Also known as: The Winter Garden
Location: 191 Armagh Street, Central Christchurch
Current Status: Demolished post-earthquake and replaced by the Margaret Mahy playground.
Active as a live music venue: 1927 – 2011
Bar Manager: Keith
Capacity: Around 300 in the main bar and 70 in the ballroom.
The Christchurch Media Club was a large building on Armagh Street, next to the notoriously seedy Centennial Pool. Broken up in to several parts – It had a mid-sized hall with hard-wood floors, a large performing stage and bar (used mostly for Media Club patrons, housing pool tables, darts etc), the smaller ‘Winter Garden’ ballroom where most live performances occurred – which was carpeted and decked out in ornate ceiling alcoves, plus a hallway, toilets and a small kitchen.
Though the main bar gave the appearance of an old tavern or sports bar, the venue had a storied history, with the Winter Garden Ballroom a notable part of Christchurch history.
Opened in 1927 as a cabaret and social hall, The Winter Garden was a sparkling venue in the Christchurch social scene. Originally a dance studio, the building was refitted for its opening with a sprung floor in the ballroom and the addition of a supper room and kitchen. The original décor was deep maroon suede, and there was a large mural depicting nymphs in a sylvan (forest) setting.
This storied history continued through the 1940’s through 1960’s, with debutante balls and formal diners being a regular use of the dapper, ornately decorated ballroom. Remodeled in a ‘most delicate pink’ in the 1960’s, the venue surely reached it’s peak when the Queen dined here in 1964 – Christchurch Libraries noting:
During this time the venue boasted a 12-piece band – including drums, piano, saxophone, and clarinet. The band dressed in blue, Bermuda-style tuxedos.
However, as interest in ballroom dancing declined in the 1980’s the venue was purchased by the monolithic Lion Breweries, then passed on to the Trade Union Centre, who in turn leased it to the Christchurch Media Club.
By the 1990’s the lush interior was now vary faded and quite grotty, however it became a favorite location for local shows, particularly of the underground or experimental variety.
With thick carpet, a decent PA system, and comfortable couches – it was the easiest of places to put on a show, particularly if you got on with perennially grumpy barman Keith. It was also a great venue when it came to live music photography, as hopefully my own Flickr photo-stream shows.
The fringe music collective ‘Borderline Ballroom’ established themselves with shows in the smaller ballroom with regular shows over the course of the mid to late 2000’s. The Media Club was also a good choice for All-Age shows for a period, as the main bar was essentially a separate venue from the ballroom, as a result quite a few A Low Hum double-headers took place either in the ballroom or across both rooms.
The bar closed in 2009, however the Christchurch Music School MAINZ took over, using it as a teaching space and even hosting some All Age shows.
Unfortunately Christchurch lost one of it’s most beloved live venues when the Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 struck, however the site was incorporated into the wonderful Margaret Mahy Playground – one of the highlights of rebuilt Christchurch.
1927: Opened as The Winter Garden as a Cabaret and Social hall.
1960: Remodeled in light pink, ‘Sapphire Room’ added.
1964: Host to the Queen during her formal visit.
1984: Lion breweries buys the venue before on-selling to the Trade Union Centre, who demolishes half of the venue for car parking.
2009: Main bar closes. MAINZ takes over, using the venue for teaching purposes, plus putting on the occasional All-Ages show.
2011: Heavily damaged and eventually demolished post-Earthquake, replaced by the Margaret Mahy Playground.