Wanganui Opera House opened

9 February 1900

Wanganui Opera House plans
Wanganui Opera House plans (Whanganui Regional Museum, 1802.3677d)

The large wooden building on St Hill Street has been a jewel in Whanganui’s crown for more than a century. It is New Zealand’s oldest municipal opera house. 

In 1897, Wanganui Borough Councillor Frederick Spurdle suggested that the building of an opera house would be an appropriate way to mark Queen Victoria’s then-record 60-year reign. The town lacked an appropriate theatrical venue, and his colleagues agreed.

A public competition for a suitable design attracted nine entries and was won by Wellington architect George Stevenson. The foundation stone was laid by the mayor of Wanganui, Alexander Hatrick, on 13 July 1899. By then Stevenson had died, and retired builder James Tawse supervised construction. The building was officially opened on 9 February 1900 by the premier, Richard Seddon. Unusually for the time, it was lit by gas and electricity. It has survived three fires.

The Opera House received a Category 1 listing from the Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand) in 1984 and was given a Royal Charter at the time of its centennial in 1999. In the early 21st century it was seismically strengthened and refurbished.

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