Architect Personal Details
Christopher (Chris) Arthur
Chris Smith figured prominently in the design and development of picture theatres and civic buildings in Adelaide and regional South Australia during the 1920s and 1930s and is now recognised as one of the leading South Australian exponents of the Art Deco style.
Smith was born on 19 November 1892 and grew up in Charles Place, Yatala, now Charles Street, Rosewater. Although registered at birth as Arthur Christopher, all subsequent official records cite him as Christopher Arthur. His father, Thomas Edwin Smith, was a sailor then labourer. His mother, Elizabeth Ellen Williams, signed her wedding certificate with a cross, suggesting she was illiterate (District of Port Adelaide marriage records Book 4: 47). However, a Mrs Elizabeth Smith at the above address in the Sands & McDougall Directory appeared as a storekeeper from 1900 to 1909, after which time T.E Smith was then listed as a stevedore. In all they had six sons, with Chris being the youngest. The Port Adelaide School Admission Register records that Smith was enrolled there on 26 July 1898, passed his Compulsory Standard in 1904 and then left in March 1906 ‘to work’, after less than eight years of schooling. The Smith brothers were so taken with silent movies that they started their own film distribution business in Port Adelaide. This was later taken over by their friends, the Watermans, co-founders of the Ozone chain of cinemas (Kilner 2008). Smith’s older brother, Thomas Edwin Smith, named after their father, became an Inspector of Places of Public Entertainment in 1911, a role that Chris Smith took over in 1942 (Register, 1911; ‘Death of Mr C.A. Smith’ 1952).
In 1915 Smith was listed on the South Australian Electoral Roll as a carpenter. He had trained as a master carpenter under Frickers, showing a high degree of self-motivation, a trait that continued throughout his life (B. Smith 2008, pers. comm., 19 June). He had married Irene Mary Wilson at the Church of Christ, Queenstown, in November 1914 and they went onto live ‘at a picturesque residence in Cheltenham’ (‘Pen Portraits of People’ 1924: 6). The couple had three children, Reginald, Joan and ten years later, Brian. In his youth, Smith had enjoyed cycling and in later years motoring (B. Smith 2008, pers. comm., 19 June). At the time of his death on 2 March 1952 he was a member of the Prospect Bowling Club and of the Lodge of Faith, Number 9 (‘Death of Mr C.A. Smith’ 1952).
It appears that Chris Smith had no formal architectural training. There is no record of enrolment for him at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries. Although Smith was listed in the alphabetical section of the Sands & McDougall’s Directory of South Australia as a carpenter living at Second Avenue, Cheltenham from 1919 to 1926, another alphabetical listing for him appeared in 1922, referring to Chris A Smith, Architect and Structural Engineer, 19 and 20 National Bank Chambers, King William Street, Adelaide. In fact he had already signed himself as 'architect' in 1917 in documents relating to the construction of a picture theatre in Kadina, and claimed in 1924 to have been practising as an architect for ten years (Kadina Picture Theatre GRG67/33/14/10; 'Pen Portraits of People', 1924: 6). In 1923 he moved to Waterhouse Chambers, 44 King William Street, Adelaide, remaining at that address until 1932. He subsequently practised from his home at 5a (now 3) Prospect Road, Prospect. Smith was further listed in the Directory under Architects from 1924 to 1932, and again from 1936 to 1952. It is not clear what work he undertook during the Depression of the early 1930s. Smith no longer appeared in the Professional and Trades Directory of The Builder or under Tenders Called, and limited himself to an alphabetical listing only in Sands & McDougall’s Directory. What is known from that time is that he purchased 5 Prospect Road (c.1931) and modified it into flats, adding a portico with terrazzo paving laid by Zoz and Cimarosti. The family then lived downstairs while he designed and contracted H.J. Emery to build a fine Art Deco style home on the property’s tennis court and a garage with his office and studio above facing Carter Street (B. Smith 2008, pers. comm., 19 June).
Smith may not have been fully accepted by the whole of the Adelaide architectural fraternity, however he counted Caradoc Ashton, Norman Fisher, Jack Cheesman and Maurice Doley as friends (B. Smith 2008, pers. comm., 19 June). After the Architects Registration Act came into force in 1939, Smith was registered from 1941 until his death in 1952 (SAGG 1941-52), having fulfilled the requirement of working as an architect for the specified period of time. In January 1946 he received notification from the professional association advising of his admittance as an Associate of the South Australian Institute of Architects, although by then he was no longer working as an architect (Smith Collection 334/1). Posthumously, he has received some recognition from the profession, with five of his buildings appearing in the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) listing of South Australia Significant Twentieth Century Architecture, and more on the South Australian State Heritage Register (SHR).
In November 1921, the York Theatre (demolished 1961) situated on the corner of Rundle Street and Gawler Place, opened to great acclaim. Newspaper reports of the time differ in their attribution of who actually designed the building. The Register on 2 November stated it was designed for the Greater Wondergraph Company by the Sydney architects, Kaberry and Chard, with Mr C.A. Smith as works foreman (‘York Theatre: opening next Saturday’ 1921). The (Sunday) Mail on 5 November included Smith with Kaberry and Chard in the original design and stated that ‘Mr Chris Smith took over the whole of the work himself and since then has supervised the construction’ and further referred to Smith as having ‘completed numerous theatres throughout the state’ (‘York Theatre: new Rundle Street picture house’ (1921): 9c). The Daily Herald (1921) credited Smith with both the design and supervision (Smith Collection 334). Upon its fourth anniversary, the manager, Mr Claude E. Webb, claimed it was ‘the first skyscraper to lift its head above city buildings’ (Register 1925: 11c). In a list of works compiled by Smith in 1935 in connection with proposed alterations and additions to the Hindmarsh Town Hall, he does not claim to have designed the York Theatre, but did supervise its construction (Glouftsis, 1985).
In 1922 the Advertiser reported that National Pictures were to build a picture palace at Prospect and stated that the architect, Mr Chris Smith, had already called for tenders (‘A New Theatre’ 1922; Willis 1998). From that time on Chris Smith regularly called for tenders in The Builder and in Building and Construction up to and including 1931. Much of his work in this period was with picture theatres and hotels in both Adelaide and regional South Australia, many involving alterations and additions. Civic buildings also featured in his repertoire at this time and later, and, to a lesser degree, domestic, commercial and ecclesiastical architecture, the latter including alterations and additions to the Jewish Synagogue, Rundle Street, Adelaide, in 1938 (Willis 1998; State Heritage Register). He studied theatre and public hall construction, was ‘in close touch’ with interstate theatre designers, Kaberry & Chard and Henry White, the latter of whom adapted the ‘atmospheric’ style of American architect John Eberson, and sourced materials from overseas, particularly from the United States of America and Portugal, finding inspiration in the Moorish architecture of the latter (Kilner, 2008; Hindmarsh Council minutes, 1936; Thomas, 'White, Henry Eli (1876–1952)', 1990). He was an avid reader of the American publication, Architectural Forum, admiring the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. One of his favourite sayings was ‘decoration should speak but not shout’ (B. Smith 2008, pers. comm., 19 June).
The 1920s was a period of growth for picture theatres and it appears that Smith was engaged by a number of the leading South Australian picture theatre chains. In 1922 he was supervising architect for the renovations that created the Austral Picture Palace, Kilkenny, and in 1924, architect for Hugh Waterman’s Ozone Amusements picture theatre at Alberton (now converted to shops but classed as having Local Significance). On the opening of the Alberton Ozone the press noted with pride that Mr Smith was a local resident (‘A new picture theatre: opened at Alberton’ 1924; ‘Ozone new adventure: fine theatre opened at Alberton’ 1924). At the end of that year, Smith was described, in relation to National Pictures’ new theatre at Marryatville, the Princess (later known as the Chelsea, now Regal), as being ‘well known in connection with theatrical construction…and to be complimented upon the result of his effort’ (The Builder 1924: 7). In 1926, he was cited as National Pictures’ company architect for the Garden Theatre at Colonel Light Gardens (now shops). At the opening, the Garden Suburb Commissioner, Mr Charles Harris, was ‘delighted with the building’ and stated, ‘the design was a credit to Mr Chris Smith, the architect’ (‘A new picture theatre: official opening at Colonel Light Gardens’ 1926: 16). He did further work for ozone Amusements, Ltd in 1926 with the Ozone at Enfield, and in 1929 in extending and altering the Semaphore Town Hall to create a picture theatre (used until 1960). He also designed the Semaphore Soldiers’ Memorial Hall built at the same time and which features on the State Heritage Resgister (McDougall and Vines 1989; Smith Collection S334/1; SHR).
Early 1920s picture theatre design in the suburbs tended towards basic with minimal decoration. By the mid-twenties more lavish decorations and facilities influenced by trends in the United States were apparent, with references to almost any previous style of architecture (Thorne 1976). Smith’s work appears to have followed this pattern, as none of his facades was the same (Smerdon 1975). The Ozone at Enfield was ‘erected, furnished and decorated on a lavish scale’ and ‘the architect has paid special care to the fibrous plaster enrichment in connection with the auditorium ceiling’ (‘A new picture theatre: opened at Enfield’ 1926: 18), whilst the Garden Theatre was ‘a welcome departure from the orthodox, introducing the art wood effect of old English design with modern utility and elegance’ (‘Enterprise of National Pictures, Limited’ 1926: 18, although the final exterior design was different and is the one still extant).
Chris Smith has been recognised as ‘an unusual example of a practitioner whose most prominent work incorporates both purpose-built cinemas and town halls, often in the same building’ (Lewi & Nichols, 2010: 180). Prior to 1930 Smith had designed new town halls that could accommodate moving pictures for the regional towns of Clare (1925) and Peterborough (1926-27, SHR), and an Institute building at Warradale (Willis 1998). Smith had to weather initial criticism of his plan for the Clare Town Hall, but upon its completion, the toast to the architect and contractor declared that ‘the nightmare of those pillars on the footpath has vanished’ and he was congratulated on his plan (‘Clare New Town Hall’ 1925: Smith Collection S334). The Peterborough Town Hall's ‘fine and bold frontage’ which included five ‘spacious modern’ shops for lease, housed an auditorium with distinctive plaster decoration. It contained seating that was ‘the last word in comfort’, a stage and associated facilities, an innovative cooling and ventilation system, provision for the projection of moving pictures and a biograph room, as well as council chambers and offices and a library (‘Opening of the new Town Hall at Peterborough', 1927: 3). Both of these town halls are extant and still valued by their communities.
From 1935 onwards Smith featured regularly in Building and Construction and it was over the next six years that he designed municipal council buildings that have all been listed on the South Australian State Heritage Register (SHR). In 1936 the Hindmarsh Council engaged Smith to create a large theatre/hall. The original stone portico was removed and all the buildings were refaced in Art Deco style. The building, now used by the Department of Education and Children’s Services, is acknowledged as ‘a remarkable example of civic architecture of the period’ (Dallwitz and Marsden 1984: n.p.) Smith’s municipal offices and council chambers, again in Art Deco style, for the Brighton Council were completed in 1937, ‘amid controversy and protests by ratepayers at the expenditure of funds’ (Dallwitz and Holt 1988: 2). His 1939 Port Adelaide Municipal Chambers, for which he won both first and second prizes in the design competition, has been described as a fine example of Inter-War Functionalism; the ‘curves and shadow lines give a nautical air’ (McDougall and Vines 1994: 23; Apperly et al 1989: 185; Smith Collection S334).
Two picture theatres attributed to Chris Smith are also on the SHR. The Regal (formerly the Princess, then Chelsea) in Kensington Park was designed by Smith in 1924, however it is the 1941 Art Deco renovations designed by F.K. Milne, the visible elements today, which qualify it for inclusion (Rowney: 1981; Advertiser: 1941). The Capri, or Goodwood Star as it was initially named, is a fine example of moderne (Art Deco) style ‘with reference to both European and North American cinema styles’ (Womersley 1988: n.p.). The original plans signed by Smith and held in the Louis Laybourne Smith Architecture Museum show the provisional name to have been the Savoy (Hurren Langman & James Collection S252). In the opening night programme of 8 October 1941, D Clifford Theatres Ltd has Chris A. Smith first on its List of Appreciation (The new Goodwood Star theatre 1941).
From 1940 to 1941, Smith’s calls for tenders gradually reduced, as was the case for many architects, and his finally disappeared in February 1942. His address under Practising Architects in The Builder changed to the Savoy Theatre, Rundle Street from February to November 1942, then ceased, although his Sands & McDougall entries continued. These changes coincided with Smith becoming an Inspector of Places of Public Entertainment, a position in which he ‘had a strong commitment to public safety … and was known to criticise fearlessly what he saw as unsafe practices’ (‘Death of Mr C.A. Smith’ 1952; Kilner 2009). In addition, he was on a committee during the war years for assessing buildings in case of bombing (B. Smith 2008, pers. comm., 19 June). Chris Smith died at home in his 60th year and was buried at the North Road Cemetery, Nailsworth, having had a diverse and successful practice.
McDougall, Alison, 'Smith, Christopher Arthur’, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia, 2008/2016, Architects of South Australia: [http://www.architectsdatabase.unisa.edu.au/arch_full.asp?Arch_ID=39]
Architectural works in South AustraliaTop
Firms or Professional Partnerships
|Name ||Dates Worked |
|Chris A. Smith ||1914-1921 |
|Chris A Smith, Architect and Structural Engineer ||1922-1952 |
Apperly, R., Irving, R. & Reynolds, P. (1989) A pictorial guide to identifying Australian architecture, Angus & Robertson, Australia.
Kilner, D. (2009) ‘Christopher Arthur Smith’ in Buried Treasures: Prospect People in North Road Cemetery, Prospect Local History Group, 2009: 91-2.
Lewi, H. and Nichols, D. Community: building modern Australia, UNSW Press, 2010.
Sands & McDougall, Directory of South Australia (1918-52) Sands & McDougall, Adelaide.
‘South Australian Chapter’ (1949-51), Year Book of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.
Thorne, R. (1976) Picture palace architecture in Australia, Sun Books, South Melbourne.
Walker, D. (1996) Adelaide’s silent nights, National Film and Sound Archive, Canberra.
The Builder, incorporating The Town Planning and Local Government Journal (1924) 3 December: 7.
Building & construction, incorporating The Builder, 1930-1934,1936.
The Builder, 1940-1943,1946,1947.
(1941) Advertiser 30 May: 3.
‘Inspector of Place of Entertainment’ (1911) Register 16 March 1911: 6.
‘A new picture theatre: official opening at Colonel Light Gardens’ (1926) Advertiser, 26 July: 16.
‘A new picture theatre: opened at Alberton’ (1924) Advertiser, 27 August: 6
‘A new picture theatre: opened at Enfield’ (1926) Advertiser, December: 18.
‘A New Theatre’ (1922) Advertiser, 2 September: 12g.
‘Death of Mr C. A. Smith’ (1952) Advertiser, 4 March: 3,18.
‘Enterprise of National Pictures, Limited’ (1926) Advertiser, 23 June: 18.
‘Opening of the new Town Hall at Peterborough: A memorable event: Large gathering of enthusiastic citizens’, Times and Northern Advertiser, 18 November 1927, p.3.
‘Ozone new adventure: fine theatre opened at Alberton’ (1924) Port Adelaide News, 29 August: 7.
‘Ozone theatre, Enfield. Fine picture theatre opened’ (1926) Register, 14 December: 13c.
‘Pen Portraits of People’ (1924) News, 4 October: 6.
(1925) Register, 5 November: 11c.
‘York Theatre: new Rundle Street picture house’ (1921) Mail, 5 November: 9c.
‘York Theatre: opening next Saturday’ (1921) Register, 2 November: 8b.
South Australian births index of registrations 1842-1906 (1997) South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society, Vol.9 S.
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South Australian Government Gazette, 1913, 18 December; 1940-1953.
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South Australian State Heritage Register (SHR).
The new Goodwood Star theatre (1941) City of Unley Museum (photocopy).
District of Port Adelaide marriage records, Port Adelaide Library Local History Collection, Book 4: 47.
Hindmarsh Council Town Hall Committee minutes, 6 January 1936, GRS/3799,State Records of South Australia (SRSA).
Kadina Picture Theatre (1917), Correspondence Files, Places of Public Entertainment, GRG67/33/14/10, State Records of South Australia, SRSA.
Port Adelaide School, Admission Register for Boys, 6/6/1898-6/8/1900, GRS/11435/00001, State Records of South Australia.
RAIA South Australia Significant Twentieth Century Architecture, RAIA Collection, S301, Architecture Museum, University of South Australia (AM).
Smith, Chris Collection, correspondence and copies of newspaper clippings relating to C.A. Smith, including (1921) Daily Herald 2 November; ‘Clare New Town Hall’ (1925) Blyth Agriculturist, 24 July, Series 334, AM.
Smith, Chris A., Ozone Theatre, Alberton, Architectural Drawings, Milne collection, Series 5/7/1-5, AM.
Smith, Chris A., Ozone Theatre, Victor Harbor, Architectural Drawings, Milne collection, Series 5/8/1-6, AM.
Smith, Chris A., Capri Cinema, Architectural Drawings, Hurren, Langman & James Collection, Series 251/39, AM.
Smith, Chris A., Savoy Theatre, Rundle Street, Adelaide; Shops numbers 43 & 45 Rundle Street, Adelaide; Newsluxe Theatre, Architectural Drawings, Hurren, Langman & James collection, Series S251/75/1-7, AM.
Dallwitz, J. and Marsden, S. (1985) ‘Hindmarsh heritage survey’, Corporation of the Town of Hindmarsh and the Heritage Conservation Branch, South Australian Department of Environment and Planning.
Dallwitz, J. and Holt, A. (1988) ‘Brighton heritage survey’, Corporation of the City of Brighton and the State Heritage Branch.
Donovan and Associates (1988) ‘Peterborough heritage survey’, Corporation of the Town of Peterborough, No. M-15.
Historical Consultants Pty Ltd & Hames Sharley Australia (1990) ‘Survey of the heritage of eight Lower North towns’, State Heritage Branch, Department of Environment and Planning: 251.
McDougall, K. and Vines, E. (1989) ‘Greater Port Adelaide Heritage Survey’, Port Adelaide Council: 94-95, 232.
McDougall, K. and Vines, E. (1994) ‘Port Adelaide Civic Buildings Summary Conservation Plan’, Port Adelaide Council: 2,7,23.
Rowney, B. (1981) ‘Register Nomination Report’, SHR.
Womersley, J.C. (1988) ‘Register Assessment Report’, SHR.
Glouftsis, Alexander, (1985) ‘Hindmarsh Town Hall’, Architectural History Dissertation, South Australian Institute of Technology, Chris A. Smith list of works
Landorf, C. (1983) ‘Art Deco: Adelaide architect, Chris A. Smith’, Architectural History Dissertation, South Australian Institute of Technology.
Paech, P. (1969) ‘Cinema in Adelaide to 1945’, Honours thesis, University of Adelaide.
Smerdon, C. (1975) ‘Adelaide Picture Theatres of the 1920s’, Research paper: Theatre Design, Flinders University of South Australia. Copy held in LLSAM.
Burns, C. ‘Chris. A. Smith: register of architectural works in South Australia’, March 2015 (unpublished).
Australian Heritage Places Inventory accessed online 2 August 2007 at http://www.heritage.gov.au/ahpi/index.html
Manning, G.H. The Manning Index of South Australian History accessed online 2 August 2007 at http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/manning
Julian Thomas, 'White, Henry Eli (1876–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-henry-eli-9074/text15995, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 April 2016.
Willis, J. (1998) South Australian Architects Biography Project, University of South Australia, CD ROM, LLSAM.
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