From the Resene Total Colour Awards gallery of entries
Embassy Park on Hamilton’s main street is the home of the Riff Raff statue that marks the birthplace of The Rocky Horror Show, the theatre where Richard O’Brien saw the ‘Late Night Double Feature Picture Shows’.
The Park became run down, streeties gathered there every day and anti-social behaviour by various users was becoming more frequent. Neighbouring business owners and the retailers association called for action, which led to an initial design workshop involving them, Council staff, inner city residents, streeties, artists, designers, arts and community advocates and the Police. This catalysed a volunteer working group to realise the meeting’s vision to invigorate Embassy Park.
The Embassy Park Working Group, as it became known, stepped under the umbrella of the existing Riff Raff Public Art Trust and set out to activate the space and discourage anti-social behaviour by drawing in and engaging local residents and tourists, rather than by trying to drive out those who already gathered there.
Building on the association with Richard O’Brien and the capabilities of the group, over the last four years a new Rocky Horror-themed park, Pavilion, decorative elements and gardens have been designed and installed, thanks to determined fundraising and generous volunteer and in-kind work.
Local metal sculptor Marti Wong, The Trons robot band creator Greg Locke and ACLX Lighting's Aaron Chesham contributed their skills to the creation of gargoyles, ‘Frank N. Furter's Gadget Box’ and the chandelier.
A mural on the south side by Jeremy Shirley depicts The Embassy theatre’s original front and the RKO Tower featured in the Rocky Horror stage set. Another on the north side by Paul Bradley succulently portrays the iconic lips. The landscaping was a Wintec landscape student design project, implemented in conjunction with Hamilton City’s Parks and Open Spaces unit.
Paua Architects – in a pro-bono capacity - took a leading role with design and organisational guidance to the working group, and design work for the site and Pavilion.
The creative vision for the Embassy Park redevelopment is drawn from the site’s rich history. The Theatre Royal opened to much fanfare in 1915 and its ornate Edwardian facade was a prominent landmark on the South End of Victoria Street over the following decades. In the early 1950s it was renamed The Embassy, the street frontage was rebuilt in a simpler Deco style and it started functioning primarily as a cinema, although theatre and music productions were also still held there.
Soon after Pat Osborne opened a barber shop in the front of The Embassy that he was to run through to the 1980s. A young Richard O’Brien worked there from 1959 to 1964, in his own words “cutting hair and daydreaming”.
On the weekend Richard would go to 'The Late Night Double Feature Picture Show' in The Embassy, where he saw many of the famous sci-fi and horror movies of that era, including King Kong, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet and Flash Gordon. He also met the soul singer Sam Cooke and witnessed his first drag act there.
Richard moved to the UK in 1964 where he would become a West End and film actor. In the early 1970s, he was missing the menace that Rock n’ Roll had represented in his younger days and so wrote The Rocky Horror Show stage show and later The Rocky Horror Picture Show movie as a mash up of the nostalgia he felt for The Embassy and Hamilton, and the glam and punk rock scenes that were happening around him in London. Frank N. Furter is based on Johnny Devlin, ‘What Ever Happened to Saturday Night’ is about bogies at the Hamilton Lake, and ‘The Late Night Double Feature Picture Show’ is about those eight movies he saw at The Embassy.
The Embassy continued as one of Hamilton’s main street cinemas through to the late 1980s. It was demolished in 1991 and the current park took its place. On returning to Hamilton in the late 1990s, Richard publicly identified The Embassy as his inspiration for The Rocky Horror Show.
The Rocky Horror Show and its movie version The Rocky Horror Picture Show have a global cult following thanks to its outrageously flamboyant characters, unexpected storyline and its celebration of being an outsider.
The Embassy Park Working Group has endeavoured to reflect the spirit and aesthetics of Rocky Horror in their selection of Resene colours. The upper section of Embassy Park is now unapologetically garish with pinks, reds, oranges, purples and blues. A key colour in the Park is Resene Jalapeno, which has been used on various surfaces, including the ‘Frank’s Lab’ Gadget Box on the ‘The Pavilion’ toilet block, as a reference to the iconic Rocky Horror red lips. For contrast, bathroom ceilings are finished in Armourcote 221 in a high gloss Resene Black finish.
The ‘Transmission Burst’ mural is finished in Resene Lumbersider tinted to Resene Endeavour, Resene Havelock Blue, Resene Sail, Resene Kamikaze, Resene Mako, Resene Gull Grey, Resene Silver Chalice, Resene Foam, Resene Half Chicago, with protective Resene Uracryl GraffitiShield as the final topcoat.
The 'Lips' mural is painted with Resene Lumbersider in the colours Resene Mandy, Resene Lipstick, Resene Bright Red, Resene Christalle, Resene White and Resene Black, with protective Resene Uracryl GraffitiShield as the final topcoat.
Deep pink Resene Lipstick in Resene Lumbersider has also recently been used to paint the side walls in the middle of the park, which has really lightened up an area that was previously quite dark and shady, such that the sunlight coming through the trees bounces around rather than being deadened. This is finished in Resene Uracryl GraffitiShield to protect against graffiti.
The Hamilton City Council gave the Embassy Park Working Group full creative license in redeveloping the Park, and all the assets created have been gifted back to the Council for them to maintain and insure.
The cost of the decorative elements have been met by funding grants from the Brian Perry Charitable Trust and the WEL Energy Trust, as well as considerable sponsorship through discounts and in-kind work from some of the contractors. The Council met the core cost of the upgrade to the utilities and landscaping.
Richard O’Brien’s support for the project has been critical for garnering political and funder support. Now 75 years old, every time he performs a ceremonial role at our events at the Park, he tells another story about his adventures at The Embassy in the early 1960s.