New Regent Street has a colourful history
In 1863 it was a large open grassy area that became known as the recognised camping ground for visiting circuses known as Circus Paddock. This newspaper article from the National Library of New Zealand describes a circus taking place there that included a performance by a Shakespearian jester, now more commonly referred to as a clown.
The grassy paddock was transformed by 1888 into the largest skating rink in the colonies. The Palace Skating Rink covered the whole area now occupied by New Regent Street and was built to accomodate the new craze of the time – roller skating. Opened by the Mayor of Christchurch, Mr C Louisson, in front of a capacity crowd, the magnificent building was designed to be easily adapted for other purposes should the enthusiasm for skating dimish over time. This newspaper article describes the excitement of its opening night.
Within just three years, the Palace Skating Rink fell silent until bought by Messrs O’Brien and Co., who needed larger premises for their boot making businesses. Having purchased the building for a bargain price, they set about transforming it into a modern and comfortable workplace that quickly became a hive of activity.
Just over two decades later, and the resurged enthusiasm for skating meant the opening of another ice rink on the site, this time named ‘The Colosseum’. With four sessions a day and a brass band in attendance, it was clearly a popular and enjoyable pastime. In the early evenings, admission for ladies was free, suggesting it might have been a popular dating spot too.
Once again the fashion for skating waned, while at the same time a new leisure passion was emerging, this time for cinema. The Colosseum Picture Theatre was Christchurch’s first and seated 2,500 people. Don’t think going to the movies was a luxurious experience though – it was described as a “a white-washed draughty barn”!
It was 1917 when the draughty cinema reopened as the Olympic Rink, as once again Cantabrians exercised their love of roller skating. This was to be the last incarnation as a skating rink though, as society moved on and the fashion for skating finally petered out, yet another transformation of the area was about to take place.
Over a three year period the area was transformed into a terraced street of Spanish Mission style speciality shops. Opened by the Mayor of Christchurch on 1st April 1932, New Regent Street was a beautiful ray of colour and hope in the midst of the depression. Described then as New Zealand’s most beautiful street, it has brought pleasure to shoppers and tourists ever since.