Henry Eli White

1877 - 1952

Henry White was born in Dunedin, the son of a building contractor, Joseph Eli White. He spent his early years working for his father and learning a wide range of building trades, including bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, joinery and painting. He studied architecture and engineering at night classes. At the age of sixteen he went to the West Australian goldfields, returning, in 1895, to work again with his father. In 1896, at the age of nineteen, he established his own contracting business, winning a contract to build a tunnel for a hydro-electric station on the Waipori River near Dunedin. In 1900, at the age of 23, he was commissioned by John Fuller and Sons to design a theatre for Christchurch, the first of a very large number he was destined to build.

White’s reputation grew and, in 1911, Fuller commissioned him for “the biggest and best theatre in New Zealand,” His Majesty’s Theatre in Wellington. This was a fair claim for the building in its day, and it established White as the preeminent theatre designer of the time. In 1913, he was commissioned by Hugh D. McIntosh to build theatres in Australia to the value of £110,000, the first being the Tivoli in Brisbane. By 1914, White had moved his main office to Sydney while maintaining branch offices in Wellington and Auckland. He later had offices in Melbourne and Brisbane.

His large practice was not restricted to theatres - he had commissions for hotels, schools, houses, factories, office buildings, and a complete civic centre and town hall in Newcastle. He was engineer and architect for the steam-generated Bunnerong power station near Sydney. The Depression of the early 1930s marked the end of White’s prolific architectural career, and he died in Sydney on 3March 1952, aged 75 years.

Among White’s remaining theatre buildings are the St James Theatre, Wellington (1912); Municipal Theatre, Hastings, (1915); and St James, Auckland (1928). Both the Theatre Royal, Timaru (1911) and the Mercury Theatre, Auckland survive in modified form. In Australia, additions he made to The Paragon Café, Katoomba, in 1934 and 1936 remain unaltered, and a number of theatres remain including the Princess Theatre, Melbourne (auditorium) (1922); Athenaeum, Melbourne (auditorium) (1922/23;) Palais Theatre, St Kilda (1927); Capitol Theatre, Campbell Street, Sydney (auditorium) (1928); the State Theatre, Market Street, Sydney (1929), in association with John Eberson, USA; and the Civic Theatre, Newcastle (1929).

Cochran, Chris. “St James Theatre, Courtenay Place, Wellington, Cultural Heritage Assessment,” NZHPT, 1993.
WCC Heritage Inventory 2001


Last updated: 8/26/2015 2:56:01 AM