Topic: Intersection of Queen and Chamberlain Streets

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Corrie Swanwick wrote about the history of the land around the intersection of Queen and Chamberlain Streets. It was published in The News on 30 July 1986.

The section on the corner of Queen Street and Chamberlain Street, where the taxi stand building was demolished to make way for a new building, has had a long history. 

In 1898 a disastrous fire occurred there burning a small town hall and several shops. This was where the Britannia Restaurant, Howard's Garden Centre (where Howard's Hardware was), Harrisons Hairdressers and Levin Shoes now are.
 

The small hall was on Levin Hotel land and Mr T. G. Garland, owner of the Levin Hotel, built another hall on hotel land on the corner of Queen Street and Chamberlain Street in the same year as the fire. 

Although it was always owned by the owners of the Levin Hotel it became known as the Town Hall and it was used for local and visiting entertainment, dances and balls. 

 

Functions
Here are some of the functions held in the Town Hall: 


The volunteer Fire Brigade held a social and dance with Kersley's Orchestra in July 1910.

benefit concert for the children's hospital was held in 1911 with local artists.

 The Levin Amateur Dramatic Society acted the following plays: in February 1911, 'Julius Rattle's Honeymoon Troubles' and `Romeo and Juliet'; in December 1911 `Written in Sand'; in November 1912 `Alone in the World' and `The American Tramp' was acted solo by Phil Walsh of Broadway quality' in 1913. All played to packed houses and enthusiastic audiences. 

A visiting rodeo used the rear of the section around this time and invited local riders to attempt to stay in the saddle for a stipulated period of time - none did.

Moving pictures were screened in the hall in 1910 by the Royal Kings Picture Proprietary. Earlier, at least by 1910 and probably before, moving pictures were screened in the Century Hall (the site of which is the east side of Write Price car park), by Bouttells Pictures and Max Pictures were screened in the Town Hall.

 

Itinerant

These itinerant picture promoters used portable projectors turned by hand for the first few years, until generators were able to power the projectors as well as providing electric light for the projectors and hall lighting. 

The generators were driven by benzine engines, sometimes by the local gas supply, and even by high-pressure water supply on occasions. 

Usually screenings were only once a week but this increased to several times a week in 1917. These itinerant promoters only lasted a few months and then another promoter would come. 

By March 1911 the Keystone Viewing Co was screening in the hall. A benefit was put on for the Levin District High School and the films shown were 'Logging in Italy' and 19 others. With one projector there were many delays while reels were changed... 

An advertisement on March 18, 1910 listed the films for the next screening 'Hounditch Murders', 'Anarchists in London' (the great London sensation) 'Ranch Life in the SW ("thrilling scenes of cowboys"), 'Choosing a Husband' ("specially selected for ladies") and a host of others; 1/6 (15c) 1/- (10c) ladies 1/- all parts.

 

Theatrical

Apart from local concerts, dances and balls which were held in the Town Hall, the Amateur Dramatic Society produced 'Greedy of Gold' in July 1910, with Mr F. Rout as Ned. 

Visiting theatrical companies also came frequently to put on plays and musicals. Unorthodox entertainers such as hypnotists and magicians who toured used the hall, as did visiting lecturers. 

Usually all entertainers would play to packed houses with enthusiastic audiences. 

By August 1911 the Shell Co was screening films on Monday nights. The owners of the hall would not allow screenings on Saturday nights, as it could take custom from the shops. 

Shell Pictures were still screening in 1912. Admittance prices had risen to 2/­(20c) 1/6 (15c) and 6d (5c) and at matinees 3d (21/2c). 

An advertisement for the next screening listed the principal films as 'State Line', 'Rose of Kentucky', 'Widow Pegden's Husband', 'Constable Smith's Promotion', 'The Black Witch', 'Charles and his Mother-in-law', and a film of wild seas and blood red sky.

Films were black and white although sometimes a film was said to be in colour. These must have been of poor quality as the production did not last long. Good coloured films were not produced until the early 1930s. 

 

Silent
The films were silent -'talkies' did not arrive until 1929. The quality was poor, flickering badly and this is where the term going to the 'flicks' came from. 

Moving pictures were very popular as a low cost entertainment and had large audiences. Music was supplied in the first few years by one instrument, usually a piano or pianola.

By March 1912 the Town Hall had a competitor in the Kings Theatre (later the Cosmos) built by Mr Henry Anstice. This was where Parker Paints, Wellington Newspapers, the National Party Centre and R. L. Pollock are now. Mr J. P. Schlager was the promoter.

In the Town Hall one night, 20 people were rendered unconscious through fumes coming from the benzine generator in the supper room. 

By October 1912 the Bio Megaphone Co was screening in the hall with some kind of sound effects. The quality must have been poor as production did not last long.

Promoter

In March 1913 a new promoter used the hall for screening. Mr Richard Bevan was the promoter with Levin Pictures. A Gaumont projector was installed and music was supplied by a piano and violin with screenings on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Through the years benefits were put on for local charities such as Park Domain improvements, the Brass Band (which often played outside cinemas attracting audiences) and Senior School Cadets (army). 

Pictures 'flickered' out in the Town Hall in mid 1913, there being no advertisements in the Chronicle until 1917.

 

I can remember going to the pictures for the first time in the hall. It must have been before I was three. All I can remember was one scene of perhaps a minute. The villains stretched a rope between trees and tripped the cowboy's horse bringing it and the cowboy down.

In August 1917 Everybodies Pictures opened in the Town Hall, the promoter being Mr W. Siegal with the projectionist, Mr Les Scott.

Electric
A gas engine drove the generator and an electric sign was on the outside of the Biograph box. This would have been the first electric sign in Levin. 

There were tip-up seats and the floor was carpeted. Admittance prices were 1 /­(10c) and 6d (5c). Farland's Pictures in the Kings Theatre reduced their price to 6d. The day of the itinerant promoter was over. The cinemas were now permanent.

By 1918 Les Scott was running People's Pictures with Mr Sutherland in Queen Street (where the east side of Write Price building is now). In my memory from about 1918 the Cosmos and `Scotties' cinema were the two cinemas operating. 

It is thought that about 1918 Farlands Pictures were operating in the Cosmos Theatre and also screening in the Town Hall. After a reel had been projected in the Cosmos, it was rushed to the Town Hall and projected there. Mr Walter Phillips was the projectionist.

This was apparently the last time films were screened in the hall after nine years of spasmodic screening by many different promoters. The hall continued to be used as the focal point for live entertainment of local and visiting talent, dances and many types of function. However, when the Municipal Building was completed on 1926 the De Luxe Hall (later The Regent) became the main hall of Levin especially for dances and balls.

The De Luxe Theatre (later Regent) became the main cinema and venue for live shows. The Cosmos Theatre had ceased to show several years before and Everybodies Pictures ceased screening soon after 1926. 

From then on the hall became known as the Old Town Hall and was used as a graded hall. One function that was held there each year was the Masonic Lodge's children's Christmas party and at one time the hall was laid out as a miniature golf course. 

The Badminton Club often played there and between games the ladies knitted. Mr Harry Barnett (later Major Barnett OBE) would join them knitting his own garment on bicycle wheel spokes.

Skating

In about 1933 the hall was used for roller skating by a promoter who also held sessions in Foxton and Shannon, one night a week each and many Levin people did the circuit each week. The hall probably had uses largely forgotten now and was probably derelict the last few years of its life.

Although the Old Town Hall was demolished in 1942, this did not end its life. The Levin Hotel and the hall was still owned by the Hannan Estate and Mr William Hannan erected his house, which still exists, with the timber from the hall in Sands Road off Hokio Beach Road.

Mr R. L. Gibbs who later lived in it said the framing timber was 5 inches (12.5cm) by 2 inches (5 cm). The interior lining was 1" (2.5cm) heart matai, and was so hard that it was difficult driving nails to hold the new interior lining.

The Palmerston North Hospital Board bought the section (cost £500 - $1000) and erected District Nurses rooms and two flats, but in 1973 the District Nurses moved to Horowhenua Hospital.

 

Council

The Levin Borough Council then bought the property, renting it for various purposes with the last tenants being the Taxi office, Doctors' Rosa and Siri and Mrs Pollock Estate Agent.

The property was bought in 1986 by a company with Messrs. Paul Kent, Douglas Little and Ian Fowcett as directors, who intended to erect a two storied building on the section.

When finished it will be the third building I have seen on the site and the third building in 88 years.

 

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