop complex in the style of a Spanish Missionary to be developed. I wonder if anyone mourned the Colosseum’s demise.
It turned out to be an ambitious project as by 1930, the world was in the grip of The Great Depression. Those involved pushed on and what would become known as New Regent Street was the only notable and substantial project in the South Island that year. Well done Christchurch!

But things did not start off with a huge bang after the official opening on the 1st April 1932, by Mayor, Honourable D.G. Sullivan. Things were so bad that retailers were offered shop space for no rent!  The little street fought on and won the title of being “Christchurch’s Most Beautiful Street”!!!  It was also Christchurch’s 1st Mall and the birthplace of today’s modern malls!
After World War II, New Regent Street became a public road, it took until the 1990’s for it to close – becoming a pedestrian walk-through.

Treasured more than ever, New Regent Street has survived again, against incredible odds.  It remains an important part of Christchurch and will always hold a special place in the Cantab heart as it is now serves as reminder and an ambassador of what we have lost.

*image of inside the Colosseum courtesy of the http://www.otago.ac.nz/*
*advertisement for New Regent Street courtesy of http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/*

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