A mystery in the Mt Eden landscape for locals and visitors alike, the Crystal Palace on its face appears a dilapidated cinema. The only thing I personally had been able to discern from walking past it everyday over the last three years was that it seemed to be used as a clubhouse for cult followers of ‘The Room’.
Three guys are looking to unveil the mystery. Karl Sheridan, Robin Gee, and Taylor MacGregor are each part of Monster Valley, a production company that works on all things creative (seriously, all things - their website shows they work across film, events, photography and community arts projects). The method is the doco Please Open, a title gleaned from the small flaking gold lettering on the front door, doubling as an imperative to bring the space back to life.
The madness is that Please Open will be only 3 minutes long, a hallmark guideline for films provided with Loading Docs funding. Telling 87 years in 180 seconds doesn’t seem to intimidate the Monster Valley guys, but excite them. They told me of hopes to use the esteemed Loading Docs platform as a springboard into a plethora of other potential projects surrounding the cinema's aging beauty.
Built in the 1920s to entertain a growing Mount Eden populus, Crystal Palace came with the pizzazz of a ballroom downstairs (which in modernity has found its place as a recording studio). As a kid, Robin was a regular at the theatre, making it a tradition to roll Jaffas down the aisle whilst films screened. As adults, he and Karl had their 48 Hours team’s film screen (although unfortunately not on the twin carbon arc projectors, a delicate relic placed in the theatre when it opened in 1928). Taylor found his connection when first rocking up to join that The Room cult, later investigating and finding that it was his Great Uncle Phil Warren who re-opened the ballroom in 1958, running it for a further two decades.
Finding deserved notoriety in the early 1900s as the first suburban cinema to screen ‘talkies’, the Palace found its own schtick in the 1970s, showcasing surf films. The Astor of Dominion Road was all about the horror, while The Royal in Kingsland made its keep with Kung Fu.
People have actually died here, meaning I came with an expectation for a few ghost stories. Turns out, it's on the opposite end of the scale. Beyond the opulent ceiling, the fading wallpaper and lack of lighting hold pedestrian charm; there’s no chills up the spine, no indescribable splotches in the photos I took, no Moaning Myrtle. Taylor reported that the spookiest it gets is the bad cell reception inside the theatre.
All that said, when I first set eyes on the grand scale of the interior, I fell a little bit in love.
There’s something rather sad about having this place vacant more often than not. And that’s exactly a piece of the premise of Monster Valley’s Loading Docs short.
I hear people lamenting frequently about cultural appreciation in New Zealand going to the dogs. What if all it took was a little bit of community engagement to spark a fire?
This Friday (24th April) evening, Monster Valley are polishing the Crystal up, and opening it to the public. Following in the step of tradition, the old projectors will be fired up to screen Children of the Sun, a 1968 film celebrating surfing in New Zealand - all of which coincides perfectly with this year marking a centenary of surfing in our wee country.
In an age of mass internet piracy, social disconnection, and general apathy, I feel maybe it’s about time we got excited to go to the cinema again.
Photography by the author