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The Winter Garden

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The Winter Garden  —  Madras Street, Christchurch City

The Winter Garden opened in 1927 as a cabaret and social hall and was a sparkling venue on 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.  In the 1940s, 50s and 60s it was used for debutante balls, where individual presentations were made by deutantes' fathers before a first father-and-daughter Grand March (or later, a waltz) followed by a grand curtsey, en masse, prior to the recreational part of the ball which was an English colonial tradition.  Not only a place of white ball gowns, white gloves and dinner suits, it was also a popular venue for 21st parties to move on to after the official party at home (or in a hall) ended, with bookable alcoves available for groups of revelers.  Due to six-o’clock closing of alcohol sales at the time, it was not uncommon for partygoers to arrive with small bottles of sherry or Pimms concealed under gowns, capes or jackets.  A cabaret was held every Saturday night, and parties could book alcove seating.  In the 1960s The Press reported it was remodelled in a most delicate pink and the décor updated.  The Sapphire Room, which boasted a slatted red-pine roof, rich red carpet, white pendant lights, a new kitchen of grey formica, and a battery of gas ovens was added at that time.  Caterers P. Burke and Co, who also owned the Bush Inn, and provided refreshments at race meetings, ran the venue which during this time hosted a 12-piece orchestra - including drums, piano, saxophone, and clarinet.  The band dressed in blue, Bermuda-style tuxedos.  It was also a centre for fashion and bridal shows where shapely Christchurch-made clothes were paraded to music arranged by Doug Caldwell and choreographed by Philip Chatfield.  Models included New Zealand’s then Rose of Tralee, Paula Ryan.  The venue also hosted a royal visit when the Queen dined there in 1964.  The Winter Garden struggled as interest in social ballroom dancing declined.  In 1984 the venue was bought by Lion Breweries, which had acquired Burke's Caterers.  Later in the year it was sold to the Trade Union Centre (Canterbury) Limited for approximately $500,000.00 and the Trade Union Centre leased some of the building to the Media Club whilstthe other half of the building was demolished for car parking.  There was a massive public auction of effects in June 1988.  The Media Club was frequently a venue for live music and events.  The Trade Union Centre was built on the corner of Madras and Armagh Streets - it was demolished in 2011 as a result of damage from the Christchurch February earthquake.