Quinn’s Arcade is one of Waimate’s most photographed and loved historical buildings. It’s owned by Pro-Ject Waimate, a community group that is fundraising for the building’s restoration.
The building’s glittering past from 1906 as a shopping arcade, and later a picture theatre, is easy to imagine. It was built of Makikihi bricks fired at William Quinn’s brickworks, north of Waimate. The Arcadia incorporated an arcade of shops, a dozen on either side, giving passage through from High Street to Grigson Street.
Reportedly one of the first shopping arcades in the country, but according to local history, the enterprise never really flourished.
In 1918 Mr Henry Smith’s Quinn’s Arcade, as it was known, was remodelled by him into a theatre, which opened on March 20, 1920. Along with the theatre, Mr Smith’s fit-out included a large billiards parlour, with seven billiards tables; and a hairdressing salon.
By 1929 the Arcadia was owned by Waimate Picture Enterprises. The theatre held 175 people in the dress circle and 550 in the stalls. The manager was Mr J.J. Healey, and his son, Mr T.F. Healey who took over after Mr Healey senior died. The first ‘talkies’ were shown in the Arcadia Theatre on Monday, June 2, 1930, with the screening of “Footlight and Fools”. The last pianist to accompany the films before the advent of the talkies was Miss Nellie Nolan.
The Arcadia Theatre was destroyed by fire on June 29, 1955. Screening of films was transferred to the Olympia Theatre, until the present Regent Theatre was built and opened a year later. Since the fire, the Arcadia has been used for storage, residential flats, and some commercial activities.
The building is on the Heritage New Zealand list, with a Category 2 rating, which means it is regarded as a historic place of historical or cultural significance or value.
The Arcadia fire
On the morning of June 29, 1955, a fire in the Arcadia Theatre block was described as the first major fire for years. The Waimate Paint and Glass Company’s shop, and the billiards room at the rear were gutted, but the brigade managed to save the theatre itself and Mr W.G. Lane’s tobacconist shop.
The following month, Waimate Amusements Ltd offered the theatre for sale as is, where is, but excluding theatre seats, equipment and furnishings.
The Regent Theatre
The new theatre, built to replace the Arcadia, opened its doors for the first time on Friday, November 16, 1956. It was described at the time as the ‘last word in modern design and equipment’. The manager was Mr T.F. Healey.
Makikihi brick works
William Quinn of Makikihi probably produced more bricks in Waimate district than anyone else. He found on his farm a very large and easily accessible area of suitable clay for brick making, and with the main trunk railway passing through his property, a ready-made solution to any transport problem He built his kilns next to the railway in the early 1900s before the First World War.
Mr Quinn employed a large staff, and at the close of the 1906 New Zealand Exhibition he bought a number of buildings from the exhibition and incorporated much of the material in a series of new brick buildings on his farm, some of which are still standing.
He also built a number of buildings in Waimate, the best known is the “Quinns” Arcade.
Brick-making history in Waimate
Early example of bricks as a permanent material for buildings - instead of timber - were at Te Waimate and Centrewood. Michael Studhome used bricks made and fired near Point Bush Cemetery for his main dwelling, since destroyed by fire.
Between 1892 and 1894 Alpheus Hayes built a home at Centrewood. Over 150,000 bricks were made on the property for the house. The walls of this beautiful house, still in excellent condition, are made of triple brick. The whole structure is testimony to the excellence of the bricks, and the native time cut from the forest that surrounded it in those days.
In 1879, after the great bush fire that destroyed the sawmills, the Waimate forest, and many homes, Mr W.M Cottee arrived in Waimate. He was an experienced brick maker and found the deep deposits of clay to the east of the Waimate township were suitable for bricks.
His first bricks were fired using the ‘open joey’ method: by stacking the raw bricks in rows, placing firewood between the rows, and then setting them alight. When he had a surplus of burnt bricks he built a kiln in which the bricks were fired.
During his lifetime he had several kilns on Timaru Road, the last was on a block by Pembroke and Montgomery Streets.