Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 20, June 1976

by the Late JOHN WALLS

Even in its very early days Paeroa was fortunate in having a large Public Hall. Known as the Criterion Theatre it was built in 1895 for Mr. Asher Cassrels on the site of the present Memorial Hall. With its well appointed amenities including its own lighting plant (local gas) and separate Concert Chamber and Shops it was reputed to be the largest Theatre outside of Auckland, so was patronised by good travelling Plays and outstanding Artists. It was also the venue for Paeroa's first Silent Films shown by Claude Scott and Frank Mackay when Booky Christian was pianist. Later Rudall Hayward worked the Circuit from Waihi.

The Foyer was about 20 ft. wide and 30 ft. deep with an asphalt floor, the box-office and stairs being on the right of the double doors which opened on the centre aisle. At the side a corridor extended the full length. Occupying about ⅓ of the body of the hall were forms graduated from the very high ones at the back to the chairs in the front.

The Stage was very large and a great height from the floor to a platform near the top. Annette Kellermann, a world-famous swimmer, came to Paeroa to perform her feat of diving from the Platform into a large glass tank of water. Opposite the stage the horse-shoe shaped balcony stretched across the theatre its rim being rich red-stuffed velvet. The large supper-room also had a stage and amenities, and was often used for dancing. Behind the stage in the main hall a corridor between the dressing rooms led to a landing-stage on Willoughby Street.

During World War I, Patriotic Queen Carnivals were held in the Theatre and on 28 - 6 1918, when Mrs. Porrit was Queen of the East a large assembly welcomed home Returned Men, dancing going on till 2 a.m. At 4 a.m. a disastrous fire destroyed the building, the loss to Paeroa being very great indeed.