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January - February 2018

The Avondale
Historical Journal
Official Publication of the Avondale-Waterview Historical
Society Incorporated

The Drive-in Theatre we nearly had
by Lisa J Truttman

For a brief time, in 1957, it was
almost a reality — Avondale
would have had a drive-in mov-
ie theatre just off Rosebank
Road, at what is now Honan
Place. But, what was happening
in the country economically and
politically meant the idea never
came to be.
Drive-in theatres are almost as
old as the motor car. Scattered
examples can be foun d in
American history from 1915 –
but it was the 1950s and 1960s
where that method of open-air
viewing of the blockbusters
from the comfort of your own
car seat really came into vogue.
In Australia, with the opening of
the first Australasian drive-in
theatre in 1954, Skyline at
Burwood in Victoria, much was
made of the fact that patrons
Image: American drive-in theatre, 1950s. Sourced from the internet.
could even have their kiddies in
their pyjamas in the backseat, and it was quite all right. Speakers on long leads provided the sound straight into each
vehicle, and refreshment stands provided the throngs (700-900 vehicles) with their sustenance.
Two years later, in 1956, a Remuera resident named A J Pudney put forward two proposals to Auckland City
Council for temporary drive-in-theatres. In July that year, he wrote to the Council asking to lease between 14 and 20
acres of land then used as a public tip near the Auckland Zoo at Western Springs. He was informed that the land,
just off Meola Road, was intended for public greenspace as a recreation area once it was filled and levelled, so they
advised that they couldn’t help him there. Another site he asked about, just west of the zoo, was then Government
land, used as a quarry. The council intended ultimately
taking that over as well, so said no.
Not deterred in the slightest, Pudney then wrote to the Next meeting of the
Town Clerk saying that he’d received an option from the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society
Railways Department to temporarily lease part of the land will be Saturday 3 February 2018
at what we now know as Heron Park, near Cadman at 2pm, St Ninians Hall, St Georges Road,
Avenue. Once again, the Council turned him down, this Avondale
The Avondale Historical Journal
Page 2
time due to the Heron Park site being so close to resi- “Apart from the presentation of motion pictures, the
dential properties (even though Pudney assured them drive-in theatre will include excellent recreational
that the drive-in, using the speakers fitted inside the facilities such as picnic areas, children’s playground
cars, would not make all that much noise.) facilities etc, and it is a practice for these facilities to
be used by the public at times other than during the
But next came a new company, Skyline Drive-in The- exhibition of pictures and, in particular, we will prob-
atres (NZ) Limited. Where the Australian Skyline ably consider making these facilities available on
enterprise was run by Hoyts, with 20th Century Fox Sundays during daylight hours, without cost to the
backing, the New Zealand venture was a partnership public. Under no circumstances, of course, are we
between the two big cinema chains here at that time, considering the screening of pictures on Sunday
Amalgamated and Kerridge-Odeon. They may have nights.”
been the ones to tentatively put forward a proposal to
have a drive-in theatre off Taylor Street in Blockhouse The General Manager for Kerridge Odeon told the
Bay in early 1957 – a proposal that never really went Theatre Licensing Officer that the licence would be
beyond the bright idea stage, but which upset for a maximum of two screenings per night for six
Blockhouse Bay locals who held protest meetings, nights per week, and that the feature films screened
arranged petitions, and sent firm letters to the Town would be second and subsequent runs.
Clerk asking that nothing be done along those lines.
The scope of the proposal seems massive for the time.
Skyline NZ eventually put forward a total of four, this Viewing ramps at the Rosebank site would have ac-
time actual, proposed sites for drive-in theatres in the commodated 720 cars, while it was proposed to in-
country: Rosebank Road in Avondale, Merton Road clude space for a holding arena of another 800 cars for
in Glen Innes, Wairau Road in Takapuna, and one in those waiting to see the second session of the night.
Christchurch. (They later extended this to include one The company set aside the Rosebank Road frontage
in Otara, and another in Kamo, Northland.) The beside their theatre area for “future development.”
Avondale one was the market garden property of Mrs
Beatrice Lucy Dolphin, the present day site of Honan In 1957, the site’s immediate neighbours were
Place, offered by her as an option to Skyline at Christian and Caroline Loretz, their property fronting
£42,000 for the 21 acre site. Eastdale Road, in the process of subdividing their
market gardens into residential lots, and on the other
The secretary for Amalgamated Theatres wrote to the side the Connell family property (today’s Jomac
Town Clerk, referring to the Rosebank site: Place). Both families submitted objections to
“It is felt that your Council will welcome this proposal Auckland City Council regarding the use of the
as the construction of a drive-in theatre on this site Dolphin farm and gardens as a drive-in theatre. But
will provide a most useful amenity to the adjacent the Council was seriously in favour of the idea. The
densely populated areas and, furthermore, as a por- land was a mix of industrial and recreational zoning;
tion of the property is at present zoned as an open- the traffic plan appeared to adequately provide for the
space reserve, such would, in effect, be provided with- increased volumes of cars going to and fro; Skyline’s
out charge upon ratepayers. The balance of the offer to make the property available for public use as a
property is situated in an area zoned for industrial part-time green space – all these were attractive fac-
purposes. tors. The Council even began work on creating a sepa-
rate “drive-in theatre” zone in their town plan, seeing
“Drive-in theatres provide an opportunity for people the theatres (there were other companies, with addi-
who have previously found it impossible or difficult to tional proposals) as a sort of green belt buffer between
attend the cinema, and especially caters for family residential and industrial zones.
groups, comprising parents and young children, peo- So, Avondale might have had another large green
ple who are hard of hearing, and those who are in any space there in the middle of the Rosebank Peninsula.
way afflicted and find it difficult to attend a normal
conventional theatre. The site occupied b the drive-in However, while Council gave its blessing, the
theatre will be landscaped and planted pleasingly so Government ultimately did not, and it really came
that when completed it will be aesthetically satisfying. down to timing.
“The operation of a drive-in theatre in no way consti- For any cinema to be set up in those days, it required a
tutes a nuisance to anyone in the vicinity and in par- licence granted by the Department of Internal Affairs
ticular, as all of the speakers are inside the cars, there under the Cinematograph Films Act of 1928 and the
is a complete lack of noise. On the contrary, a site Amendment Act 1956, overseen by the Chief Inspec-
chosen for a drive-in theatre must be in a locality free tor of Films and the Theatre Licensing Officer. Initial-
from disturbance by extraneous noise and light. ly, in conjunction with the Council’s approval
The Avondale Historical Journal

Page 3

The proposed layout of the Skyline drive-in theatre on
Rosebank Road. November 1956.

IAW 1917 3 50/500 R11616710, Archives NZ,
Wellington.

processes, the Department also advertised for submis- Even A J Pudney put in an objection to the Depart-
sions – and received a number of negative ones. ment, stating that Skyline’s two partner companies had
already enough of a market share in the local cinema
Christian Loretz, through his solicitors, was concerned trade.
about the theatre’s impact on his wife’s already poor
health, and that the open-air theatre might impair their Despite the objections, in 1957 the Theatre Licensing
sale of the Eastdale Road properties. Office appeared all in favour of setting up new regula-
tions for such open-air cinemas as Skyline and others
The Connells were worried about their £5000 worth of proposed.
kumara and other vegetables planted on their property
adjoining the site, between which was a fence in “no But, that year was also an election year. National lost
sense adequate to keep vandals and trespassers out of to Labour, and Walter Nash’s new government faced a
the property,” and having recently had vandals break balance of payments crisis. Nash’s government, later
through, they weren’t in favour of essentially an 800 infamous for their “Black Budget” during their single
vehicle carpark being established next door. term, weighed up the costs of setting up the drive-in
theatres, the way such construction might divert capital
The Independent Exhibitors of Auckland set out a de- and industrial resources, the submissions in particular
tailed objection to the proposal, citing that the follow- against the Avondale one – and decided to indefinitely
ing suburban cinemas could be adversely affected by defer licensing any drive-in theatres in May 1958.
the drive-in: Dominion Road’s Capitol and Astor,
Blockhouse Bay’s Kosy, Glen Eden’s Star, Mt Al- By the time National regained power in 1960, it was
bert’s De Luxe, New Lynn’s Delta, Sandringham’s too late, the trend had passed. Australian drive-ins had
Mayfair, Henderson’s Civic, and Swanson’s Ascot. begun to fail, the market over-saturated by too many
They urged that the government defer any decision to drive-in theatres and television offered much more
grant Skyline their licence until an inquiry could be comfort at home than seats in a car out in an open
held into the social and economic consequences of the field.
new type of cinema. They reminded the Department
that the Government had already deferred the introduc- The deal now null and void, the Dolphin family even-
tion of television for similar reasons. The Hayward tually sold their property in 1963 to an industrial
family managing Avondale’s Grosvenor Cinema development company, and Honan Place came into
(today’s Hollywood) also expressed objections to the existence.
proposal.
The Avondale Historical Journal

Page 4

In Praise of Trees We may change abode from place to place, travel the
by Richie Afford world and return and our friend the tree remains stead-
fast to its roots and so deserves our respect and protec-
Recently on viewing the magnificent Casuarina in tion. If trees could talk what tales they could tell; the
Gribblehirst Park which I helped plant in 1938, I was changing scene from scrubland to pasture to suburbia,
prompted to reflect on those others who in times past from horse and cart to car and bus. The trees planted
either from caprice or with deliberate intent planted today and gracing the berms of our roads will be the
trees many of which survive today and may yet do so very trees that in years to come make our district a de-
only with precarious tenacity. sirable one in which to live.

The hand of the developer’s relentless encroachment is Much of our history survives only in fading photo-
at last held in check by society’s vigilance and we do graphs and fading memories, Partingtons Mill, the Old
well to be alert to the welfare of our arboreal friends. Stone Jug, St Georges Hall, but we should cherish
They stand firmly rooted to the spot defying the pass- what is left which includes our staunch and venerable
ing vicissitudes of storm and tempest, rain and drought trees for those which are planted today will be of
and above all providing food and shelter to our historical importance tomorrow.
feathered friends, and otherwise the sheer joy of their
presence.

Trees at the corner of Great North and
Rosebank Roads in central Avondale that were
chopped down one day in October 2017.

Google street view from 2015.

Copies of Avondale Historical Journal and AWHS Newsletter produced for us by
Words Incorporated, 557 Blockhouse Bay Road, Blockhouse Bay.
The Society and AHJ editorial staff thank Avondale Business Association
for their continued support and sponsorship of this publication.

The Avondale Historical Journal
Published by:
the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Inc. (since September 2001)

Editor: Lisa J. Truttman
Society contact:
19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland 0600
Phone: (09) 828-8494, 027 4040 804
email: waitemata@gmail.com
Society information:
Website: http://sites.google.com/site/avondalehistory/
Subscriptions: $15 individual
$20 couple/family
$30 corporate