The Civic of Canterbury

The Civic of Canterbury had a long, and interesting history which saw it survive fire and numerous changes of ownership, only to finally succumb to damage from the February 2011 earthquake.

Photograph of Construction of the Agricultural and Industrial Hall (later the City Municipal Chambers) in Manchester Street
Construction of the Agricultural and Industrial Hall (later the City Municipal Chambers) in Manchester Street [1900] CCL PhotoCD 14 IMG0068

Early days

The Civic was originally designed by William Albert Paxton Clarkson and Robert Anderson Ballantyne - architects trading as Clarkson & Ballantyne - to celebrate the Provincial Jubilee in 1900. The building was built by contractors Rennie and Pearce.

It was gutted by fire on 11 November 1917, leaving only the Manchester Street façade standing. The Christchurch City Council bought and refurbished the northern part of the building in 1920, retaining the Oamaru and Mount Somers stone and brick frontage and creating an interior space of more than 3000 square metres over two floors and a basement. The building gained a front portico during this period, but this was later demolished.


The building's interior was modelled on an American banking model where departments faced a common public space served by a large U-shaped counter. The interior finish included expensive Tasmanian blackwood doors and panelling, Nelson marble in the vestibule and a staircase of Coromandel granite. The total cost was about £75,000.

Civic Theatre

Alongside the municipal building was the original Civic Theatre, built in the original southern part of the building in 1928. It had space to seat 1200 people. When the Town Hall opened in 1972, the theatre was vacant. Later it was leased as a television studio.

The council vacated the municipal buildings in 1980 for the refurbished Millers building on Tuam Street. The old offices were sold in March 1982 for $760,000. The original Civic Theatre, the south end of the building, was demolished in 1983, but much of its interior was saved and transferred into the old municipal chambers.

Later uses

The building was registered as a Category II historic place in 1981. Many plans were made for the building’s use including a restaurant, art gallery, shops and offices. It became the Civic Regency restaurant in 1984, and The Civic in 1986. The venue went through several owners, and in the 1990s was mooted as a place to house cultural organisations.

Live music came to the Civic in the mid 1990s. Latin music and dancing heralded the arrival of the revamped venue, and local and international bands played there throughout the decade.

In the 21st century, the building continued as a live music venue with a capacity of 1000 people. Bands such as Salmonella Dub, Shape Shifter, The Datsuns, The D4, Katchafire, The Black Seeds, Gomez, and singers including Anika Moa and Jimmy Barnes all performed at the Civic. It was the venue for events in Christchurch’s alternative scene, such as the Gay Oscars, the Gothic Masquerade Ball and the Fetish Ball.

The Civic also played host to performances in the annual Christchurch Buskers’ Festival and the Smokefree Rockquest.

The Zinc bar and an educational institute tenanted parts of the building in its later years.

Demise and legacy

The venue ceased to host music events in 2009. It was demolished in 2011 after extensive earthquake damage. As the Civic was being demolished, a time capsule was found in the building’s remains. It was opened by Christchurch mayor Bob Parker and was found to contain newspapers, a book of photographs and the Council's balance sheet and statements for the year ended 31 March 1921.

Online resources

Civic, Christchurch
Information on Wikipedia.
The Council and its offices
Information from the Christchurch City Council Archives.
Clarkson and Ballantyne
Entry in the 1903 Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Canterbury Provincial District, via the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre.
Digital NZ images of The Civic
Digital images of The Civic, including during demolition.

Library resources

Historic Buildings, New Zealand, Christchurch
Resources about Christchurch Heritage buildings in the Libraries’ collection.

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