The Regent Theatre was built by the Australasian cinema and theatre chain J.C. Williamson Limited. Williamson's began its New Zealand operation in 1926. The theatre, one of several Regents built throughout New Zealand and Australia at this time, was a dual-purpose cinema and theatre. The Melbourne architect Charles Hollinshed was hired to design the building which was completed in 1930 at a cost of £46,000, becoming the largest and most lavish auditorium in the city. It retained its twin functions for much of its life, before falling into relative disuse and eventually closing in 1991. The Palmerston North City Council purchased the building 1993 and began restoration work in 1996.
The Regent Theatre is a now rare survivor of the heyday of the theatre/cinema. As the only such venue in Palmerston North to survive to this day, the Regent is of great social importance to the city. The exterior design, and to a much greater degree, interior design are remarkably authentic and rare examples of theatre design in New Zealand, and as such, the Regent is a landmark building in type and style.
The exterior is built in the Art Deco style, while the interior is Persian painted plaster ornament. The external symmetry, vertical fins, shallow stylised relief, stepped skyline, and chevron ornament are typical of the Art Deco style. The main entrance, with walls of coloured plaster and travertine, leads into a large barrel-vaulted, double height space, off which there are the entrances to the main performance space. The interior decoration of the theatre is taken directly from Owen Jones' book on design, “Grammar of Ornament.” The auditorium seats 1393 people in a two-tier circle and stalls arrangement (originally it accommodated 1600 guests).
Architect, Charles Hollinshed graduated from Sydney University in 1922, one of the first three graduates in architecture in Australia. With A.H. Walkely, Hollinshed practised in Melbourne and the firm specialised in theatre and cinema design. One of their best-known designs was Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne (1934). Hollinshed also design Hoyts Limited (with Richard Gailey) the celebrated "Spanish Gothic" Regent Theatre, Brisbane (1929), now demolished.