TRACY WHITMEY EXPLORES THE SPLENDOUR OF AUCKLAND’S CIVIC THEATRE.
When we started to plan the Cuisine Good Food Awards 2018, we knew that we wanted the announcement celebration to be fabulous – a big night to celebrate all the wonderful folk that pour their heart and soul into hospitality to ensure that we, the diners, have a great time.
And so began the search for the just the right venue, resulting in a valuable partnership with Auckland Conventions Venues & Events. Our brief was for a truly spectacular setting, a place that would make our guests feel special and demonstrate to them the high regard in which they are held. The minute we set foot in The Civic Theatre we knew that we had found what we were wishing for.
Stepping into the foyer you are surrounded by the oriental splendour of an Indian temple garden. Our guests were served drinks amid the opulence of times past, a riot of gold and marble, seated buddhas, ornate plasterwork, domed ceilings, twisted columns and elephant statues (we’re told there are 414 of them, though we couldn’t count them all).
Moving into the main auditorium for the awards ceremony, the mood changed subtly to an extravagant Moorish garden with turrets, minarets, spires and tiled roofs, beneath a night sky sparkling with stars and Abyssinian panthers with green- glowing eyes flanking the stage.
Created by Thomas O’Brien as an atmospheric cinema, The Civic is a glamorous throwback to the days when cinemas were motion-picture palaces designed to delight and entice. Built in just 33 weeks from June to December 1929, The Civic originally featured NZ’s largest Wurlitzer organ atop a ‘lipstick-rise’ column, and a full-sized gondola or barge that rose from the orchestra pit, lifting 30 musicians to the level of the stage as they played.
In an article titled “Oriental Splendor – India comes to Queen Street”, The Sun newspaper reported: Throughout the whole of this Theatre the general effect is an outdoor one, with the exception that in parts of the foyer the visitor is given the impression of standing on the balcony of an Indian Temple looking out through the numerous rich sculptures of the distant evening sky. Numerous coloured flowers and creepers are artistically placed to give a touch of age and nature and add life to the stiffness of the rich architectural massiveness.
For its creator, the cinema was not merely a place of entertainment but a symbol of Auckland’s status. In a statement issued at The Civic’s opening O’Brien announced, “With supreme confidence in the future of Auckland, and with gratitude to those who have toiled with me in this great Endeavour, I present to my fellow citizens the consummation of an ideal – the creating of a place of entertainment symbolising the progressive spirit of our beautiful city.”
No matter that the gold was just paint and the ‘marble’ was in fact plaster, every effort was made in 1929 to give Aucklanders’ the best experience. In 1929 The Civic’s own bi-weekly magazine The Civic Review boasted: A comprehensive a la carte menu provides a fascinating variety of delicacies for all meals. The cuisine is conducted entirely on the premises under the most modern hygienic conditions, the huge plant representing the latest progress in efficiency. Nothing in fact, has been overlooked in attaining culinary perfection.
Demonstrating that the ideals of hospitality burn just as strongly today, Marija Gecan, Auckland Conventions General Manager Sales said, “We feel just as passionate about showcasing the very best that New Zealand has to offer when it comes to our flourishing hospitality industry. Delivering an exciting, creative and memorable experience for New Zealand’s top chefs, restaurateurs and industry suppliers is a priority for us.” Back in 1929, Thomas O’Brien strove to provide “edifying amusement in the most appropriate of settings,” – we hope our guests agree that, together with our partners, we nailed it.
The team at Auckland Conventions offer New Zealand’s largest portfolio of unique and versatile venues for events ranging from 10 people (The Art Gallery’s Boardroom) up to 4,500 (The Cloud’s ground floor exhibition space) and everything in between. They deliver a diverse range of events: fashion, business, food & beverage, arts, conventions and activations, many of them providing an opportunity to work with Auckland Council and give back to the community. They work closely with Auckland Live and other business units, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Zoo and Auckland Stadiums to engage in making Auckland a more liveable and vibrant city for residents and visitors.
OTHER AUCKLAND CONVENTION VENUES: Aotea Centre, Auckland Art Gallery, Toi o Tamaki, Auckland Town Hall, QBE Stadium, Function Centre, Bruce Mason Centre, Mt Smart Stadium, Shed 10, The Cloud