Wellington Scoop

Cultural capital loses cultural venue

Rebecca McMillan Photography

by Lindsay Shelton
Wellington may claim to be the cultural capital of New Zealand. But last night it allowed a hundred-year-old theatre to close its doors – with the city council having done nothing to try to keep it open.

The Paramount Cinema has been showing films in Courtenay Place for more than a hundred years. It’s not only the home of the city’s annual international film festival (which was established in the Paramount 45 years ago) and the Wellington Film Society (established 70 years ago) but it’s also used by dozens of community groups and for a diverse range of live performances.

Its 450-seat auditorium is the only mid-size multipurpose theatre in central Wellington. Its closing has displaced the University of the Third Age (with 1000 members) which presented lectures in the auditorium twice a week. Its closing has displaced a lively religious group which filled all the seats every Sunday morning. The Royal Society, Massey University, LitCrawl, the Arts Festival have all booked the venue. And the list of national groups who have used the Paramount includes Chinese, Japanese, Italians, French, Brazilians, Germans, South Africans, and Nigerians.

The auditorium is also used for music (Fly My Pretties, Don McGlashan, the Jazz Festival) and for city events such as the Zoo’s Conservation Symposium earlier this year. Even the city council has used it, as an ideally-sized space to launch its annual report.

The Paramount was filled to capacity last night for its final screening.

Rebecca McMillan Photography

The screening was organised by the film society, which has been showing films at the Paramount for the last 15 years. Cinema operator Steve Ferguson spoke sadly about how he had been unable to negotiate an affordable new lease to keep the theatre open.

Rebecca McMillan Photography

Film Society president Chris Hormann spoke equally sadly of the demise of the theatre, and the problem now being faced in finding a suitably-sized venue for the 2018 season.

(Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre has 320 seats, but is not readily available for community use. The University Memorial Theatre has 400 seats, but it’s not in the city centre and access is difficult. The City Gallery’s Adam Auditorium seats only 134 people. The National Library is reopening its theatre next year – but there’ll only be 170 seats.)

Rebecca McMillan Photography

What next for the Paramount? There are plans to convert the lobby into a bar – as if Courtenay Place needs another new drinking place. But the auditorium itself will soon be empty and unused. The owners tried last year to find someone who would convert the entire building into a hotel. The city council gave them resource consent for the daft plan, but there were no takers. The building has this year been advertised for use as offices or “hospitality.” So much for cultural diversity …

What the city needs is for the owners of the Paramount to be persuaded of the importance of their theatre, and to find a way of reopening it, rather than converting it for a use which will do nothing to support the liveliness of a city which claims to be the capital of culture.


  1. GrumpyFilmGoer, 26. September 2017, 17:16

    Gee so smart… Removing a theatre from the “theatre district” what next? a vegetable patch in the middle of the stadium pitch?

  2. Patrick Morgan, 26. September 2017, 17:27

    Who owns it? What is its earthquake status? [One of the owners is a Wellingtonian, the other lives in Hong Kong.]

  3. Traveller, 26. September 2017, 22:10

    If councillors were serious about supporting Wellington as a cultural capital, they’d be finding a way to keep the Paramount Theatre open – a venue that’s used every day of the year – instead of planning a 12,000 seat venue for overseas rock bands – a venue that’ll be closed for most days of every year.

  4. Marion Leader, 27. September 2017, 7:39

    The Council realises full well that the 600 members of the University of the Third Age who use the Paramount every week are a burden on society since most of them use one of Winston’s Supergold cards to travel to the venue. Nor do they use very much in the way of alcohol since, usually, they are all out of the place by midday.
    This is nothing compared to the over-rich overseas rockers and their entourages who spend so much in the local bars etc.
    When the Council considers its priorities, why should it bother with 600 weekly locals compared to once-in-a-bluemoon figures like 12,000?

  5. Michael, 1. October 2017, 10:40

    No doubt there is a council-friendly developer lurking in the wings to jump at the chance of telling the council what is going to be built on the Paramount site. The vibrant city we know and love is slowly going to disappear as developers are allowed free reign.