The remnants of two picture theatres that have been hidden from public view for half a century are part of the city's latest heritage refurbishment, featuring a cafe and restaurants tucked away in a new lane off Queen St.
The Imperial Laneway is a $13 million makeover of the 100-year-old Imperial and Everybody's buildings fronting Queen St, directly behind the Michael Hill, Louis Vuitton and Gucci retail stores.
Once the site of the Queen's and Everybody's picture theatres, which closed in 1956 and later became a Woolworths and then a Deka store, the buildings have been bought and transformed by Phillimore Properties into a Melbourne-style laneway with a ground floor cafe that turns into an oyster/tapa bar in the evenings, two restaurants on the first floor and commercial spaces throughout.
Director Ross Healy says it is not the most commercial deal in 20 years of Phillimore Properties refurbishing heritage buildings in the city, but it is part of the revitalisation of the downtown area that includes the Britomart precinct, Auckland Art Gallery upgrade and Q Theatre.
The new lane from Queen St runs about 80m through the existing building, down to a wider space lit by "light chimneys" at Fort Lane, which the Auckland Council has just finished paving as part of its shared space programme.
Phillimore directors Ross Healy, brother Ken and Terry Gould, said the council's investment in shared spaces - where pedestrians and motorists share newly-paved roadways - helped to trigger their investment.
Architects Fearon Hay have transformed the buildings. What is left of the 1911 Queen's theatre's ornate plastered ceiling is part of Everybody's bistro/bar that opens on to an internal courtyard.
Next door, in the former theatre space, which became the Roxy in 1929, is a more formal restaurant named Roxy with matching neon letters outside in Fort Lane.
The owners of La Zeppa restaurant, Snapdragon in the Viaduct and The Matterhorn and Foxglove in Wellington are behind the two restaurants. Former Matterhorn executive chief Sean Marshall is in charge of the kitchens.
One of the most unusual spaces is a lidded roof loft that was probably a warehouse at some stage and has been named "the Boathouse" by the directors, who are in the final stages of letting it to a commercial tenant. Another space, off the courtyard, could become a hairdressing salon.
Ross Healy said they had worked closely with heritage staff at Auckland Council and the Historic Places Trust to retain as much heritage fabric as possible. Brick walls and original pillars have not been plastered over, creating a slightly grungy feel.
Ken Healy said the buildings had been shut off from public view for so long, and said the goal had been to open them up for the next 100 years.